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The Worst Box Office Summer in 25 Years Wasn't JUST About Bad Movies

By Dustin Rowles | Film | September 8, 2017 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | September 8, 2017 |

Revenue-wise, we just suffered the worst summer since 2005. In terms of ticket sales, it was the worst since 1992 when Batman Returns, Lethal Weapon 3 and Sister Act led the way. Movies studios want to blame Rotten Tomatoes. Rotten Tomatoes is not the problem. Rotten Tomatoes does not make movies; it scores movies. People do not want to see bad movies.

It’s pretty simple. Make better movies, you get better box office. To wit: While the summer was the worst in 25 years, the spring was the best ever in terms of revenue and second best ever in terms of ticket sales (lagging only 2002). You know why? Good movies. Beauty and the Beast, Logan, The Fate and the Furious, Kong: Skull Island, and Boss Baby. They were all “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes except for Boss Baby and kids don’t give a shit (also, Boss Baby wasn’t bad).

We had a pretty great winter, too. It wasn’t record-breaking or anything, but it was solid. You know why? Good movies. Split, Get Out and LEGO: Batman. John Wick 2 didn’t hurt, either.

So it’s not like people stopped going to the movies. It’s just that people stopped going to movies that suck.

But see, here’s what exacerbates the problem, especially in the summer. The studios are putting all their eggs into one basket. That’s great, if you’re Marvel or Disney, and that basket is Guardians of the Galaxy or Spider-Man. But if you’re Paramount and your basket has only Baywatch and Transformers: The Last Night, well, you got a shit basket, son. And there’s no diversity of eggs. Studios are spending all of their money on two or three films per season, and then they’re putting all the promotion and all the marketing behind those two or three films, and if they fail, there’s no safety net. There’s no Big Fat Greek Wedding to save the season.

So, here’s an idea, in addition to MAKE BETTER MOVIES: Take that $300 million you invested in Pirates of the Caribbean: Johnny Depp’s Karmic Retribution and make and promote four $50 million films. Dig up some of those original goddamn scripts that have been collecting dust for the last five years, and make a few of those movies. Maybe you’ll get another Baby Driver or another Get Out. Or maybe you’ll end up with a disappointing Logan Lucky (disappointing only in terms of box office, because that movie was spectacular, and probably would have fared better if they’d spent more money promoting it). But hopefully, that loss can be offset by the other films (and that loss will be short term, because Logan Lucky is gonna sell a lot of digital downloads). Diversification, motherfuckers! Hedge those bets. Go back to 1999, and look at what worked: Fight Club, Office Space, The Insider, American Beauty, Sixth Sense, Iron Giant. You could basically make ALL those movies for the same price as one Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Literally. And you’d not only do fine at the box office, you’d crush it for 25 years in DVD and digital sales, see e.g., Iron Giant. And maybe one or three of those original properties will spawn a sequel or three, and then you’ve got another franchise, instead of beating the same goddamn franchises to death.

But what do I know? I’m not a businessman. But it sure seems to me that the summer blockbuster system is broken, so instead of, you know, trying to shrink the VOD window or pumping out another sequel or forcing exhibitors to fancy-up their movie theaters to draw in new crowds, just maybe give audiences a better product and more options. Just say to yourself, What Would Blumhouse Do? (WWBD?)

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.