It's been a poor season for blockbusters, as several studios have completely missed the mark with domestic audiences. After Earth, R.I.P.D., Turbo, Pacific Rim, Wolverine and The Lone Ranger all fell far short of expectations and have left Hollywood execs scratching their heads.
One can only speculate why folks are avoiding the box office this summer, but as a writer who covers this beat daily, I can tell you why my attention is shifting elsewhere. The only thing novel about these films is their shortcomings. When I have to write about these bombs, there's little to discuss other than their complete disconnect with U.S. audiences. Great summer films give audiences (and writers) something to discuss outside of the theaters. You could teach classes on some recent summer releases like the Dark Knight trilogy or the great Pixar films. When I was asked to discuss this summer's The Lone Ranger, the only interesting thing worth discussing was whether casting Johnny Depp as Tonto was racist.
Many of the studios have been blaming a crowded box office for their poor opening weekends: too many choices at the multiplex. But there have been a number of times I've wanted to head out to the multiplex this summer only to realize that nothing worthwhile is playing that I want to see, and nothing I feel like I have to discuss with my readers. (Granted, there are a few worthwhile indies that debuted this summer, but I already caught them at Sundance, earlier this year).
Still, it's not as if I've been watching less filmed entertainment or writing fewer articles. It's just that the nontraditional means of getting content are quickly making major theatrical releases the least-appealing way to spend a few hours. Series like House of Cards, Arrested Development and Under the Dome have been interesting topics of conversation online and in the press because they're changing the way we watch entertainment. Services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime are stealing my attention away from theaters, largely because these companies are able to get in my face every day with some sort of riskier, innovative content. No one I've been out to dinner with lately wants to talk about R.I.P.D. They want to know if I like Orange is the New Black, (which I did, by the way, and highly recommended).
Producer Jon Avnet discusses the (r)evolution of digital channels at the Produced By Conference, Photo courtesy of Niki O.
I think others with concerns about the business are feeling the same way, too. Earlier this summer at the Produced By Conference, an annual gathering in L.A. to discuss the state of creating content, only a couple of the panels were dedicated to touting theatrical releases, but the majority of the buzz surrounded panels on new media. Cross-platform storytelling, direct-to-streaming series, web series and digital channels gave us something stimulating to talk about in an industry that desperately needs novelty to survive.
Larry Shapiro, Head of Talent at Fullscreen, and Ian Moffitt, Head of Premium Content at Machinima, discuss new media at the Produced By Conference, Photo courtesy of Niki O.
I like to see big summer movies in the theater, I really do. It's my hope that the disappointing box-office receipts wake up the studios, and spur riskier ventures that attempt to keep up with what's going on in the online world.