And the summer movie season is pretty much done. We’re down to Ben-Hur and another straight-to-VOD-esque Jason Statham movie (who deserves better), so we can safely put a bow on this season, and boy, has it been a stinker. Obviously I’m not the first one to comment on it, and when numerous publications of varying degrees of legitimacy do stories on what a disappointment it has been (here’s one from Business Insider), what more can I add to the conversation? Probably nothing, but here we are.
Overall, the problem with this year’s dearth of offerings is two-fold. For starters, there were too many major movies this summer; it seemed like every week there was another blockbuster tentpole competing for our attention, which made it nearly impossible for anything to rise to the level of “event movie” after Captain America: Civil War (and a surprisingly strong Spring). On the other side of the token was how nothing was really good enough to stand out, in any genre. While some might argue that because the theaters were so over-saturated with big movies nothing had a chance to break through, I’d disagree. In a season of disappointment after disappointment, if any movie warranted excitement, we would have flocked to see that to get out of the summer doldrums. How else could you begin to explain the success of Jurassic World? (Nothing will ever explain the success of Jurassic World.) So let’s recap the last few wasted months of our lives.
We constantly hear complaints about, and even ourselves complain about, how many comic book movies are released every year. But can we take a step back and really consider the sheer amount of children’s movies we are inundated with annually? From April to August, we got The Jungle Book, The Angry Birds Movie, Ratchet and Clank, Finding Dory, The BFG, The Secret Lives of Pets, Ice Age: Collision Course, Nine Lives, Pete’s Dragon, and Kubo and the Two Strings. But six superhero movies in a year is too much?
As expected, Pixar won the season (again) with Finding Dory, while fellow Disney movie The Jungle Book and Universal’s The Secret Lives of Pets also put on remarkable showings (they currently sit at #1, #4, and #6 on 2016’s domestic highest grossing movies list, respectively). Notably, Zootopia and Kung Fu Panda 3 from earlier in the year make up #5 and #10 on that list. Although I can’t deny the massive success of some of these films, I also can admit to feeling a bit tired of them.
Did any comedies stand out? I was personally fond of The Nice Guys, but that didn’t do much business. While we don’t always get a The Hangover / Borat zeitgeist infiltrator, at the very least we usually get at least one Catchphrase Of The Summer. Not this year, to the best of my knowledge. I think Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates tried to be that, but never approached that level of public recognition. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising avoided the same pit as most comedy sequels…by ending up more forgotten/forgettable than despised. And it’s probably too early to guess whether Sausage Party will have any real influence on pop culture. Financially, Bad Moms is doing surprisingly well as the highest grossing comedy not starring Kevin Hart (his Ride Along 2 and Central Intelligence are the only two comedies to cross $100 million domestic in 2016) or named Ghostbusters.
Ah, Ghostbusters, the most talked about movie this summer! The most controversial movie of the year! A film slated to lose $70 million for Sony, which I’m sure has everything to do with misogyny and nothing to do being banned in China, costing an extremely hard to recoup $144 million plus extensive marketing campaign, and simply not being that good. (What? When they dedicated months to bashing half their audience for not ROFLing over “The Power of Patty compels you!”, pardon me for some sour grapes-ing… while also fully acknowledging that this was one of the most challenging and groundbreaking movie in years. They’re the real heroes.)
Franchises – Superheroes
Maybe the reason people complain about so many super heroes is not just their prevalence, but that they’re the rare major film that actually gets traction anymore. While 5 of the Top 10 movies of 2016 are animated films, the other 5 are superhero ones. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since most of them are at the very least “good,” but it can also get tiresome, especially as we move further and further into an age of interconnected universes and unreasonable-but-understandable concerns that biggest variety we’ll get is what color will be the space laser this time.
The summer started off strong with Civil War, but that movie was a given. We know Marvel, we trust Marvel and we know they’d do right by the characters and the story. Was it incredible? I personally didn’t think so, but I can’t deny that it was an enjoyable experience, just not one I feel compelled to return to again. And unlike other “versus” movies, we actually understood why Captain America and Iron Man were at odds with one another. (Though to be fair, I don’t think anything movie-related this year was nearly as fun as breaking down Batman v. Superman, then breaking down the Ultimate Cut.)
I thought X-Men Apocalypse was fine, despite it being underwhelming financially (it couldn’t even hit the first X-Men‘s domestic gross). I would put it among the year’s highlights (in a top 15-20, but not 1-15 way). Unremarkable, but an overall good time bolstered by a fantastic cast. (It’s hard to imagine where this franchise would be without McAvoy and Fassbender, and Oscar Isaac was a nice, if underserved addition, to this universe.) Unfortunately, X-Men has become a more or less who-cares franchise. Are we invested in these characters in the way we’ve grown attached to those in the MCU? After 16 years, surprisingly no. I guess part of it is the 10-year jump between movies. It feels like nothing significant will happen to them until the new class finally catches up to present day, which will probably be 10 years from now. Though the most shocking thing about Apocalypse was how it did nothing to tie itself into Deadpool, the highest grossing and most beloved X-Men movie by far. I understood that they didn’t expect Deadpool to be as huge as it was, but to not capitalize on that at all?
And Suicide Squad, well… I guess the best way to sum it up is – you know the recurring comment about “there’s a good movie in there”? Just remember that the good movie you see peaking its head out the crevices of horrible song decisions and poorly constructed flashbacks is the one DC didn’t want. Good luck Wonder Woman.
Franchises – Non-Superheroes
Another answer to the question ‘why do we discuss superhero movie so much?’ Well, think about the other major franchises that had installments come out this summer. Alice Through The Looking Glass, Warcraft, Independence Day Resurgence, Star Trek Beyond, The Legend of Tarzan, and Jason Bourne all disappointed in various ways.
Older franchises have worn out their welcome (e.g. Jason Bourne taught us that it wasn’t Jeremy Renner’s fault why the last one failed, but the fact that these movies are exactly the same) while the newer ones weren’t exciting enough to warrant continuing adventures (consider me shocked that Tarzan broke the $100 million barrier). The only one really in contention as a top movie is Star Trek Beyond, but it kind of falls into the same category as X-Men: Apocalypse (even if it is more critically acclaimed) – good but is it good enough? You can say a lot of positive things about it, and aside from some issues with the villain, it’s hard to view it negatively. It even won over Internet critics. But whether due to summer movie exhaustion or space opera ennui or the movie itself not being “exceptional” or the lackluster marketing campaign, it never rose to the level of must see. I think when it hits Blu-Ray, it’ll get a greater following, but it never became a “you have to see this” movie.
Art House Movies
Also missing this year was the art house darling. The indie flick that breaks through and hits that perfect mix of artistic credibility and wider success. The type you’re pulling for come Oscar time- like Ex Machina last year. There were a lot of genuinely terrific films that could have vied for the crown (some of my favorites include Green Room, The Neon Demon, Swiss Army Man, and The Lobster), as well as ones that I haven’t seen yet but people seem to like, such as Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Captain Fantastic. But none of them became the limited-to-wide feature that everyone ended up buzzing about. I think many of these will end up as cult favorites when they finally hit the home video market (I feel that Green Room especially has a lot of potential), but as for buying a ticket during the initial release? You can understand why most people felt okay to wait for these to come to video.
It’s hard to figure out how or why a movie breaks out, or what that term even means. It could be wholly unexpected financial success (e.g. Jurassic World) or it could be a movie that ends up defining pop culture for that year (e.g. The Hangover). Regardless of how one defines a “break out” movie, we all understand the question of “Have you seen X?” or “Why haven’t you seen X?” They weren’t asked much over the past several months. The sheer glut of movies didn’t help (I still maintain that The BFG might have earned a better reputation if it was released in the Fall), but not having a truly outstanding stand out feature didn’t help either. It’s hard to predict what Fall/Winter will bring. We definitely have some “givens” for success (e.g. Rogue One, Fantastic Beasts, Dr. Strange), but will anything evolve into a sleeper hit like The Martian did last year or Deadpool did earlier this year? The Magnificent Seven? Maybe? But probably not.