Every summer movie season brings with it the “promise” of tired sequels and uninspired reboots of better movies, and a whole slew of franchise non starters that come and go faster than the cool temps. But this 2016 summer movie season has felt especially moribund.
Maybe things will change?
It started way back in late March – the summer movie season is getting painfully more extended – with Batman v Superman. It was a time of hope, not only for DC but the upcoming slate of massive comic book and franchise film behemoths. Then, well, Batman v Superman actually came out. It made a ton of cash, but somehow not enough, and the product itself was… I don’t wanna get into it.
April did have The Jungle Book adaptation, a visually impressive adventure, hindered by a lackluster narrative, and it brought in a healthy box office. But then there was probably the most unwanted, unnecessary sequel of the entire season, maybe in ever, Hunstman: Winter’s War. Who asked for this nonsense? Apparently nobody as it came and went without so much as a whimper. Anywho, here comes May, and the traditional kick off for the 2016 summer movie season. Things are looking up with Captain America: Civil War. Solid reviews, great box office, we get Spider-Man, yadda yada yadda… It may be milquetoast – at least for me – but hey, it brought in all the money and the season was off and running.
Only it wasn’t. Think back from today, through August and July and June and through May; what else stands out? Not only as a big box-office draw, but as an honest-to-goodness enjoyable experience. The week after Civil War we got Money Monster, an admirable attempt from Jodie Foster and stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts to mix things up with an adult drama. Only Money Monster was about five years too late, and dull, and a little hamfisted. And it came and went with another shrug from audiences. Then another random sequel: Neighbors 2. Funny? Sure. But, again, another cinematic blank stare into the void of creative bankruptcy.
The end of May came with yet ANOTHER sequel literally nobody asked for. Alice Through the Looking Glass is probably just as baffling as The Huntsman. It was slammed by critics, dismissed by audiences, and its mere existence was just confusing as all hell. That SAME WEEKEND Bryan Singer dumped a bland X-Men sequel on the masses, and was met with a staggeringly underwhelming box-office take (under $180 million) for a movie of this magnitude. Things were looking bleak, but there was hope on the horizon.
Then there was June. Oh, June. Three, count ’em, THREE sequels nobody was eager to see: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Now You See Me 2, and Independence Day: Resurgence. Raise your hand if you were super excited to see any of these. Well, if you didn’t raise your hand, you aren’t alone. All three failed miserably critically, financially, and with audiences. There were modest hits like Central Intelligence and The Conjuring 2 (which stands out because there was a real audience looking forward to a new entry in this franchise), but overall summer tentpole enthusiasm felt at an all-time low.
July wouldn’t fare much better.
We wasted no time in July with two flops, Steven Spielberg’s The BFG and The Legend of Tarzan. Even Steven Spielberg couldn’t save this mess! And then, we reached Ghostbusters. Oh, Ghostbusters. The controversy and lame vitriol surrounding this gender-swapping reboot was pretty disgusting. Angry man-babies aside, and don’t tell anyone this, Ghostbusters was not that great. It wasn’t the women that derailed Paul Feig’s movie, it was the mediocre plot and the soulless factory assembly-line feel of the whole endeavor. Box office was average at best, and Sony is so far in the red on this one the sequel is probably not going to happen. But, then again, if the 2016 summer movie season is any indication, Hollywood will absolutely churn out sequels nobody wants.
The rest of July and the first half of August, up to the first day of school, has been just as depressing. Some films have made money, but have been disowned by critics (I’m looking at you, Jason Bourne). Others came and went without anyone even noticing. To be fair, there were some modest successes. Blake Lively’s The Shallows was a fun little horror film and it made it’s money back. The Purge: Election Day played off its depressing timelines to bring in over $100 million. Star Trek Beyond was easily the best entry into the new reboot franchise, but it has sputtered at the box office. Probably because by the time it came out, the sting of sequelitis had set in, and audiences expected the worst.
Mid August had the potential to save everything with Suicide Squad, another mega-hyped DC property. But, hey, let’s not get into this again, ok? Suicide Squad has made a lot of dough so far but don’t mistake the cash for quality. All it means is we might get another pointless sequel that will bring with it diminishing returns.
Now there’s always animated films out there to inflate the overall numbers. Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets both dominated the 2016 summer movie season. But live action? Not so much.
Has Hollywood learned anything by the staggering amount of financial failures and audience disinterest? Probably not. It doesn’t seem too far fetched that next year or two, in the hot months, we’ll have Tarzan 2 or maybe Tomorrowland: Back to Today’s Tomorrow. However, this summer has seemed to hit Hollywood where it really hurts: Their wallet. Some of these movies made money, at least they look that way, but these budgets and marketing campaigns have spiraled out of control so much that hundreds of millions isn’t enough for the biggest of them. Batman v Superman made hella cash, but it didn’t make A BILLION DOLLARS like it needed to. That’s insane.
Why do these massive films need marketing campaigns that cost more than the movie itself? What if there has been just one trailer for BvS, and a TV spot or two? Maybe some posters? That’s plenty to sell a film about Batman and Superman fighting each other. Did Suicide Squad need a new press release every damned day of the summer? Probably not. These movies have built in audiences ready to give away their money, perhaps Hollywood could cut back on the onslaught of pre-release white noise and these films wouldn’t need to make the money it would cost to buy a sizable island in order to turn a profit.
Superhero movies aren’t going anywhere, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But they can’t just be marketing machines without movies to back them up anymore. DC is chasing its own tail with reshoots and “injecting humor” into their films now, but the balance of selling smaller films versus throwing trucks full of gold bars at known properties doesn’t make much sense if Hollywood wants to course correct their summer movies.
Sequels and reboots are fine. I get it, because any time something fresh or creative comes along (The Nice Guys), audiences don’t bother. Because general audiences, like studios, don’t really want to think a lot about what they go see in the summer. Make the sequels and reboots and such. Theoretically, the 2016 summer movie season schedule isn’t the problem, it’s the end result of these movies. Put a little more money in the product and a little less in the marketing. It’s a wild-ass concept, I know, but what if movie trailers and viral bullshit and press releases aren’t flooding every news cycle of every day, and instead they show us just enough to get us interested and then they spend those marketing bucks on things like screenplays, directors, plot, shit like that? I know, crazy, and it requires a complete ideological reshuffle in Hollywood that is probably impossible to achieve. It’s nice to dream though.
But there’s good news ahead for 2016. You see, summer is over. Not on the calendar, that’s not for some time now, but the 2016 summer movie season is figuratively done. Before long the fall will bring some actual films that people appear to have put some honest thought into. There will be missteps, but nothing on par with what we’ve endured these last few months. Let’s hope the studios will check their second and third quarter numbers, and decide to reshuffle their thinking on these reboots and remakes and sequels.
Don’t hold your breath though.