It turns out there isn’t mass hysteria at the major movie studios following a weak summer-movie season, in which ticket sales were down 10% from last year.
In fact, after Business Insider talked to a wide range of players in the industry, we’ve discovered that moviegoers should expect little change in the kinds of movies that are released over the summer in the next few years. So get ready for the endless stream of superheroes and franchises to continue apace.
Last year was record-breaking year at the box office, with domestic earnings totaling over $11 billion and Universal topping all studios after it earned over $5.5 billion worldwide thanks to summer releases “Jurassic World” and “Minions,” each of which earned over $1 billion worldwide .
But there were many titles over the summer that didn’t live up to the hype.
“Warcraft” hasn’t even crossed the $50 million mark at the domestic box office ($47.2 million — though it’s done much better overseas at over $385 million). Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG” has puzzled audiences and is one of the rare Disney titles not connecting with audiences this year as it has only taken in $113 million worldwide (the worst wide release ever for a Spielberg film). And “The Legend of Tarzan” has only done modest business with $334.6 million worldwide.
And then there are the poor performances by numerous sequels that frankly no one asked for.
“Independence Day: Resurgence,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” “Zoolander 2,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” are some of the major summer sequels that seemed to be made more for business reasons by studios, many of them paying a pretty penny for the intellectual properties, rather than genuine interest from creatives or fans.
“Keeping up with trends is essential for the lifeblood of a studio,” Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, told Business Insider. “This is a message from moviegoers: stop with the formulaic sequels.”
Rotten Tomatoes editor-in-chief Matt Atchity looks at this year’s summer-movie season as a big collection of ideas studios were late on.
“‘Independence Day,’ we needed that 10 years ago,” Atchity told Business Insider. “‘Angry Birds’ is four years too late, ‘Legend of Tarzan,’ even ‘Warcraft,’ I think executives are not all that in touch with what the audience really wants.”
And Atchity notes that when the studios took “risks” (aka on original stories), like The Lonely Island comedy “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” or the Ryan Gosling/Russell Crowe buddy comedy “The Nice Guys,” they got burnt. Those films have earned $9.4 million and $36.2 million, respectively.
However, there were some titles that broke through this summer without the help of a franchise tag.
Thrillers like “The Shallows” and “Lights Out” had better-than-expected openings and the comedy “Bad Mums” is the strongest-performing release in the young life of its studio STX Entertainment.
“I think all of these are performing because there’s a level of originality to them, but also these movies deliver a great group experience,” “Lights Out” producer Lawrence Grey told Business Insider.
With the immense amount of content now available to binge on streaming services (“‘Stranger Things’ is talked about as much as any movie at the moment,” Atchity said of the Netflix sensation), and the cost of movie tickets, audiences are much more selective about the movies they’re going to the theatre to see.
“Someone who wants to get out of their house and drive to a theatre, I think they want to go to have a big, visceral experience,” Grey said.
But here’s the thing: Studios aren’t made to survive off modestly budgeted genre hits, even when they over-perform. They need the dollars that come with blockbusters and because of that they have to continue to create them. Often it’s sequels that come from proven franchises that will continue to get the green light.
“I don’t believe that what we are seeing is evidence that audiences are tired of tentpoles, franchises, and sequels,” STX Entertainment’s motion picture chairman Adam Fogelson told Business Insider.
“Despite the massive sequel slump this summer, don’t expect continuing sagas to fall off the face of the earth any time soon,” he said. “In fact, the next three summers are already mapped out and look very similar to 2016. The only difference we might see is smaller studio films populating the release schedule, as they attempt to make up some of the sequel slack.”
In fact, the adjusting of Warner Bros.’ summer release schedule is how “Lights Out” found its eventual release. Grey notes that originally the studio was going to put out the movie in September, an ideal time for a thriller. But after moving the tentpole “King Arthur” from its summer spot, executives replaced it with “Lights Out” following the overwhelmingly positive test scores they got from its screenings. Which proves you don’t have to replace a big summer movie with an equally big title.
But that’s a rare case. The summer-movie season will continue to be the time of year when studios show off their massive projects, frankly, because even when they are bad, we tend to go in droves to see them.
The latest example is Warner Bros.’ DC Comics movie “Suicide Squad,” which took in an estimated $135.1 million its first weekend, the biggest opening ever for an August release. Yet the movie has a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s press has been universally bad.
“For all the audience’s complaints about being sick of sequels and adaptations, just look at the top 10 box office for the summer and see how many original stories there are,” Atchity said.
The answer would be only two: the animated movie “The Secret Life of Pets” and the Kevin Hart/Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson comedy “Central Intelligence.”
It was a summer of slumps. But for Hollywood, the rules to the game remain the same.
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