The Summer of 2017 Box Office

Interesting article over at Deadline on the summer of 2017 box office:

It has been a rather banal summer, with no film rising to a word-of-mouth frenzy. The closest thing to that was the smash hit Wonder Woman, a film I couldn’t quite embrace. It had its moments, and the lead is easy on the eyes, but the plot was mediocre and the visual effects slap-dash.

There were retreads like an Alien film, a Transformers film, and a Pirates of the Caribbean film….can you believe it? None of them brought anything new to the table, and that may be a problem Hollywood is finally facing.

There are basically three kinds of films: the kind that rely on visual effects and spectacle; the kind that rely on characters; and the kind that rely on situations. What Hollywood makes  now are spectacle films. The premise is simple (aliens invade, or a natural disaster strikes) and the rest is up to a “visual stylist” director and Industrial Light & Magic (or some other special effects house). These films are great for worldwide distribution. There is no cultural underpinning. The visual spectacle is dazzling in any language. And the cast is largely irrelevant…meaning some money can be saved by hiring unknowns. But increasingly as studios seek to appeal to everyone, the films have no deep meaning to anyone.

Character films are what we’ll see in the coming months, heading into awards season. These are the sort of films that Hollywood still prides itself on, even if no one outside still cares. The most literate of literary works are adapted or classics of the past are mined. Costume departments and production designers re-create any number of past epochs. But these film don’t travel well. They are inherently linked to one culture or another and the Chinese market may not embrace an Edwardian drama, any more than the Indian market will embrace a WWII drama. Character pieces also rely on good actors, preferably ones the audience has grown to know over a long period of time. These films typically don’t cost much money or make much money, but they do win awards and carry the prestige of social relevance. Hollywood doesn’t make very many of these films anymore. Much of this genre has shifted to cable and streaming services.

Situational films place a hero in a compelling predicament. “Juno” comes to mind, with the story of a pregnant teenager. People go to these films to experience the predicament and how the hero gets out of it. These films were a place where independent filmmakers could shine. There’s no need for either costly effects spectacle or expensive A-list casting. But these films are also growing scarce. Distributors shy away from them…more accurately they shy away from the millions it costs to release them theatrically.

All this leads us back to a changing landscape for filmmakers and filmgoers. The experience of going to a movie is less common. The product offerings on home screens is more varied, convenient, and less expensive. Studios will be left trying to puzzle out why so many big-budget films fizzled, and what can be done to bring bodies back to the multiplex.

My suggestion: All Seats $5.

About Deke

Writer and filmmaker Dale Kutzera is a recipient of the Carl Sautter Screenwriting Award, the Environmental Media Award, and participated in the Warner Brother Writers Workshop. His credits include the TV shows "Strange Frequency" and "Without a Trace" and the independent film "Military Intelligence And You!" He is the author of five novels and the popular "Plot Machine" story-structure guides. He writes about writing and filmmaking at www.DaleKutzera.com.

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