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Hollywood Has Worst Summer In 17 Years

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Despite the presence of several movies anticipated to be blockbusters on the schedule, Hollywood has its worst summer movie season in nearly two decades this year:

LOS ANGELES — American moviegoers sent a clear message to Hollywood over the summer: We are tired of more of the same.

But don’t entirely blame the sequels and superheroes.

The film industry had its worst summer in North America, still the world’s No. 1 movie market, since at least 1997, after adjusting for inflation. Between the first weekend in May through the end of August, ticket sales in the United States and Canada are expected to total roughly $3.9 billion, a 15 percent decline from the same stretch last year, according to Rentrak, a box office data company.

Analysts in the spring had predicted an 11 percent drop, citing viewing distractions like the World Cup and scuttled release plans for films like “Fast and Furious 6″ and Pixar’s “Good Dinosaur,” which both had production problems. But the decline was worse than expected, and the reason, analysts and studio executives said, may have been a nasty case of déjà vu.

Tom Cruise’s futuristic “Edge of Tomorrow,” for instance, looked like a hit — and that was exactly its problem. The title was too similar to “The Day After Tomorrow,” released in summer 2004. The barren landscape too closely resembled Mr. Cruise’s 2013 film “Oblivion.” Characters walking around in robot exoskeletons? Been there (“Pacific Rim”), done that (“Real Steel”).

Despite stellar reviews, “Edge of Tomorrow” took in $99.9 million at North American theaters, a major disappointment for Warner Bros., which spent at least $250 million on production and domestic marketing.

“Hercules,” which arrived seven months after “The Legend of Hercules,” turned out to be a box office weakling. “Sex Tape” was heavily marketed on Cameron Diaz’s legs, but moviegoers shrugged: Sorry, we’ve seen them. “Both ‘Sex Tape’ and ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ failed to stand out among the other R-rated comedies,” said Phil Contrino, the chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.

Sameness sells tickets, no doubt about it. The Top 10 movies of the summer all came from familiar brands (Marvel, DreamWorks Animation), featured familiar characters (“Godzilla”) or turned on familiar stories (the raunchy college comedy). Still, only a few of those films truly popped, Mr. Contrino noted, adding that the ones that did “each gave fans something that was unique, fresh and surprising.”

Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” was the No. 1 movie, selling more than $258 million in tickets and still going strong. “Guardians” was widely praised as offering something moviegoers had not seen before — namely, comedic D-List superheroes, including a talking raccoon and a walking plant, against a 1970s-era soundtrack.

Disney’s “Maleficent” also became a runaway hit, taking in $237.6 million in North America to become third-biggest movie of the summer. Not bad for a film that one Wells Fargo analyst earmarked in the spring as a too-weird-to-succeed bomb.

(…)

Studios released 12 sequels this summer, from the mega-budgeted “Amazing Spider-Man 2″ to the low-priced “Step Up All In.” If sequels are doing their job, ticket sales go up: Existing fans come back, new crowds come in. At the very least, sequels are expected to tread box office water.

But only three managed to deliver significantly improved results, compared with their series predecessor: “22 Jump Street,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” One, “The Purge: Anarchy,” was approximately flat.

That left eight sequels to nose-dive in North America. Ticket sales for Paramount’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction” totaled $243.9 million, a 35 percent decline from results for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” three years ago. (“Age of Extinction” was nonetheless the summer’s second-biggest film.) “Planes: Fire & Rescue” dropped 38 percent, and “Think Like a Man Too” came in 31 percent lower. Sony’s “Amazing Spider-Man 2″ was down 25 percent.

What separated the few winners from the many losers? For the most part, the winners convinced ticket buyers that they were not just more of the same.

While I can’t say that I am a harbinger of cultural attitudes, I will say that this was yet another summer in which Hollywood didn’t really motivate me to come out to the movies. To some degree it’s been because there’s too many other things going on this summer to justify taking several hours out of a given weekend at the movie theater. In some cases, it’s simply because the premise of the movie obviously isn’t meant to appeal to my generation to begin with. I was too old to play with Transformers when the toys came out to begin with so I can’t say that I’m all that interested in yet another movie based on them, nor was I all that interested in seeing another installment in in a Spiderman reboot that seemed unnecessary to me to begin with. Even the movies that I would say to myself that I’d like to see, I can’t say that I’ve felt compelled to spend the $10 or more for a ticket. They’ll all be available on On Demand, Netflix, Cable, or RedBox at some point in the near future, and I’ll be able to watch them when I want to,  and without having to worry about the guys sitting behind me making too much notice or the girls down in front spending half the time texting on their phones. With home entertainment so much better than it was ten or twenty years ago, Hollywood can really only rely now on selling the experience of going to the movies, and that experience leaves a lot to be desired in the summertime.

Perhaps because of this, summers seem to be far less important to Hollywood than they have been since Steven Speilberg and George Lucas helped make the summer blockbuster a part of American culture. The best example of this can be seen in the fact that Star Wars Episode VII, arguably the most anticipated movie of the next couple years, is being released not during the summer season as the previous six movies in the series where, but a few weeks before Christmas in 2015. Given that it’s Star Wars, of course, it’s unlikely that Disney is taking much of a financial risk with this decision. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty strong rebuke to the idea that summer is the most important part of the movie season when what will most likely be the biggest movie of the year is being released at Christmas time. We may be seeing the beginning of the end of the hype over the “summer movie season.”

Regardless of what time of the year a movie is released, though, it seems pretty clear what Hollywood has to do. They need to find a way to get people to come out to the theaters. That means both coming up with movies that people want to see, rather than yet another sequel or yet another reboot of something that has been done before, and making them want to see it in the theater. If this summer was any guide, it would seem they need to go back to the drawing board.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I know! It’s time to make another Rocky sequel.

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  2. Eric Florack says:

    a couple factors, here.
    1: Nobodys got the money.
    Its a bit harder for people with part time jobs to afford movies when theyre trying to make house and food bills. its gotten bad enough now, that people cant afford to escape

    2: It would be helpful for their cause were Hollywood to come up with something better than the dreck theyve been turning out.

    a deadly combo for the Hollywood bean counters, to be sure.

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  3. JKB says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Wouldn’t that end up just being another exoskeleton movie?

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  4. MikeSJ says:

    The last couple of movies I saw at the theater meant I had to put up with people talking behind me (adults and not children), sticky floors and what felt like 10 minutes of commercials.

    Add to that everything I want to see will come out sooner or later on Netflix, so why bother? Nice TV set, vino and a pause option means it had better be something I really can’t wait to see to get me to a theater and that hasn’t happend in a while.

    Oh yeah, I remember looking forward to seeing “2012, a disaster movie. I managed to somehow watch the whole thing at home – the vino helped – and all I can say is I’d pay’d 10 bucks to see I’d have been really really P.O’d. (The same with the first spiderman reboot – another movie I watched amazed at how bad it was.)

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  5. Rick DeMent says:

    Also it’s difficult to find the good films. We saw a few this summer that were fantastic, Boyhood, Chef, Convergence, and of course GotG. If you rely on the Multi-plex offerings then you are limiting your choices. There is also a French Film called The Congress we really want to see but it was released at one theater in SE MI and that’s it. Will have to wait for DVD release.

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  6. Ron Beasley says:

    I have given up on new Hollywood movies. They put too much emphasis on special effects and not enough emphasis on art. I just ordered one of my favorite movies of all time – the 1938 movie Pygmalion. Another movie I just purchased was The Quiet American based on Graham Greene’s novel of of the same name.

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  7. Pinky says:

    The worst news is that nothing went horribly wrong. There were no studio-busting failures, no Green Lantern sized “where’s all the money we were supposed to rake in?” catastrophes. Everything that did weak was a little weaker than expected. Tom Cruise is always iffy. Johnny Depp only makes money in pirate costume or Tim Burton movies. Everyone knows that the new Spiderman series was not driven by artistic vision, and Hollywood was more surprised that Amazing 1 did well rather than that Amazing 2 did poorly. And look at what did better than expected: Transformers 4, a Marvel superhero movie, and a special-effects based reboot of a Disney property starring Angelina Jolie. There’s nothing in there that’s going to stir up the way Hollywood thinks.

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  8. Ron Beasley says:

    In addition, with my 42″ flat screen and surround sound there is little reason to go to a theater and pay $2,000 a pound for popcorn.

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  9. CSK says:

    “Edge of Tomorrow” sounds like a soap opera title, which would be discouraging to many people, including me.

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  10. superdestroyer says:

    @Rick DeMent:

    Box Office for the Movies you cited:

    Boyhood $16 million
    Chef $30 million
    Convergence ? (and does not even have a wikipedia page and no reviews on Rotten Tomates)
    Guardians of the Galaxy $275 million.

    If movie theaters depended on movies like Boyhood and Chef, there would not be many theaters.

    Of course, no one is going to note that the ratings for the highest rated television shows is much lower than it was 20 years ago due to fragmentation of the market but some people still believe that everyone is going to watch the same movie.

    See rottentomatoes for the box office numbers.

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  11. Franklin says:

    I saw that Scarlett Johansson flick. I sort of remember what it was about.

    Well, at least we got away from our kids for a couple hours …

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  12. Tillman says:

    I wonder how much video games contributed to the decline.

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  13. Gustopher says:

    I would probably give up on movie theaters as a whole if there wasn’t a really good Chinese restaurant near the theater my friends and I usually go to, but just far enough out of our usual area that we won’t make a special trip just for that.

    That’s what Hollywood needs — better Chinese restaurants near movie theaters. Or more explosions.

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  14. Mikey says:

    @Gustopher:

    more explosions

    Nice try, Michael Bay.

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  15. al-Ameda says:

    Expensive tickets, ultra loud sound systems, mega-sized and mega-priced popcorn and junk food, and … what story? I just don’t know why and how Hollywood failed this year.

    As Ron previously said, stay at home, watch a movie on your over-40 inch flat screen and save the money.

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  16. george says:

    @Ron Beasley: @Ron Beasley:

    In addition, with my 42″ flat screen and surround sound there is little reason to go to a theater and pay $2,000 a pound for popcorn.

    I’d guess that’s the bottom line.

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  17. CSK says:

    Really OT, but according to the NYTimes and the Atlantic Wire, journalist Steven Sotloff has been beheaded by ISIL.

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  18. michael reynolds says:

    I think it goes to the way Hollywood greenlights movies. Basically a really stupid idea with a big-name actor or director attached gets the go-ahead while a great idea without said attachments is doomed. In effect movies are being picked by Tom Cruise and Will Smith and Peter Jackson and Martin Scorcese. All great talents, but all with their own interests which may diverge radically from those of the audience. Or a movie is made because it is either “pre-sold” (sequels) or at least has high “pre-awareness” (Godzilla.)

    What’s missing is someone doing for movies what editors do for books: applying informed opinion from someone without a direct profit motive. Executives are the ones who create the “Let’s get Will Smith!” ass-covering mentality, so they aren’t the ones to perform that gimlet-eye function, they’re just trying to hold onto their jobs either by making big profits or, failing that, having an excellent excuse: Hey, we got Will Smith!

    You know who doesn’t make movies that way? Pixar. They develop story in-house, they don’t rely on stars, or big-name directors, and they hit with just about every movie.

    Beyond that of course are the even deadlier issues: home theater, Netflix, iTunes, bootlegs and worst of all in the long run, I think, the fact that younger people no longer accept the paradigm of being in a specific place at a specific time to passively engage in entertainment. They’d rather wait to get in on their iPad.

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  19. Tyrell says:

    @al-Ameda: I do try and watch movies on tv at home. We have tried Netflix several times and they are okay for the price. I like the new “Spiderman” movies and can’t wait for the new “Batman”. So some sequels do well. But those are more of the serial variety. “The Purge” II was better than the first, according to some friends. I will wait to get the dvd.
    I agree that 15-20 minutes of trailers and commercials is way too long. No matter where I sit I always manage to wind up close to some yahoo that can’t behave.
    There is no way that I can go to a movie and not get the popcorn with butter. I do take my own candy in and sometimes a hot dog.
    Theaters are not as exciting as they were when I was a child: balconies, huge screens, and very beautiful – like a palace.
    If anyone knows how to make that movie theater butter, please give instructions.

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  20. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: The trouble there is that most executives can’t apply an informed opinion, because they don’t have one. They’re from marketing, or business affairs. There are a vanishingly few execs who actually understand how to read a script and understand what the resulting movie will be like…

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  21. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    I think that’s right. Someone beyond the talent itself needs to have an informed judgment, and the courage to act on it. Hollywood doesn’t make the best possible movies, they make the movies they can get made, which is to say, well-known properties, or properties with big names attached, or vanity projects for some heavy-hitter who’s cashing in his IOU’s. You need someone with judgment and balls, like John Lasseter. Lasseter does not make many wrong moves.

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  22. Rick DeMent says:

    @superdestroyer:

    “If movie theaters depended on movies like Boyhood and Chef, there would not be many theaters.”

    Conversely if they had been in as many theaters they might have made more money. That was my point. The big studios have the power to keep the “small” films off the screens so people don’t get the chance to choose them.

    Convergence
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3148552/

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  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The last time I was in a movie theatre was 6+ years ago. It was memorable because #1 my grand daughter was being born at that moment, #2 my wife had a hilarious fit when they told her how much her soda cost- “Do I get a straw with it??!?!?!!???” #3….. I forget what the movie was. The time before that??? I don’t have a clue.

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  24. Scott says:

    @Tyrell: It’s not butter, but movie flavored oil. Yum!!

    But if you want, you can make your own: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/theater-style-buttered-popcorn-recipe.html

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  25. Anonne says:

    I think that the problem is always in storytelling. There is little new to be told to mass audiences, and if movies with a basis in good writing (Harry Potter, Divergent, The Hunger Games, Marvel’s many comics) are well made, they will take off. The essence of film is the story.

    This is why people will not “tire of the superhero genre” as has been predicted by scores of snobby critics who never picked up a graphic novel, much less an individual comic. As long as the story is good (Guardians, and the Avengers movies), people will come. And comics are rife with a lot of great stories.

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  26. Rafer Janders says:

    @Anonne:

    This is why people will not “tire of the superhero genre” as has been predicted by scores of snobby critics who never picked up a graphic novel, much less an individual comic.

    Um, who do you think becomes a movie critic? It’s precisely the kid who spent his or her childhood immersed in comics who’s likely the sort of person to become a movie critic upon adulthood. Sitting in movie theatres for eight hours a day and then writing about the cool stuff you’ve seen is the sort of profession that attracts the type of fantasist who loved getting lost in a good story as a child.

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  27. Scott F. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    …and worst of all in the long run, I think, the fact that younger people no longer accept the paradigm of being in a specific place at a specific time to passively engage in entertainment.

    You’ve nailed it here, Michael. It’s this same dynamic that’s beating live theater to death, I believe.

    And, it’s too bad, because there is something completely irreplaceable in the act of joining a crowd in a darkened room to share in an new experience together. When the right material and a receptive audience combine, it’s magic – pure and simple. The loss of this paradigm is a community killer, frankly, and I’m sorry (if not remotely surprised) to see it happen.

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  28. DrDaveT says:

    Michael and Scott have nailed the location dynamic — nobody today wants to be told when and where they are to be entertained, on someone else’s schedule, without interruption.

    Movies are already doomed. I’m much more worried about books. The mid-list has all but disappeared, and publishers of print are trying to emulate the music cartels in preserving their status as the distribution bottleneck of intellectual property they neither created nor funded the creation of.

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  29. michael reynolds says:

    @Anonne:

    Of course they don’t so much buy good books as best-selling books. Any time I hit the NYT list (it happens, but only for brief stays) in come the rights queries. These queries are for a series that I doubt will ever work for movie, but might work for TV. The series I have that’s actually perfect for movies (and I do have a movie deal for it) gets a lot less love from movie people because it doesn’t sell well.

    Basically, they don’t buy for story, they buy the “pre-awareness.” (Yeah, I know that term is moronic, but I didn’t invent it.) The story is secondary, and that’s part of the problem. Playing it safe works in the short-term, but as we see this summer with the failure (absolute or relative) of so many tent-pole pix, you can only play that game for so long before the audience gets bored.

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  30. Anonne says:

    Well, that’s true, Michael, sales is your best focus group ever. But esoteric indie things can sometimes explode on the strength of the content, e.g., Guardians. I collected comic books back in the day and it’s not a title that I read, but here it is on the big screen.

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  31. Anonne says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Unless you’re the dude from Ain’t It Cool News or IGN, most of the popular critics are like Roger Ebert. They weren’t that kind of nerd, and wouldn’t know Ant-Man from the Green Lantern.

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  32. george says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Movies are already doomed. I’m much more worried about books. The mid-list has all but disappeared, and publishers of print are trying to emulate the music cartels in preserving their status as the distribution bottleneck of intellectual property they neither created nor funded the creation of.

    One problem with books is that there are far more to choose from than ever before, but only as many good ones as previously – the result being that the chance of just picking a good one off the shelf has gone down dramatically.

    I find myself increasingly reading older books simply because I’ve found a book that is still being published decades after it was written is almost always going to be good.

    I’m not quite so worried about young folks not reading – some of that might just be being young. I read “The Brothers Kamarazov” for a college class and found it dull. On a friend’s advice I just picked it up again, and find its suddenly turned into a fantastic book. Now I’m sure there are books of that quality being written today, but neither the literary awards nor best seller lists have been useful for locating them. But if I’m still around fifty years from now I’ll probably find on the shelves books written today of that quality – time will have weeded them out.

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  33. michael reynolds says:

    @Scott F.: @DrDaveT:

    If media isn’t available to you when, where and how you want it, it’s in trouble. Those days are over. Personally, I don’t see how movie theaters survive the next 20 years.

    As for books, we’re at a weird place. If you have a name or a following you’re making good money. If you’re just starting out it’s tough, but it always was, and now you have the self-publishing route.

    What I’ve been playing Cassandra over is self-pubbed e-books. E-books are catching on slower than I expected, faster than others thought. In order to succeed a self-pubbed author needs some decent cover art and some professional editing. But you can get pretty good versions of both for less than 10k total.

    My conventionally-pubbed e-books are 9.99 and I get a dollar. I get a 10% royalty, $1.50 or so on hardcover, a buck on paperbacks and ebooks. Apple and Amazon will let me keep 70%. So, if I self pub I can undercut that 9.99 price, say 4.99, take 70% of that, or 3.50, round numbers. $3.50 is better than $1.00. There will be a point at which the lines on the graph cross and it becomes a better deal for me to take my chances on self-publishing – when e-books are sufficiently large slice of the market relative to dead tree books.

    When that happens established writers are going to be sorely tempted to go off on their own. For right now the publishers are paying us enough to hold onto us, but how long can they afford to do that? As we get the move to self-pubbing, the price of ebooks will be forced down, which obliterates the profit-margin of major publishers, leaving them with less cash to pay for authors, hastening the cycle.

    Publishers are fighting back by trying to develop intellectual property in-house. That won’t work long-term. No one who’s any good is going to stay with a packaging set-up for long. If you’re working in a cubicle at Scholastic or Harper making $70k a year (in NYC) and you think you have the next Harry Potter, you’d be a moron to hand that in to your boss.

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  34. J-Dub says:

    Many television shows are better than films so why bother leaving the house? Besides, it cost me almost $50 for two people to see Guardians of the Galaxy in 3D with a large popcorn and two sodas. And that was in Western Mass, not NYC.

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  35. PJ says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Always felt that e-books is a bit of a Pandora’s Box for authors, it opens the doors to piracy wide open, which I think most physical books have been from shielded from (college/university textbooks might have been the exception.)

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  36. Kylopod says:

    There are a number of factors to consider, besides the quality of the films (which I can’t comment on, having only seen one movie in the theater this summer). While I’m not sure how widespread this is, I’ve met people who, with the help of large-screen TVs, have created what amounts to home theaters. You turn off the lights, sit on the couch (ever more comfy than a public theater seat) with your friends and/or family. Don’t have to worry about loud audience members talking during the picture. What more could you ask for?

    Me, even though I don’t have that sort of setup, and I happen to be a movie buff, I haven’t been much of a theater-goer in years. I enjoy the occasional 3D (and the resurgence of 3D is one of the symptoms of the problem–the theaters have to find ways to draw us back), and sometimes I’m eager to see a film based on a book I liked (the last one in that category was Life of Pi, which came out in 2012). Beyond that, most of the time I go to the theater these days is for social reasons. I’m happy to watch most of the films I want to see on my wee little laptop, and the cost is generally minuscule. I doubt that I’m alone.

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  37. Tony W says:

    Anybody who watches Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones knows that there is still good writing/storytelling going on in Hollywood. Heck, even Boardwalk Empire doesn’t suck.

    I actually think movies have seen their heyday – and it is in the past. Serialized stories let us consume epic stories in smaller bites that fit with our busier schedules, and in the comfort of our own homes. When we have so much quality entertainment literally delivered to our living rooms by the Roku, it’s hard to hand over a $50 dollar bill for an evening out.

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  38. Dave says:

    Many large commercial movie theaters will probably die out over the next 20 years. But I suspect the smaller ones, dedicated to finding an audience, will survive. People like to get out of the house and be entertained in the company of others. I saw a Rohmer flick (spare me the paint drying jokes) at Brooklyn Academy of Music last Sunday afternoon. It was packed. People of all ages and types were there. Just seeing a crowd that size for a small, obscure movie gave me some hope anyway.

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  39. Kylopod says:

    @Tony W:

    serialized stories let us consume epic stories in smaller bites

    I think this is particularly true of fantasy. Over the last 10 years or so I’ve been gradually coming to the conclusion that the fantasy genre, by its very nature, doesn’t lend itself to feature-length movies, but it does lend itself to serials. There’s just such a dense canvas in a typical fantasy novel, there simply isn’t enough time to cover it all in two to three hours.

    Even the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter adaptations, which were generally excellent, struggled to fit the epic scope of the novels into the framework of features. The problem was most painfully evident in the fifth Potter movie, Order of the Phoenix, which was based on the longest Potter novel but was the shortest Potter film until Deathly Hallows Part 2. Much of it felt rushed and sometimes incoherent, with characters referencing things where you wouldn’t have any idea what they were talking about unless you happened to have read the books already (for example, when Harry references the nicknames on the Marauder’s Map, something that hadn’t been mentioned at all before in the films but which is crucial to understanding a pivotal plot point). Many people have objected to the recent Hollywood trend of dividing a single book into two films, seeing it as a crass way of prolonging its commercial success, but I actually felt the division of Deathly Hallows into two movies worked splendidly.

    On the other hand, I was puzzled by how badly The Golden Compass turned out, despite having a fine cast, high production values, and strong source material. Some critics attributed its failure to its watering-down of the book’s anti-Catholic elements. That did hurt the film, but the real problem was more fundamental: it was just missing too much stuff for the story to have any content.

    Over the years I’ve caught some nice fantasy miniseries, and the greatness of Game of Thrones is a testament to how the serial form is better suited to the genre. Trying to imagine those books as movies is almost too painful to contemplate. In the past, it might have been attempted. Among other things, it’s become increasingly possible for a TV series to have a big enough budget to handle the special effects necessary to bring a fantasy world to life.

    I just got finished Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land, the third in his fantasy trilogy. He’s already sold the rights for the books to be adapted into a TV series–Fox dropped it, and it was then revived by Syfy (which has a mixed record on these things–their Dune was good, but their Legend of Earthsea was terrible). I have no idea if this will ever come to fruition, or how good it will be. But it’s striking that Grossman felt TV was more appropriate to his novels than film, even though these aren’t particularly lengthy books. It’s just the nature of the genre. And I think, in the coming decade, we’re going to see more and more ambitious fantasy adaptations go to TV rather than the big screen.

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  40. Eric Florack says:

    @Gustopher: chinese food kinda leads to explosions.

    Never mind.

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  41. Eric Florack says:

    @Dave Schuler: Bullwinkle will want more money this time.

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  42. superdestroyer says:

    If there are no movie theaters and the main source of income is streaming video, then what is the maximum amount that a movie could reasonably be expect to gross. Under the Netflix model, does a popular movie really make a lot more money than a flop? And if movie theaters go away and most cable channels fail, then how much will people be willing to pay for streaming. The current price is near zero. Can it really go much higher?

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  43. bill says:

    @Ron Beasley: you are correct sir, they ran out of fresh ideas years ago and just heap re-hashed bs at those too young to remember. i’ve been to a theater twice in the last 2 years- neither was my idea. and both movies sucked. must be getting old….

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  44. MarkedMan says:

    Where to begin?
    I love going to movies. Here in Shanghai, they are expensive unless you get your tickets ahead of time online but that means entering a credit card number so I don’t do that and end up paying 20 bucks a head for myself and whatever family members I can drag along. Worth every penny. One key difference in theaters here: You pick your seat when you buy a ticket. Makes a huge difference in the experience.

    Last time I went to the movies with the extended family in the US (a tradition whenever we get together for the holidays), we tried to go to a nearby theater. It had a bar, several restaurants with halfway decent food and – reserved seating! Couldn’t get into the place. Our first choice movie was sold out and we were 45 minutes early. As was our second choice. As was our first and second choice for the next showing. We finally gave up and went to the very nice but traditional movie theater several miles away. Our first choice started in ten minutes. 10-12 of us bought tickets, walked into the theater and were able to get half way decent seats together. It had people but I would have hardly called it packed. And I recognized one or two from the line at the previous place.

    The last time I was in Boulder on business, the theater I usually go to had remodeled. I couldn’t pick my seat, but I could get a large beer ($7), and the seats were really nice with planty of room. The whole place was a hive of activity and my movies, three weeks out, was decently packed.

    To each his own, but to me the experience is more than worth the expense, provided it is done well.

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  45. Ron Beasley says:

    There is a lot of good literature out there that can’t be turned into a movie but works well as a mini series. A good example are Dickson’s Bleak House and Little Miss Dorit that the BBC turned into great mini series. Another example would be Mitchners’ Centennial that could never had been made into a movie but was a great mini series. They have been trying to figure out how to make a movie of David Gregory Roberts’ wonderful and complex novel Shantaram for nearly a decade and have failed. I see this too as a candidate for a mini series not a movie.

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  46. Eric Florack says:

    @bill: and there it is, but I submit that scenario isnt limited to movies. Pop music, anyone? or, country for that matter, in large part.

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  47. MBunge says:

    @michael reynolds: They’d rather wait to get in on their iPad.

    Preferring to watch something like Godzilla on an iPad instead of a big screen is bizarre to me. Where’s going to be the creative or economic incentive for visual artistry when the screens are so small?

    Mike

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  48. MBunge says:

    @Kylopod: “I’m happy to watch most of the films I want to see on my wee little laptop, and the cost is generally minuscule.”

    This seems to be the defining feature of the modern information economy. A lot of people are enjoying product through secondary formats/mediums for which they pay relatively little. Doing so, however, undercuts the ability of the primary formats/mediums to make money. But if the primary formats/mediums can’t make money, who’s going to pay the initial costs of creating all that product?

    I believe for all for 2014, Netflix is going to produce just a handful of series and about 15 original movies. Everything else you watch on Netflix came from somewhere else and had its initial production cost largely paid for by someone else. If Netflix had to produce as many new series every year as just one of the major networks, how much would they have to charge?

    Mike

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  49. Blue Galangal says:

    @Rafer Janders: Comic Book Guy!

    However, my kids and I used Owen Gleiberman for years to help us decide which movies WERE worth seeing in the theatre – if he hated it, chances were good we’d enjoy it.

    @MBunge: Saw GotG not once but twice in the theatre this summer – like How to Train Your Dragon (1), it’s the kind of movie that is just fun to see on the big screen.

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  50. Counterpoint:

    ‘Guardians,’ ‘Turtles’ Lead August To Record $1 Billion Haul:

    Coming off a very weak July, the domestic box office got a lift in August thanks to strong performances from Guardians of the Galaxy and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

    Overall business came in at a record-setting $1.02 billion—a whopping 10 percent above last August’s all-time level.

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  51. @Kylopod:

    Over the years I’ve caught some nice fantasy miniseries, and the greatness of Game of Thrones is a testament to how the serial form is better suited to the genre.

    There was an interesting bit on NPR a few days ago suggesting that part of the reason that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been so successful is that it’s bringing the serialized television model to movie production.

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  52. rob says:

    @Ron Beasley: I’m just the opposite, special effects are about the only reason to go, otherwise I just watch it at home. having said that we haven’t been to a movie in a few years. just as easy to watch it at home.

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  53. Grewgills says:

    The descent into the vapid and recycled happens every time there is a major technological advancement in movies (sound, color, CG, real 3D). It’s easy to do something again with the new tech or to try to rely on the new tech rather than stories. Of late the advances have been coming one after the other, so the major movies have fallen into that trap. Fortunately we have a lot more choices now and can always find something with good stories. Of course that new tech is the only reason I ever go to a theater. If there aren’t big effects and big sound I’ll wait and watch at home; I don’t have a meters tall screen with 3D or an immersive 40+ speaker surround sound system.

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  54. Tyrell says:

    @Grewgills: Most theaters have made the switch to digital. I can’t see any difference. The local drive in theaters are in a money bind trying to convert to digital. I would hate to see them go out. $10 a car load, bring your own food, even grills are allowed, sit back and enjoy the movie and the summer breeze. You certainly can’t beat that.
    I tried out a digital projector at home. Large throw and clear picture. You just have to have a dark room and large wall or screen. You can get a good projector now for $300-$400. I always liked the 16mm projectors that the schools used. You can get them cheap on the internet, but it is hard to find the movies.

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  55. Grewgills says:

    @Tyrell:

    $10 a car load, bring your own food, even grills are allowed, sit back and enjoy the movie and the summer breeze. You certainly can’t beat that.

    Free on the beach at Waikiki and bring what you like, just gotta find parking.

    I tried out a digital projector at home…

    Our place is small. Anything we watch we watch on a large computer monitor and mid range sound system. That’s fine for most things, but if the movie is effects driven I want to see it big and loud. For me that means driving down to the theater and forking over $15.

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  56. Tyrell says:

    @Grewgills: Well, the drive ins here have fairly large screens. Now the sound, that is another matter. Fridays and Saturdays are packed because they show two movies. There is not much else to do around here.

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  57. MarkedMan says:

    @Tyrell: I’m surprised you don’t find a difference between digital and film. If I went to see a film movie on anything but opening day you would see scratches, bright spots, crud and sometimes even splices. And once you know that they show bright dots in the upper right hand corner as a signal for the projectionist to change reels you can never “unlearn” that and they become a distraction. Like the transition from vinyl to CD’s it took a while for editors to get used to the digital medium, but at this point I would hate to go back.

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  58. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @MBunge: I feel like I’m going to sound like some sort of a Philistine in this rarefied atmosphere, but here goes on both film and lit. For film, I’ve never been much of a Cahiers du Cimema guy–even when I was in college watching all those Bergman and Jacques Tati films. The artistry of the work does not concern me as much as the story. To the extent that the general audience is like me, they are content sacrificing the artistry and spectacle for watching more stuff on their TVs.

    My sense of all of the literature that you guys have been talking about is that there are probably really good short stories and novellas struggling to climb out of the 7 or 800 pages that have been bound together. I read Victorian novels at night–they are good to go to sleep to (Vanity Fair, recently, took me just over 3 weeks to read). Same with HP and GoT, as well as Steven King and others. (Sorry Mr. Reynolds, I’ve never read anything you’ve written. On the other hand, I’m not exactly your market niche, either.) I read trash usually. A good story, low intellectual content, devoid of higher “meaning” or “values” and you’ve got me. Otherwise, not so much.

    My taste gravitates the same way toward movies. I missed the last X-men picture at the theater, but I’ll be just a happy watching it on TV later this year.

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  59. MBunge says:

    @MarkedMan: I’m surprised you don’t find a difference between digital and film.

    I absolutely can see a difference. Digital is cleaner and crisper. Film has a depth and warmth to it that digital can’t match. Digital is more durable. Film is more variable.

    Mike

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  60. @MBunge:

    I’m reminded now of the numerous studies showing that in a blind test, the vast majority of people can’t tell the difference between digital and analog audio, and all the audiophile talk about how analog sounds warmer is entirely a placebo effect.

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  61. MBunge says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I’m reminded now of the numerous studies showing that in a blind test, the vast majority of people can’t tell the difference between digital and analog audio, and all the audiophile talk about how analog sounds warmer is entirely a placebo effect.

    It took THREE progressively shittier Transformers flicks before millions of people figured out they didn’t need to see another, and even then the 4th will still be one of the bigger hits of the year. I think that says it all about the discriminating tastes of the vast majority of people.

    Mike

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