Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Busted: The Failure of the 2010 Summer Blockbuster

Thirty-five years ago, a film was released that ushered in a new era in Hollywood and forever changed the way movies were marketed to the public. The film, directed by newcomer Steven Spielberg, was called Jaws and it invented the “Summer Blockbuster”. It wasn’t long before George Lucas followed in his friend’s footsteps and released Star Wars, proving the concept was here to stay.

In the subsequent years Hollywood perfected the idea, often advertising the big summer releases 6 months in advance during the Super Bowl. Summer Blockbusters have the actors with household names, they have the biggest production budgets, the best special effects, and they’re adapted from the most popular books. At this point, 35 years into the game, it’s a tried and true formula that almost never fails to turn big profits for the industry. That is… until this year.

Sex and the City 2 took in $26 million less than its predecessor during its opening week. Comedies like Killers and Get Him to the Greek debuted with only $16 million and $18 million respectively, far less than similar films in recent summer seasons. Shrek Forever After, the forth film in the incredibly successful Shrek series, is pulling in the worst numbers of its franchise. Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood just barely cracked $100 million domestically, though it did much better overseas. It’s the same story with Prince of Persia. So far only Iron Man 2 has proven to be really successful, making more than the first installment did in 2008.

The 2010 summer season has studios scratching their heads as film after film expected to make a big splash has disappointed at the box office. But the explanation should actually be quite obvious. Hollywood’s own past success has crippled its creativity, and the lack of ideas is becoming all too noticeable. Exhibit A, The Sequels: Iron Man 2, Sex and the City 2, Nanny McPhee 2, Twilight 3, Toy Story 3, Step Up 3, and Shrek 4. Exhibit B, The Adaptations, Remakes, and Spin-offs: Prince of Persia, MacGruber, The A-Team, Jonah Hex, The Karate Kid, The Last Airbender, Robin Hood, and Get Him to the Greek. Starting to get the picture? The vast majority of the big films being pushed this season are either rehashed ideas or sequels made in an attempt to cash in a second (or fourth) time on the strength of previous success. It’s lazy, and it seems as though the public has finally caught on.

The thing that’s easy to forget about the original Summer Blockbusters like Jaws and Star Wars is that they were simply really good stories that focused on character development and had well written scripts. They just so happened to be told in a big, flashy way and marketed on lunch boxes, but the core values of quality film making were never left out at the expense of a cool special effect. Jaws, Star Wars, along with many other big summer films that followed, were successful because they connected with people on a human level. Story first, spectacle second. Ultimately, whether they know it or not, audiences crave this type of personal connection, and this summer Hollywood isn’t providing it; instead insulting the audience by assuming that any old sequel will sell.

However, even after the darkest night, the sun will eventually rise. Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, fresh from The Dark Knight, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is due out July 16, and it looks to be just the kind of interesting, thought provoking, personal film that could salvage the summer movie season. Hopefully audiences go see it in droves, sending a message to Hollywood that it takes more than slapping a “2” at the end of a title to guarantee a hit.

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