Summer Slump

by Danielle Bozzone

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Movies are often one of the go-to ways to beat the summer heat and, as a result, the box office numbers typically soar. With a release schedule full of big-budget films, many of them adaptations or remakes of already-successful franchises, studios hoped for their biggest summer ever.

But just as Icarus flew too close to the sun, so too did the film studios.

The Hollywood Reporter covered the underperforming numbers in June, highlighting the expectations and documented successes: Civil War was expected to be “by far the top earner,” while video game adaptation Warcraft “opened over the weekend to a dismal $24.4 million in North America.” Even what was perhaps the most talked-about release of the summer, Finding Dory, is still lagging about 10 million dollars behind last summer’s top earner, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

So, why are the movies that are trying to bring in big audiences failing to do so?

It is undeniable that rising ticket prices deter many—especially the typical “blockbuster” flicks, like the multitude of comic book and video game adaptations that are aimed at the teen to 20-something demographic.

Research has shown that this demographic lacks disposable income and prefers streaming services to more traditional outlets. And yet, these are the audiences whom studios are investing millions in to try and attract them to theatres. If this summer’s box office is any indication, then it is an investment that is not paying off.

Instead, it is the movies targeted to kids, like Finding Dory and Zootopia, that are succeeding. These films are notable because despite being targeted at kids, they often resonate with audiences of all ages.

Additionally, they often provide an escape from the world with their lighthearted tones. Even when the plots touch on darker aspects of society—like polluted oceans and the ethics of animal captivity, respectively—it is done through finessed storytelling and beloved characters.

While superhero movies are built around the latter, they often lack the strong narrative and end up being too heavy-handed in an attempt to be meaningful.

Screen Crush writes of 2013’s Man of Steel: “So here's Earth's protector, seemingly killing just as many people as the bad guys and not giving a crap.” Similarly, The Atlantic wrote of year’s major flop, Batman vs. Superman: “[It] ends almost exactly as its predecessor did, with another dull, city-smashing duel between super-beings.”

They deliver movies centered upon destruction, often too reminiscent of very real and recent tragedies, without the same emotional awareness present in films aimed at children.

So, how should studios go about remedying their declining box office sales? There is no easy answer, but some introspection and closer examination of what is working may be in order.