2017: the sequel … seven lessons for Hollywood after summer’s disasters

2017: the sequel … seven lessons for Hollywood after summer’s disasters

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A string of critical and commercial duds failed to light up the US box office as Hollywood endured its worst summer in 25 years. But it was a good year overall for the global film market, with the box-office total set to edge ahead of 2016 with sales of more than $39bn (£29bn). Here are some lessons that the film business will have learned from some of the year’s most prominent releases.

1. KING ARTHUR

Take $149m; budget $175m
A bad summer does not make a bad year for Hollywood

As the summer movie season drew to a close in late August, Hollywood film bosses were in a state of panic. The US box office, the biggest in the world, had had its worst performance in more than two decades. Takings were down 50% to $3.8bn, the lowest since 2006, and cinema attendance hit a low not seen since 1992. Summer hits such as Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming failed to offset a string of flops including Baywatch, Tom Cruise’s remake of The Mummy, and King Arthur, which received a particularly scathing reaction from critics and audiences. “The box office suffered because of underperforming sequels and remakes, audiences tired of the same old retreads and reboots,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at the research firm comScore.

However, a change in attitude by studios towards the traditional summer blockbuster season means big box-office hits are starting to be sprinkled throughout the year. Traditional summer films Beauty and the Beast and The Fate of The Furious appeared in March and April, and the now annual stocking-filler of a Star Wars hit at Christmas means the US box office is set to recover to be nearly flat at $11.1bn – while the international market has grown.

“It used to be that summer set the tone for the entire year in regards to box office, but that’s just not the case anymore,” says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, a research firm. “Spring has bloomed into a box office bounty for studios, and often times, they save the best for last, like Star Wars. And Stephen King’s It proved you could even debut a massive movie in September, which is often a wasteland of poor programming and abandoned films.”

2. WOLF WARRIOR 2

Take $870m, 98% from China
China is still booming

China has grown rapidly to become the second largest film market in the world, and success there can be transformative. Take the phenomenon of the Chinese action sequel Wolf Warrior 2. It took $870m globally, the vast majority from the domestic box office – the second biggest take by a film in a single market, passing Avatar’s US performance and only behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the US. Disney-owned Pixar’s animation Coco has just passed the milestone of being the studio’s first film to bring in more in China than in North America. “China has been a saviour for Hollywood,” says Bock. “Studios go so far as to rewrite and add elements to satisfy the Chinese marketplace. No one else in the world gets that kind of treatment.”

The latest outing of the ageing Transformers franchise was saved by its popularity in China, which was also instrumental in driving The Fate of the Furious over the $1bn mark globally. “Films that are considered disappointments in North America can become revenue earning superstars when China is factored in,” says Dergarabedian.

Justice League flopped but Wonder Woman did well on her own.



Justice League flopped but Wonder Woman did well on her own. Photograph: Warner Brox/Rex/Shutterstock

3. JUSTICE LEAGUE

Take $636m; budget $300m
We are nearing peak superhero

Hollywood has become addicted to the box-office powers of superhero films. The success of Wonder Woman, the second instalment of Guardians of the Galaxy and the latest Spider-Man film accounted for almost a third of the total US summer box-office take. But then there was Justice League – Warner Bros bringing Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman together in an ensemble film – which flopped in the US, albeit with salvation coming globally. “The superhero problem is that Disney’s [home of Guardians and the Avengers] do fine, non-Disney mostly don’t,” says Dergarabedian. “But then there was [Warner Bros’s] Wonder Woman”. By 2019, it has been estimated that there will be at least 25 characters appearing in individual and ensemble films, raising the question of whether Hollywood is about to hit peak superhero. “There is some evidence that while box-office returns from superhero films have increased massively, this has been down to the sheer volume of films, and that the amount made per film is beginning to decline,” says Richard Cooper, analyst at research firm Ampere.

4. BRIGHT

Take: N/A
Streaming goes from strength to strength thanks to Netflix

The launch of the fantasy adventure Bright, starring A-listers Will Smith and Joel Edgerton under the direction of Suicide Squad’s David Ayer, marks Netflix’s biggest film launch to date and the latest statement of its intent to challenge the Hollywood movie model. “Is streaming killing the box office? Yes, it most certainly is,” says Bock at Exhibitor Relations. “It is eroding it at a pace more fast and furious than expected.”

And it will get worse next year. Netflix, which has more than 100 million subscribers worldwide, has raised its budget for buying and making TV and films to $8bn next year and is doubling the number of original films it intends to release to 80 – more than the big five Hollywood studios combined. Bock says that what is really hurting the industry is that big-name TV series – such as Netflix’s Stranger Things and the £100m co-production The Crown – have usurped Hollywood films as cultural talking points.

“The question these days isn’t what movie have you seen, it is what series have you been bingeing on recently,” Bock says.

5. THE LAST JEDI

Take $600m-plus; budget $200m
Disney is still king, despite what fanboys say

Some diehard Star Wars fans may have been critical of the latest film in the mega-franchise, but its force remains strong at the global box office. The Last Jedi has already passed the $600m mark – having notched up the second largest opening weekend in history behind 2015’s The Force Awakens – and is on course to hit $1bn by the end of the year. Disney, which owns Star Wars maker Lucasfilm, is set to top the global box office again in 2017. This year’s clutch of hits also include Beauty and the Beast, the biggest global film of the year so far, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Thor: Ragnarok.

Disney is realising the success of a shrewd acquisition strategy over the past decade, becoming the dominant force in genres from superheroes to animated children’s films. In 2006, the company paid $7.4bn for Apple founder Steve Jobs’s Pixar studio, the hit factory behind Finding Nemo and Toy Story, to revive its once proud family film division.

In 2009 came the surprise $4bn Marvel purchase, bringing in 5,000 edgier characters including Iron Man, Captain America and the Avengers. This was followed with $4bn for Lucasfilm, which also owns the Indiana Jones franchise, in 2012. Then this month, Disney announced it would be buying $66bn of assets from Rupert Murdoch, including the 20th Century Fox film studio. The company can now add franchises including Avatar – the highest grossing film of all time which is set for a series of sequels over the next few years – as well as X-Men, Deadpool and the Fantastic Four reuniting with the rest of the Marvel family.

Blade Runner 2049 was one of the best films of the year but did not catch on.



Blade Runner 2049 was one of the best films of the year but did not catch on. Photograph: Warner Bros. Pictures/AP

6. BLADE RUNNER: 2049

Take $258m; budget $150m
Sequels need to stay simple

Blade Runner: 2049 provided the year’s cautionary lesson on sequels. The revival promised so much, with the return of Harrison Ford and the casting of Ryan Gosling to excite younger film fans, but it only managed to make $260m globally. Coming 35 years after the original, and weighing in at almost three hours, it failed to connect with filmgoers.

“It was one of the best movies of 2017, yet did not catch on because of the relatively esoteric nature and lack of familiarity to younger audiences,” says Dergarabedian. This year, more than 40 reboots, remakes and sequels hit the screens in the hope of cashing in on existing fanbases. As a general rule, sequels make 10% to 15% less than their predecessors, if they are lucky. Nonetheless, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Fast and the Furious brands attracted large global sales despite signs of tiredness at home.

Call Me By Your Name proved there is still space for decent small-scale films.



Call Me By Your Name proved there is still space for decent small-scale films. Photograph: Allstar/Sony Pictures Classics

7. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

Take $3.6m so far; budget $3.5m
There is still room for decent indies

The boom in big-budget drama fuelled by Netflix, which is increasingly luring on- and off-screen talent, is putting pressure on smaller-scale films that already struggle for audiences in Hollywood’s shadow (studio films account for 92% of US box office). Yet breakouts such as Call Me By Your Name – Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age tale – and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, have proved that there is still space for decent smaller films that should have a prolonged shelf life as award nominations and wins roll in.



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