To say 2017 was a bad summer for Hollywood would be something of an understatement- and it went beyond the usual complaints about too many sequels, not enough original ideas, and just a general dearth of worthwhile things to see at the multiplex, or even the art house.
But this wasn’t any typical summer. More than in past years, it led to a whole lot of talk that Hollywood is facing something resembling an existential crisis.
What Went Wrong
A whole lot of major films bombed. A lot of supposedly certain hits, featuring normally dependable movie stars, underperformed expectations. Yes, there was Wonder Woman, a huge smash that was groundbreaking in multiple ways. The second Guardians of the Galaxy movie outperformed the first, and the rebooted Spider-man did better than its two predecessors (with the benefit of being a much better movie.)
But otherwise? It was ugly. The latest entrants of the Cars, Pirates of the Carribbean, Transformers and Planet of the Apes franchises underperformed previous ones, with none of them (with the possible exception of Apes) having any case for being creatively necessary.
And it wasn’t just sequels. Movie star Tom Cruise bombed in The Mummy, as did Amy Schumer in Snatched, Scarlett Johannson in Rough Night, and Charlie Hunnam in King Arthur. Even The Rock, close to bulletproof at the box office, failed to deliver a hit in the Baywatch movie. While none of those movies were any good, late August saw the arrival of the hugely entertaining Logan Lucky – which nobody went to see, either.
Blaming Rotten Tomatoes
…suddenly being blamed by Hollywood for the poor performance of poor movies, in one of the more egregious cases of blaming the messenger I’ve ever seen.
This has led to all kinds of recriminations, many of them related, for some reason, to Rotten Tomatoes. The movie review aggregation site – on which, full disclosure, my reviews have appeared since 2008- is suddenly being blamed by Hollywood for the poor performance of poor movies, in one of the more egregious cases of blaming the messenger I’ve ever seen. The other theory is that the slump is due to ticketing site Fandango now running Rotten Tomatoes scores, which makes me wonder why the excuse isn’t that Fandango is ruining movies.
Beyond that there are concerns about the distribution model. It’s easier than ever to see things via Netflix, on-demand, or other streaming services. Other streaming services are coming online all the time, and with all the tech giants (Apple, Facebook) making big content plays, there will be many other new ways to see movies without a trek to the theater.
So, is the cinema dead?
No, not even close.
The Case For Cinematic Optimism
There’s a huge amount of appeal in going to see a movie in the theater, and if the movie is right, a whole lot of people are still willing to do so.
First off, motion picture exhibition has always been among the most durable of industries. It has lasted for over a century, outlasting World Wars, and the rise of television, and numerous other changes in culture, technology and cultural mores. There’s a huge amount of appeal in going to see a movie in the theater, and if the movie is right, a whole lot of people are still willing to do so.
Also, it’s pretty wrong to judge movies today by a three-month sample of subpar sequels in the summer. Movies tend to get better in the fall, and I’m not only talking about Oscar bait. Even beyond that, there are so many movies released in a typical year- over 500, usually- that you can always find a good one to see, if you look hard enough. And these days, you don’t have to look far.
Sure, there are all kinds of problems with the movies as they are today. There’s not nearly as much imagination or risk-taking by movie studios today, as opposed to TV. There’s not much of a “middle class” of films that are neither super-high or super-low budget and Hollywood still hasn’t cracked the diversity question.
But despite all that, the cinema will survive. It always has.