The final summer box office numbers are in, and they’re seriously not good.
According to THR, “Summer box-office revenue in North America will end up being down nearly 16 percent over last year, the steepest decline in modern times and eclipsing the 14.6 percent dip in 2014. It will also be the first time since 2006 that summer didn’t clear $4 billion.”
It gets worse. Based on the number of tickets sold, it can be said that this was the least-attended summer movie season in 25 years.
This is where I would normally launch into an explanation of how this happened, how certain movies were still saved by the international market (where year-over-year growth is up 3%) and how this is ultimately the fault of the number crunchers in Hollywood who have been chasing a short-sighted box office formula that was always destined to backfire like this.
But, dangit, let’s try to think positively here. You can preach fire and brimstone about the summer all you want, but you’ll quickly have to contradict yourself and acknowledge just how many good movies there actually were. I’ve fallen into that trap in multiple conversations lately, citing statistics to explain the summer fall-off before then back-tracking to acknowledge the truth, which is that I loved a lot of movies this summer.
Wonder Woman was the right film at the right time. Dunkirk gave us an amazing Oscar movie in July. Spider-Man: Homecoming stunned by being arguably the best Spider-Man movie of all time, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2′s forced some of us to complain that it was somehow too entertaining (i.e., too lightweight). War for the Planet of the Apes more than earned its rave reviews, even if it fell short of equalling or besting its predecessor (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). Baby Driver blew me away, so much so that I had to see it twice. I can’t stop thinking about Woody Harrelson’s performance in The Glass Castle. Same goes for Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip, Selma Hayek in Beatriz at Dinner (and The Hitman’s Bodyguard), Holly Hunter in The Big Sick and Will Poulter in Detroit.
Even the relative disappointments had their moments. I despised so much of Valerian, but give credit where credit is due: that augmented reality bazaar sequence is a feat of sci-fi brilliance. Atomic Blonde‘s continuous shot hallway fight and car chase sequence is an all-timer. The final standoff in Wind River is a worthy successor to Sicario‘s border crossing scene. Jason Sudeikis turn toward domestic violence against Anne Hathaway in Colossal is all kinds of chilling. And the passing the baton final third of Cars 3 is surprisingly powerful.
On top of all that, I am also one of those weirdos who actually kind of liked the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, if only because prior to seeing it I’d only ever watched one prior Pirates movie.
Of course, I also suffered through King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Alien: Covenant, Baywatch, The Mummy, The House and The Emoji Movie, but that’s the story of every summer. You take the good with the bad, and the opinions over which movies belong in which group invariably differ.
Even if there were fewer of us around to appreciate it, there was much to love in theaters this summer, and for a change the box office usually rewarded only those movies people actually liked. Of course, animated fare continues to be review-proof, which is why Despicable Me 3 became the fourth-highest grossing film of the summer ($254m domestic), but well-liked originals continually defied expectations. Dunkirk, Girls Trip, and Baby Driver, for example, all crossed the $100 million mark.
And then there’s this, from Vox:
The continuing success throughout the summer of February’s Get Out — which sits at No. 9 and is almost guaranteed to be the most profitable film of the year, given its low production cost — along with Girls Trip (a comedy starring four black actresses) and Wonder Woman (a wildly popular film starring a female superhero and directed by a woman), as well as the female-driven Beauty and the Beast’s huge take, seems to indicate that Hollywood studios need to begin revisiting their assumptions about what kinds of movies make money.
This might have been the summer where Hollywood’s endless quest for the teenage male finally hit a wall. Or not. Next summer is looking pretty stacked with a new Jurassic World and Star Wars. However, when you reach quarter-century lows in attendance you can’t simply chalk it up to poor content and count on a rebound from a superior slate of tentpoles next summer, or so one hopes. But as a film lover you can step back from summer 2017 and confidently say that it really wasn’t as bad as the numbers would lead you to believe.