Summer 2017 at the movies finished with the worst weekend box office take in over 20 years, the worst August in forever and a stunning general decline in ticket sales — 13.4% down from last summer, 5.4% down for the year.
Hollywood’s chicken mania for “just give them more of what they want” may have come home to roost.
Hollywood’s inability to market product that isn’t a sequel, prequel or part of a pre-sold “universe” to people who aren’t hardcore fans may be biting them in their collective butts.
Hollywood’s pandering to one corner of the audience comes into play, too. Entirely too many comic book/toys-of-yore movies — breathlessly hyped by an undiscriminating, pandering generation of new critics (visit Rottentomatoes for confirmation) — aimed at that generation, which Hollywood seems to believe only will buy tickets to see the same characters in the same sorts of scenarios.
One of the most glaring SOS signals of this collective collapse was animation. “Cars 3” comes after Pixar shoved two crappy “Cars” (and an even crappier “Planes” which they made Disney keep the Pixar name off of) down kids’ and their parents’ throats. Memo to John Lasseter; These are your idea, your pet projects. And they’ve all sucked. Stop it. Stay home and play with your trains a while.
We didn’t need another “Despicable Me,” but when “original” animation was “The Emoji Movie,” and the competition was “The Nut Job 2,” “The Smurfs: Lost Village,” etc., well you can see why Universal would go that way. Animation has hit some sort of collective low. “Captain Underpants” was the only original animated film to have a decent story, gags that snapped and jokes that landed. Story matters. Gags matter.
“Wonder Woman” was the Film of the Summer. Yeah, it’s a comic book picture and yes it finally gets Warner Brothers back in the fangirls/fanboys good graces and yes, it’s great that millions of young female fans have a superheroine to call their own. James Cameron’s pointed remarks about a retro princess with a punch, a bustier-clad/short-skirted busty heroine were on the mark, and the movie had WAY too much in common with other comic book pictures — story-beats, action sequences, plot devices. But $405-408 million in ticket sales means it can’t be wrong, right?
At least it was better than “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” or “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” owns the Chinese box office, which is good, because American audiences made it The Flop of the Summer. “Logan Lucky” arrived late to give it a run for its BO money, but no — that one only cost a fraction of the French fiasco.
“War for the Planet of the Apes” got a two weeks of breathless hype and faint-worthy reviews, but it barely bested the godawful “Transformers: The Last Knight” at the box office. People are over the apes — we’ve seen the one facial gesture the animated Andy Serkis can give us, and really, enough with the hating on humanity/root for the chimps to take over.
And neither of them came close to the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,”($171 million) which I found watchable and sentimental, minority views I will abandon should Depp & Co. return for another. It earned $790 million, worldwide, so expect that renunciation any minute now.
Popcorn Picture of the Summer? “Baby Driver,” of course. Great car chases, a sweet love story, great villains — Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey. Damn. But if you get a chance, check out Robert Pattinson’s finest hour and a half in “Good Time.”
Best Animation — “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” wins. By default. It only made $73 million domestically, $98 million worldwide. That’s only a fraction of the “Despicable/Cars” take. Better movie, though. Might even warrant a sequel.
Most touching — “Megan Leavey,” a combat film about a soldier and her war dog. That’s all you need to know.
Best Comedy — “Girls Trip.” Rude, raunchy, raucus, and it made Tiffany Haddish a star — blowing up every TV chat show appearance, riffing and vamping. Watch her Showtime special and you see how long a shot that stardom was. She spent years as a middling, cute stand-up (No, girl, your hard “in the system” childhood is not funny, it’s just an applause line without a joke in it). Give her the right character and the right material, and she’s a dirty delight.
Best Picture — “Dunkirk” is the only Best Picture contender to roll out this summer, which says something about the misguided biases of the standard summer release slate. Sure, yet another “Spider-Man” reboot made more money (and cost a lot more), ditto “Wonder Woman” and “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.” But a nail-biting WWII historical thriller which puts its biggest name star (Tom Hardy) behind a pilot’s airmask, and turns Oscar winner Mark Rylance into a weekend sailor? Smart move, giving the one-time Henry V Kenneth Branagh the gravitas/exposition role as Royal Navy commander of the evacuation. A best director nomination, best picture and maybe best supporting actor (Rylance) could be forthcoming, along with others. Make a movie ABOUT something and damned if people who haven’t been to the movies in years will show up, all summer long.
Best Picture You Didn’t See — “Detroit” was never going to draw an audience, especially in the summer, which is why it changed hands between studios at the very last minute. A low-point in American race relations, a sobering reminder of how much we need to monitor every single thing the people we let police us do, Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are the most formidable writer-director team of our times. And if they say some piece of history warrants our attention, it does.
Most original — “Dave Made a Maze” is about a dude who builds a cardboard labyrinth straight out of Greek/Cretan mythology — in the living room of his small apartment — and has to be rescued from it by his hipster friends. Hilarious. Hunt it down.
Biggest sleeper — “The Big Sick.” It never blew up the box office, and the story had all these cultural land-mines that put a damper on Kumail Nanjiani’s wistful, sad romance. But Holly Hunter, Ray Romano and Zoe Kazan overwhelm Nanjiani’s blah performance and lift this cross-cultural romance into the realm of “Wait, Judd Apatow produced THIS?” surprise. It stayed in theaters all summer long for a reason. See it if you haven’t. Or see “Some Freaks,” which is even better, even if it didn’t get the push and audience support that “Sick” did.
Funniest sleeper — “Lost in Paris,” because the best comedy is the simplest, based on the first thing that made any human laugh — a good pratfall.
Easiest Money — “47 Meters Down,” a passably scary divers-trapped-by-sharks thriller that went direct-to-video, then popped up in wide release more than a year later, thanks to Mandy Moore’s TV hit, “The Story of Us.” The producers laughed all the way to the ($43 million+) bank.
Worst Smash Hit — “Spider-Man: Homecoming” made and is making stupid money. But aside from Michael Keaton and that dazzling save-the-ferry effect, what’s there to like or even remember?
Worst Picture — “The Dark Tower.” Generations have grown up since Stephen King was a “movie” thing. And there’s a reason. The writing is mass production hackwork, derivative in the extreme (with rare exceptions). And it almost never translates to the screen. But those of us old enough to know better had to scratch our heads over the YEARS of hype that accompanied this “franchise” in the making, a movie that changed hands and frustrated one and all and cost so much in pre-production that they couldn’t abandon it when they hit the point that the script made no sense, their fifth choices for stars and third choice for director were the best they could do. A debacle, pure and simple. And as I watch just enough of TV’s “Mr. Mercedes” (godawful dialogue, derivative, slow moing) to remind myself of how King is more a “page turner” phenomenon than a film one, I wonder how Hollywood managed to forget that hard-won lesson from not-that-long ago.
Worst sequel/Prequel — Honestly, “Cars 3” and “Transformers XXII” have this sewn up. But there has to be a place to recognize what an abortion “Alien: Covenant” was and is.
Most Over-Rated has been a fluid race, changing every couple of weeks in a summer of lavishly-praised piffle. Look at the Rotten Tomatoes rating for the warmed-over diarrhea titled “Alien Covenant,” try to remember any emotional moment from “Spider-Man: Whatever” or try not to roll your eyes at the traffic-trolling “stories” of how perpetu-scowl Andy Serkis is a “lock” for an Oscar nomination as the digital ape Caesar in “War for the Planet of the Apes.”
Then remember that something like 90% of this “New Generation” of aggregated critics on RT (not so much on Metacritic) raved about the laugh-starved/stereotype-stuffed “Logan Lucky” and realize why this Soderbergh dog why this Soderbergh dog is easily the most-overrated picture in a summer packed with pandering reviews fluffing up a heartless “Guardians” sequel, a “Wonder Woman” with the same story beats and finale as “Captain America.”
Those folks raving about “Logan Lucky” might have caught on just how wince-worthy the stereotypes were had Soderbergh made his caper comedy about aimless inner-city black folk or lesser lights of Northeastern Jewry or Jersey goombahs or Native American dead-enders sobering up for a heist. Yeah. THAT they would have noticed. Most Southern critics picked right up on the sneering tone that this movie pitched at “the flyover states” audience took. Shockingly, they didn’t want to see it.
Of course, the fall may rescue this cinematic year — at the box office and in the awards races. King’s reputation may be salvaged by the Big Screen “IT.” Theater chains are certainly counting on that.
But we’ll see. As the old saying goes, “Things can’t get worse, can they?”