Things are bad at the summer box office, so bad in fact that the revenue collapse is now dragging down the entire year. Despite a series of mega-titles that include the words Alien, Pirates, and Transformers, the Hollywood Reporter informs us that compared to last year, the summer box office is now down -8% over last. When summer began, the overall box office was +6% ahead of last year. That gain is now completely wiped out.
This, despite the fact ticket prices jumped up by 19 cents compared to last year. This, despite the fact that many of these titles are artificially boosted by the premium pricing for IMAX and 3D.
When looking at these numbers, context is important. Although revenues have increased marginally over the last 5 or so years, when you adjust for inflation, since 2009, revenues have actually gone backwards. Eight years ago, Hollywood sold $12.272 billion in tickets (adjusted for inflation). Since then, although the average admission price has jumped from $7.50 to $8.65 (not adjusted for inflation), no year has even reached $12 billion.
The real bad news becomes even starker when you look at the number of customers the movies now attract, or fail to attract. In 2009, 1.419 billion tickets were sold in North America. That number has decreased over the last eight years to just 1.3 billion. Meanwhile, the American population increased by 15 million.
So what’s happening?
This is coming from someone highly biased, someone who has been desperately in love with the movies for 45 years, someone who still feels the child-like tingle of anticipation every time the lights dim… So I don’t believe the movies will die unless Hollywood itself keeps killing them. People still love movies, and there is no experience — not streaming, not video games, not anything — that can replicate the experience of sitting in a dark, air conditioned movie theater as you lose yourself in another world with a room full of people. The shared experience, the smell of popcorn…
Of course, none of this means anything if the movie sucks, and too many movies today suck. And they have for going on a decade. This, however, has not been a problem until lately. So many movies are front-loaded, meaning dropped on 4500 screens and all about the opening weekend. It used to be that before anyone noticed how bad they were, they were already big hits. But after nearly a decade of subpar storytelling (in my opinion, movie quality has cratered since 2004), after nearly a decade of Hollywood regularly insulting Middle America, after nearly a decade of exiting the theater feeling suckered and $30 – $50 poorer, we are more savvy. The hype doesn’t work. And so we use social media combined with movie review sites like Rotten Tomatoes for advance warning.
Hollywood should have seen this coming and upped their game. The writing was on the wall a decade ago when the bottom fell out of the home video market. Oh, Hollywood and its sycophant apologists made all kinds of excuses for this, but the truth was strikingly obvious. People were and are not buying DVDs for one reason — they didn’t want to re-experience the movie, they didn’t want to see it again. Duh.
This year is especially catastrophic for Hollywood. Even if the box office somehow rebounds over the next 5 months, look at how many of its golden geese-franchises have been slaughtered by an indifferent public. Hollywood counts on these franchises as sure-fire tent poles to ensure a fat bottom line. But dead or dying now are the golden geese named Alien ($73M), Transformers ($102M), Pirates ($165M), Cars ($120M), xXx ($45M), Smurfs ($44M), Resident Evil ($26M), Diary of a Wimpy Kid ($20M), and Underworld ($30M).
Also, the quarter billion dollars or so invested into birthing new golden geese — King Arthur($39M), The Mummy ($74M), and Power Rangers ($85M) — resulted in crib deaths.
Even something as seemingly sure-fire as Despicable Me 3 has so far under-performed this weekend.
The truly bad news comes from the world of comedy. Horror and comedy were the two remaining genres Hollywood could still count on not to break the bank. They are cheap to produce and are counted on to bring in a nice little profit.
Well, no more — at least when it comes to comedy. Comedies are not just under-performing this year, they are dying agonizing deaths. Released this weekend, the Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler comedy The House is already a mega-flop ($9M). Add to that Dwayne Johnson’s Baywatch ($57M), Amy Schumer’s Snatched ($45M), Ice Cube’s Fist Fight ($32M) Kate McKinnon’s Rough Night ($19M), and CHips ($18M).
Hollywood comedies today are as forgettable as they are intolerable. All snark and filth, no heart. Excruciating, unappealing.
So here we are, well past the halfway point of the year, and only two titles (Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy 2) have crossed, $300 million. Moreover, only two have crossed $200 million! (Logan, The Fate of the Furious). And other than Wonder Woman, only one title all year has exceeded expectations, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which topped $500 million.
Yes, all my numbers above are domestic. Yes, some of these titles might squeak into the black courtesy of the Chinese. Nevertheless, when Americans are not buying your product, by Christmastime, you have lost hundreds of billions of dollars.
An industry dies when it loses customer goodwill, when the customer no longer trusts the industry to deliver, even when it comes to the basics. Hollywood is in that zone now and I doubt very much Top Gun 2 or yet-another freakin’ Spider-Man reboot is going to save the day.
That new Apes movie is looking pretty awesome, though.