Hollywood Ends Summer With Worst Box Office Performance Since 2006

Is it time to hit the panic button after busts like 'Transformers: The Last Knight'?

September 4, 2017 1:44 pm
A scene from 'Transformers: The Last Knight'  (Paramount)
A scene from 'Transformers: The Last Knight' (Paramount)

There won’t be a Hollywood ending at the box office this summer.

When the clock strikes midnight after Labor Day, the film industry will officially close out what has been a dreadful season — down 14.5% from last year and finishing below $4 billion total for the first time since 2006, according to ComScore.

For every hit like “Wonder Woman” or “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the multiplex hosted multiple busts: Can’t-miss tentpole films like “Transformers: The Last Knight” and “The Mummy” disappointed, at least on this side of the Atlantic and Pacific.

That’s led to hang-wringing among executives if the numbers are signs of the long heralded collapse of the movie theater exhibition model. Theories abound, from the stink that can be put on a film by the aggregator film review site, Rotten Tomatoes, to competition from streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon.

“Is it time to sound to the alarm?,” asked Paul Dergarabedian, senior box office analyst for ComScore. “I personally don’t think so, but it is certainly time to take stock of what works and what doesn’t.

“The whole industry rises and falls under the success of each individual movie. This summer, there were too many R-rated comedies in the mix, for example, and four of those five underperformed.”

A lot of other films have underperformed. New installments in once-juggernaut franchises Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean failed to attract the audiences of their predecessors. The long-anticipated film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower horrified for all the wrong reasons — despite having bankable leads in Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba. Perhaps it’s a quality issue: Is it a coincidence that the biggest busts were among the worst reviewed films of the year?

“Chicken Little” proclamations over the death of the movie theater, though, have been raging for years, with video games and DVDs as the culprits before the advent of streaming. And yet, ticket-buyers spent $4.5 billion at the box office last summer, the second highest haul ever.

It’s also notable that studios aren’t limiting the release of their biggest movie to the summer movie season, which officially starts on the first Friday in May. Fox carved out $226 million with the release of Logan in early March.

Dergarabedian believes the film industry would do better culling, releasing fewer films, but of higher quality, to give people a good reason to leave their couches (and their Netflix accounts) for the theater. He also suggests the introduction of more exclusive content for theaters, such as an on-set report from director Christopher Nolan spooling ahead of his World War II epic, Dunkirk.

“When The Last Jedi comes out (in December), I don’t think anyone is going to be talking about the death of the movie theater,” said Dergarabedian.

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