I don't know about you, but I came into this summer with a healthy appetite. I love summer popcorn fun. The last couple of years, though ... not so hot. But this summer so far ... it's downright grim. Box office is down as well. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see what's going on here, but let's map it out anyway.
1. Shrek is over.
After the second and third Shrek films grossed well over $300 million bucks, the fourth film looks like it might struggle to match the original film's $267 million domestic haul -- not exactly pocket change, but a definite disappointment. I'm not really surprised. Nor should Dreamworks be, though they probably were. The only people that didn't know we all had Shrek-fatigue, I think, were the folks at Dreamworks. How did they not see this? Because the last film made $322 million. That's a lot of dollar menu right there.
I really liked the first two Shrek movies, but it was clear after the third film that they were just treading water. IMDb ratings for the original Shrek reflect 8.0. The second is currently at 7.5. Pretty solid. Half a point off the original. The third film? 6.1 rating. That's not good. Yes, the third movie made a lot of money, but it also made a lot less than the second film ($441 million domestically), and no matter how much money it made it was a movie that people -- on the whole -- were not big fans of. Box office isn't everything. Look at Hancock. That movie made $227 million dollars, which is very good for an action comedy vehicle. Do you know anybody who likes that movie?
But that 322 million bucks is just so hard to ignore, isn't it? They banked. Good for them. But you have to know when your time has come and gone. Let's say the Celtics win the championship this year. And Garnett -- with his brittle body -- has yet another rejuvenating series and snatches another title: the equivalent of a movie doing $322 million at the box office, despite a lackluster critical and audience reaction. Would anyone in their right mind bet on Garnett repeating this performance next year? The answer is: Only the Knicks.
Dreamworks came off like the New York Knickerbockers in May. Very profitable franchise. Terrible product. This leaves a bad taste in people's mouths.
2. Robin Hood wasn't the movie people wanted.
I thought Ridley Scott's Robin Hood was a surprisingly solid (if imperfect) piece of entertainment; it's been one of the few highlights this season for me. But the movie clearly split with critics, and the word-of-mouth -- while solid (7.0 IMDb rating) -- isn't going to propel it to the $200 million stratosphere that it was expected to at least approach. I think the reaction to this movie has been a little schizophrenic. People didn't want another Robin Hood movie and then complained we didn't really get a Robin Hood movie. The sad thing is, if Scott and Russell Crowe had stuck to their original concept, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now.
3. Sex and the City 2 really was that bad. And worse.
It's still making a nice coin but it disappointed in it's opening week. Opening week for a sequel is everything.
4. Maybe people are starting to catch onto Jerry Bruckheimer.
There's just something about Prince of Persia that reeks of mailing it in. Oh, they'll work hard at the action, the special effects, and maybe some snappy one-liners. But what about character? What about story? What about making the audience really care about the people they're watching? Movies like this are all flash and no fundamentals.
The big screen is no longer king. People do not need to go to the movies to be entertained. TV has made strides in the past decade or so to be exceptional. Video games have been doing this for even longer. Sometimes the TV and gaming industry fails, but many times they win. You look at Hollywood and you have to wonder: How hard are they really trying? How much care and thought are going into these products they're releasing to consumers? It's never enough to "just entertain," because people's tastes can change. Usually they just figure out you've been feeding them porridge and then the freaking uprising starts. Some things get old. For decades Ragu sauce was king because it imitated the thin sauces in Italy. By the time the '90s approached, many people realized they love the chunkier stuff and Prego took over. Maybe people are starting to realize they don't want thin stories and thin characters. Maybe they realize they want the chunky stuff.
5. Iron Man 2 wasn't "buzzy" great.
I liked this movie. But it didn't blow anybody away. The month of May always needs that one movie that blows people away on some real level. Sure, it made its money and is doing just fine in that regard. Good for Iron Man 2. But you don't come out of that movie buzzing. Hollywood needs that sort of buzz to get people to like the idea of going to the movies. So far this summer, we are buzzless (at least until Toy Story 3 arrives).
In short, reasons one through five amount to one thing: The studios have released some very poor products. This ties into the next point.
6. We've been here before.
Every movie mentioned above is either a remake or a sequel. Hollywood does not lack ideas. They just choose to ignore the original ones. Why? Because they're lazy. Because their research tells them not to be original. Their research says business as usual, that you don't want anything different.
7. A large bucket of popcorn costs $8.
Going to the movies is crazy expensive. A family of five making the trek to the movie house is a frightening financial concept. My cousin Sam is a college student. She's a big movie buff, works in a movie theater and therefore sees a ton of movies. She has a friend named Susie -- 20 years old, college student, works part time as a waitress. She told Sam the other day that there are a ton of movies she wants to see but hasn't been to the theater in several months. When Sam asked her why not, she said, "It's too expensive." Trust me, Susie, count yourself lucky.
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Dre writes for Film.com weekly.