The summer 2016 movie season was certainly one of the most divisive ones in recent years. While some film critics are quick to point out the lack of satisfying blockbusters, the truth is that the weeks between the beginning of May and Labor Day brought about as many winners as there were losers. So, now that we’ve had a bit of time to reflect, let’s bid farewell to the summer months and run down what worked what didn’t. For the record, we’re taking into account box office performance, critical reception and the response from audiences.
The Mouse House continues to dominate the box office, thanks to the summer one-two punch that was Finding Dory and Captain America: Civil War. Those two films were the highest-grossing domestic releases of the season, giving Disney four of the top 5 biggest earners of the year so far. The Pete’s Dragon remake also proved to be a modest success amid enthusiastic reviews, and cumulatively, it was a great few months for Disney, despite the massive disappointments that were Alice Through the Looking Glass and The BFG.
Audiences must have been in the Halloween spirit early this year because horror was among the most consistently successful genres this summer. The Conjuring 2, The Purge: Election Year and Lights Out all kept the scares coming throughout the summer, but Don’t Breathe may have proven to be the real success story, bringing in more than eight times its production budget in domestic theaters alone. Without any big-name stars and a relatively fresh filmmaker in Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead), the film soared thanks to genuine thrills and a truly memorable script.
Whenever the kids are out of school, films aimed at family audiences always tend to do well, and this summer further validated that. Aside from Finding Dory, animated comedies like The Secret Life of Pets and The Angry Birds Movie were among the biggest moneymakers, picking up the slack from flops like Ice Age: Collision Course. Even Sausage Party — the hard-R animated comedy from Seth Rogen — turned its raucous subject matter into strong reviews and nearly $100 million domestically against a production budget of just $19 million.
Unwarranted franchise relaunches
One of the most controversial releases of the season was director Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot. While that film was neither the financial nor critical disaster many feared (or hoped?) it would be, it didn’t connect with audiences enough to reinvigorate the franchise and was indicative of a general lack of interest for nostalgia properties. The latest attempt to bring The Legend of Tarzan back to the pop cultural conversation did well internationally and made little impact in the U.S.. Likewise, a 20-year gap between films did little to bolster excitement over Independence Day: Resurgence, though we imagine the fact that the film was terrible didn’t help.
While Disney had a terrific summer, Universal’s only bonafide hit was The Secret Life of Pets. Other than that film, the studio’s Warcraft stood as perhaps one of the biggest bombs domestically (though it did well overseas), and critically acclaimed mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping left theaters almost as soon as it was released. Even Jason Bourne — which should have been an easy slam dunk — underperformed amid tepid critical notices.
Early Oscar bait
Oscar season doesn’t really hit full swing until November, but sometimes films like Forrest Gump can stretch a summer release all the way to Best Picture. This summer, any attempt to get Oscar buzz started early, fell flat. The Matthew McConnaughey Civil War drama Free State of Jones, romantic drama The Light Between Oceans and crime drama The Infiltrator (starring recent nominee Bryan Cranston) all failed to find audiences. So much for getting a jump on the incoming flood of prestige pictures.
Which summer 2016 movies did you enjoy the most? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments section below!