Hollywood’s Box Office Is in Big Trouble
It's now worth asking bluntly: Does the movie theater have any place in the future of our culture?
Hollywood is in trouble. In what has already been called a “bummer summer” by The Hollywood Reporter, a great many eyes are watching this season’s box-office receipts, which have already dropped 12 percent from last year. If they drop more than 15 percent by the end of August, that will be one of the worst box-office declines in recent history.
The majority of summer movie offerings thus far have either disappointed in their earnings or completely flopped with audiences, including “Transformers: The Last Knight,” “The Mummy,” “Baywatch,” “Alien: Covenant,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” and “The Dark Tower.”
It's only going to get worse from here, too, as the rest of August has little to offer in terms of anticipated films — and Hollywood studios have completely abandoned the upcoming Labor Day weekend. This year will mark the first time in a quarter-century that there wasn't at least one film opening in wide release during the end-of-summer holiday period.
"The lack of any wide release on Labor Day weekend for the first time in years is a symbolic and fitting curtain-closer on a very rough summer at the multiplex," box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of comScore recently told The Hollywood Reporter. "Despite a great lineup of films, the failure of at least a handful of summer tentpoles to connect with audiences and critics unfortunately left the season high and dry."
Though final numbers for the summer are still up for debate, few analysts think this will spell good news for film creatives. It's likely, instead, that the box office will have its worst take since 2006.
Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations, which provides research and data to studios about movie market trends, gave THR even worse news about the box office: This year will mark a 25-year low in actual tickets sales. Movie theater chains such as AMC are currently taking big hits in the stock market due to all of this.
With less and less interest from audiences in heading to the theater to catch new films, the big question now is: Where does the movie theater fit into our culture's future?
Once upon a time, the theater was a great unifier. New and original content fed the culture and brought people together over it. Even during financially lean times such as the Depression era, going to the movies was a big deal and something people made a point of doing.
But with the primary focus today on remaking, rebooting, and sequelizing everything with a halfway-recognizable name, it's hard for movies to be all that much of an influence on the overall culture; products are simply piggybacking off those from other decades.
The few films that do break through at the box office have mostly been newer endeavors people hadn't seen before — "Wonder Woman," "Baby Driver," and "Dunkirk" are all examples. But there aren't enough of those films to make much of a difference.
Having said all of this, people still crave content and art. With the unmatched rights to freedom of speech and expression enjoyed in this country, we have always been a people hungry for the arts. It's just that now, we're finding it in places other than the theater.
People today still crave content and art.
In what has been deemed the Golden Age of Television, more and more people are turning on Netflix and watching the shows that have others buzzing about them on social media. Take HBO's "Game of Thrones," which has become America's latest water-cooler-talk obsession. Despite episode leaks from hackers, the show is currently smashing ratings records and earning more viewers than ever before.
The latest episode of the series, the fifth in its currently airing seventh season, earned the highest live viewership for the show — 10.72 million viewers. And that's before taking into account that people watch it after the fact, which by some estimates adds tens of millions to the original viewership number.
Going to the cinema today has also become expensive for the average couple or family. As ticket sales go down, prices go up — which means it's almost always a better choice to stay home and turn on one of the many streaming companies that are creating their own high-quality television shows and movies: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.
Politics has also played a part in Hollywood's box office decline. Many film creators have become more political than ever at awards shows, in interviews, and elsewhere. The effect is no doubt alienating a large portion of the potential audience.
So where does it all go from here? Movie theaters will never entirely disappear — but if Hollywood keeps churning out the same sort of content, we can expect fewer theaters and higher ticket prices over the next few years, especially with the growing competition from TV and streaming outfits. Though Hollywood is likely to remain an influence on the culture — our desire for entertainment and art is too great for it not to — more original content will need to be created for it to hold the place it once did.
That said, more and more people are giving the cold shoulder to the theater — the best and most original content is online. And it's cheaper. And there are more options. And the stars aren't typically the A-list celebrities who insult those who vote differently than they do.
Hollywood studios need to make some serious changes and fast if they want to enjoy the success they once did.
(photo credit, homepage image: Glynn Lowe Photoworks, Flickr)