With the new school year beginning many places around the country, many would consider 2016’s summer movie season to be over. It’s at this point in the year, that students and co-workers begin to fondly look back together on the movies they watched, during arguably the biggest time of year for Hollywood blockbusters. Only this year, there is a sense that something is amiss.
In fact, the summer season ended with one of the biggest flops: the remake of Ben-Hur, which is expected to lose the studio up to $100 million. While audience enthusiasm seemed to be lukewarm for Ben-Hur before release, other seemingly anticipated movies flopped in the box office. The video game adaptation Warcraft only made $46 million domestically on a $160 million budget, but was saved in the box office by China. Alice Through the Looking Glass and Independence Day: Resurgence, sequels to beloved movies, made far less than breaking even domestically. Famed director Steven Spielberg’s The BFG also didn’t break even domestically.
Other movies that notably struggled in the domestic box office are Legend of Tarzan, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Now You See Me 2, Pete’s Dragon, The Nice Guys, War Dogs and arguably Ghostbusters. On average, according to Box Office Mojo, the average drop after opening weekend for 2016 summer movies was about 53%, the highest on record.
In contrast with beginning of the year, there was the disappointing Gods of Egypt and the very controversial Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there was also the the surprise hit Deadpool, and was followed later by Jungle Book and Zootopia. Between Jungle Book and Zootopia is a box office success of nearly $2 billion for Disney.
In fact, some would say that 2016 was the year for animated movies. Over the summer, some of the most successful and critically acclaimed movies have been Finding Dory, The Secret Life of Pets, Kubo and the Two Strings and even Sausage Party. Really, only Ice Age: Collision Course stands out with making $61 million so far domestically, on a $105 million budget.
Another winner of the summer was Captain America: Civil War, which pleased fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and offered a refresher for many after Batman v Superman. Though some could argue the movie didn’t quite achieve the same level as an Avengers movie for the general audience, who might be starting to get worn out by other superhero franchises. While Suicide Squad has stayed number one in the box office for three weeks, despite being torn apart by critics, and X-Men: Apocalypse embraced more of the comics, they are nearly just as divisive among moviegoers as Batman v Superman.
Other notable wins for the 2016 summer were Star Trek Beyond and Jason Bourne, even if they didn’t seem to quite capture lightning in a bottle as they had hoped.
Taking all this into account, what is the reason this summer movie season floundered? Foremost, audience attendance has dropped. Some might note higher ticket prices, which is a big turn off for cash-strapped families or millennials, who generally make up the largest part of the general audience. Thus, many choose to not risk their money on something that might not be good. Although others might argue that the past few summers, audiences have paid money to see the CGI explosion fests, and now Hollywood thinks they need to cater towards that. Though this could be the summer that audiences finally got tired of all the uninspired the countless sequels, reboots and adaptations.
Hollywood also has much more competition for audience’s attention now. On what might be arguably the Golden Age of Television, there’s shows like Game of Thrones, The Flash, Better Call Saul, The Walking Dead and Mr. Robot. Then there’s Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu and all the other countless hours of content all across the internet. Ironically, when TV first appeared, the Hollywood studios were worried it would take away audiences from going to the cinema. Finally, this summer has seen the rise of virtual reality, and innovative games such as Pokemon GO, Overwatch and No Man’s Sky.
What could be done to course correct for next summer? Will studios finally listen and deliver more compelling stories and likable characters? Are the executives going to stop making all the final creative decisions?