Originally I wasn’t going to write anything to summarise the past few months of the year, mainly due to the fact that this summer movie season was actually rather good. Last year I felt like I had to express my frustration at the never ending pile of mediocrity that was the summer of 2016 (sometimes I close my eyes and I still see flashbacks to ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ or ‘The Legend of Tarzan’). However what provoked me to write something was when I heard that in terms of box office this summer was a drastic underperformer. While the quality of the movies improved no end only a select few managed to reach high levels of success.
However, most of these box office disappointments came from the big budget movies. While that was a common theme from last year we also had to witness the travesty of movies like ‘The Nice Guys’ and ‘Sing Street’ failing to turn a profit because some studio thought it was more worthwhile putting their effort into advertising that remake of ‘Ben-Hur’ or Jared Leto’s breakdown otherwise known as ‘Suicide Squad’. However this summer the smaller movies like ‘Baby Driver’ not only turned a profit, they turned into a miniature phenomenon. For those of you who missed it there was one glorious weekend box office report in which Edgar Wright’s movie was ranking higher than ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’.
Speaking of Michael Bay’s crash course in how to torture someone for 149 minutes, ‘The Last Knight’ may have been a high earner with $604 million at the box office but compared to the takings of its predecessor ‘Age of Extinction) (well over a $1 billion) it’s a substantial drop off. Not only is it the lowest grossing ‘Transformers’ film by a long way but compared to its $240 million budget. It stands as a keen example of why the blockbuster scene has to change. Studios are giving their tent pole releases such inflated budgets that it’s becoming impossible to turn a profit. Steven Spielberg’s warnings of an impending studio crash seem all the more likely. In fact if it wasn’t for ‘Wonder Woman’ I’d have put money on that crash being from Warner Bros.
Let’s talk about ‘Wonder Woman’ because it’s climb to box office glory was something that I don’t think anyone saw coming, least of all the WB executives. From shoehorning the character into the end of ‘Batman v Superman’ as if they were worried no one would recognise her otherwise to the whole marketing campaign that, while still being substantial, seemed drastically scaled down from their other releases. Patty Jenkins movie may not be perfect but it’s endearing and empowering like nothing else of its scale was this summer.
Also, if I can take this opportunity to briefly address James Cameron’s comments on ‘Wonder Woman’, I can understand Cameron’s criticisms to a certain degree. As a character Wonder Woman was painted in broad strokes and she was, by definition, made to be a character without flaws. However the way Jenkins used the character’s naïveté as major thematic crux, creating an arc of disillusionment and subsequent understanding really made her work as a compelling figure. As well as that, Mr Cameron, I have to say that when you use your own work as a comparison as if that is the figure of perfection that all others should aspire, it kind of undercuts any point you were trying to make. It comes across as if you’re saying “It’s not exactly like mine therefore it isn’t perfect”. Then again this is the person who thinks the world wants four ‘Avatar’ sequels so I’m just assuming he’s delusional at this point.
But getting back to the main point, ‘Wonder Woman’ stands as a shining example of what a blockbuster can do both critically and commercially. It reached its target audience but also had mass appeal to a wider group of people. There have bene other female superhero movies but none of them had the commitment and quality of ‘Wonder Woman’. Compare it to the last blockbuster that tried to sell itself as a girl power spectacle, 2016’s ‘Ghostbusters’, and you realise how much more accessible ‘Wonder Woman’ was to people both inside and outside of its demographic. Its presence felt like an event, something people needed to witness on the big screen. In fact a lot of successful movies succeeded because of that. They established themselves as something that needed to be witnessed in the cinema. Look at ‘Dunkirk’ or ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ as other examples. Regardless of the movie’s actual quality they all promised something unique in how they sold themselves to audiences.
The same can be said of the movies that didn’t succeed. They never gave their audience a good reason to make the trip out to see them. What casual movie goer was going to spend money to see ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 5’ when it was by all accounts, exactly the same as every other ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie. ‘The Dark Tower’, ‘The Mummy’, ‘King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword’, if you can give me a reason as to why an average audience should have cared about any of these then you’re infinitely better than being a studio executive than the people who greenlit those movies without knowing why they even wanted them.
There were still some anomalies as ever, the most noticeable one being that ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ deserved so much better. It was critically acclaimed and coming off the back of a successful predecessor, yet for some reason people didn’t seem to care for the finale of what we can safely say is one of the best trilogies in modern cinema. But while this summer may look bleak on the financial side of things, there’s definitely hope over where we might be heading. Maybe studios will still start to see a correlation between effort and income, the idea that you shouldn’t greenlight a movie just for the sake of it and what it takes to deliver a good movie is someone with a real passion and vision for what they want to achieve. Also, just because I want to say it one more time, ‘Baby Driver made loads of money.