June 28, 2019

Is the Summer Box Office In Trouble?

The box office has been looking lethargic for a while. Let's find out why.

Every summer, movie studios crank up the explosions, car chases, and CGI to 11 in order to sell more and more tickets and get more and more butts in seats. And every summer, someone on the internet writes about the death of the theatrical experience. Is this the year they’ll be proven right?

Sean Fennessey over at The Ringer has written a new article about the summer blockbuster season and the problems that studios have experienced trying to get their non-Marvel franchises to resonate with audiences.

Sean makes some great points, and we’re going to look a little closer at what he’s talking about. Let’s jump in:

Bombs Away

One of the things Sean talks about in his article is the string of high-profile flops that have characterized this year’s blockbuster season. Films like Men In Black International, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, and Dumbo have all underwhelmed. Does the fact that they’re sequels, remakes, or spin-offs have anything to do with their poor box-office performance?

It’s a little more complicated than that. John Wick 3, Detective Pikachu, and Aladdin have all performed at or above expectations. Audiences are still showing up, but they’re pickier about what they want to watch. Films that don’t differentiate themselves from their predecessors or the marketplace at large will have problems breaking out. It might seem ballsy for Fox to take a chance on a Ryan Reynolds-voiced Pokemon character in a CGI/live action hybrid, but it paid off because there is absolutely nothing else like it in theaters. 

The question studios have to ask isn’t “are audiences tired of this franchise?” It’s “is this movie going to give audiences something they can’t get anywhere else?” Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman calls this concept “theatricality.”

'John Wick 3' (2019)

What Else Ya Got?

Another explanation for the summer’s box office slump is falling attendance. This is a trend that’s been building for a while, and 2019 is no exception. As Sean notes in his article:

“The annual box office is down nearly 9 percent in 2019, despite the fact that for the first time since 1993 the average ticket price has fallen from the previous year. The industry is on pace to sell its lowest number of total tickets since ’92.”

Why? The simple answer is competition. Not just from other films, but from all media. Think about this: you could go to the movies and drop $15 on a ticket to see Toy Story 4, or you could send that same $15 to Netflix and watch The Incredibles 2, Cars 3, Coco, Despicable Me 3, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and more.

It’s not just the streaming services that are competing for your eyeballs and leisure time. Even Netflix is feeling the squeeze from other entertainment options. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said the biggest competition his company faces isn’t HBO, it’s the videogame Fortnite. Hollywood has traditionally aimed its movies at teenage boys, but that once-reliable audience has left for more pixelated pastures.

'Fortnite'

Where Do We Go From Here?

Although ticket prices decreased this year, their overall trend is up. Tickets + parking + concessions can cost a family of 4 around $100 to go to the movies. That’s not the casual outing it once was, but it also doesn’t mean movie theaters are going away. It just means things are going to change.

The best guess for the future of movie theaters is an experience that more closely approximates live theater: upgraded venues, special perks for attending certain showings (i.e. souvenirs for midnight screenings), and higher-quality food and drink offerings. It probably won’t get to Broadway prices, but you never know. I guarantee there’s someone out there who would pay $500 for a front-and-center seat at the 8pm Thursday showing of Avengers 7: Mid-Endgame.

We could also see movie theaters get more use out of their venues. HBO experimented with live screenings of Game of Thrones. Live sports, community screenings, and film festivals are also options for additional ways to fill seats.

'Game of Thrones'

Wrapping Up

People gathering in the dark to share a communal experience isn’t going away. Like the rest of the world, it’s just changing. Hollywood is still learning how to change with it.

Have you been to the movies this summer? What did you see? Let us know in the comments below.     

Your Comment

5 Comments

It is your opinion, I totally disagree with you!
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June 29, 2019 at 4:17AM

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First of all; TV,s now are huge, 4k, average good image quality (compared to SD and early HD TVs) and sound. That’s a competition to movie teather. Then you have Netflix and others without commercials. When TVs were SD, movie experience was a big step up. Now, is less. In other hand, I personally feel bored by blockbusters full of VFX after seeing too many of them, perhaps unnecessary, in Marvel and the latest Harry Potter spin offs. VFX overload may be a cause? Good to hear from you guys?

July 1, 2019 at 4:59AM

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Javier Diez
Director/Writer
210

I agree that most VFX is not as good as it used to be. Totally understand the whole 2K vs 4K issue but if the delivered look is 2K up-scaled to 4K... Kind of better off watching it down-scaled to 1080p.

July 1, 2019 at 10:23AM

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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
891

I do think the rise of more competition is one key thing. With many streaming platforms having movies available months after release vs paying extra to go to theater... it just is better.

Sure there is a slight quality downgrade; but you are not locked into a room with random people, don't have to buy the food available to the theater (Which is usually just junk food), and you can pause the stream anytime you need to use the restroom or refill your beverage.

Another issue is Writing...

Blockbusters have had a long running issue of spectacle over story, which kind of worked for the last 50-60 years but with streaming and long format shows I think audiences are more sensitive to poor writing than they ever were. Many have simply learned that even though an 1 hour and 20 minute film might be entertaining they simply are not getting the same value of content/character development.

Even with the Marvel films each film is rushed to market and generally has its own take on the universe that is cannon until the next film comes out and turns that around. But dealing with having to wait 1-2 years for each installment I think most audience members have moved onto shows that can take their time to really grow characters in a less forced environment.

With the rise of "live service" games and other entertainment they have seen their core shift a little bit, but I think the billionaires and trillionaires conglomerates that use films as a high profits low risk business operations might need to rethink their models of business and who they are marketing to.

July 1, 2019 at 10:15AM

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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
891

Every year people think the box office is in trouble. We'll see when it's said and done. We go to the "movies" on average 1.5 times a month, so we pick out what we want to make an outing of ... it's fun. This summer has been a bit light for us, but only because we are not Avengers or animated fans. Note our favorite Cinemark is still playing Avengers 4 times a day and Toy Story 4 is playing 28 times today! yes 28 every day .... so not a lot of room for the rest ... The studios will be fine and will adjust. The competition is stiff from cable which is good. And whoever thinks the resolution of the screen is a driving factor is ...well.... cute .... people want to be entertained and feel like they got value for their entertainment dollar.

July 1, 2019 at 12:17PM

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