Summer movies are supposed to be successful. Ever since Jaws was released in 1975, the summer blockbuster has been a favorite pastime of many families, movie-goers, and general audiences all over the country. This summer, however, saw a drop-off as the box office came crashing down to 3.7 billion dollars, its lowest total gross in eleven years. This was especially surprising because it was over a 15% drop-off from last year’s 4.4 billion dollar revenue, the lowest change in earnings recorded. This proposes an important question: Is there still a charm in going to the theaters, or are audiences better off saving their money and buying popcorn at the county fair?
It is difficult to examine why 2017 had a record-breaking low in box office profits because of the well-diversified group of movies for all audiences. The top ten films of the summer that came out were mass-appeal markets that should have had more of a draw than it did. Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3 were fit to entertain younger audiences and families; Transformers: The Last Knight, War For Planet of the Apes and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales came out for the plethora of fans of those action franchises; Dunkirk was well-received and appealed to fans of Christopher Nolan’s work; Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man: Homecoming were big-budget superhero films (a huge demographic) and the top three movies of the summer; even Girl’s Trip was a surprise comedy that was well-praised. These types of films have brought in huge amounts of money before, which is why it is shocking to see such a poor turnout this summer.
The top ten summer movies of 2017 were not just appealing to their targeted demographics. Most of them were also extremely well-received by critics. Eight of the top ten films were deemed “Fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes, six were deemed “Certified Fresh” (meaning over 75% on the Tomatometer), and five of those six had over a 90% approval rating by the top critics on the site. While some of these movies were successful (the three superhero movies were in the top fifteen highest grossing superhero movies of all time), the overall gross of the summer box office did not amount to much. Even the movies that were franchise films were the lowest grossing films of their respective franchise. The problem clearly isn’t the appeal or the quality of the film, so what could it be?
There are two potential reasons I found that could be the reason for the lack of attendance at the movies this summer. The first was the quality of the films released last summer. The top ten from last year had a similar set-up to the top ten of 2017: three animated movies, three superhero movies, three franchise-esque films, and one original comedy. Of those ten, only six were deemed “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, four were “Certified Fresh”, and only one of those ten had above a ninety-percent approval rating. As Forbes contributor and film analyzer Scott Mendelson puts it “Last summer was a horror show, with a deluge of pretty lousy tentpoles (Alice Through the Looking Glass, Independence Day: Resurgence, Warcraft, Suicide Squad, etc.) and a culture that seemed to talk about everything (the election, Lemonade, Stranger Things and/or Pokemon Go!) except mainstream movies.” The lack of successful mainstream movies may have steered away filmgoers who could have been interested in the films from this summer. Hopefully, it will have a reverse effect on next summer’s movies.
Another potential reason for the lack in revenue this season was the increase in streaming. At the start of the summer, over fifty million U.S. citizens were subscribed to Netflix, which is a higher number than people who are subscribed to cable television. There doesn’t seem to be a valid reason for going to see cinema movies anymore when you can pick and choose movies you want to watch and wait a few months for the movies to be available for streaming. As numbers in streaming increase, cinema tickets seem to decrease.
Even with a critically-acclaimed summer line-up, the cinema still managed to fail. Signs point to last season’s poor critical reception and an increase in streaming, but it’s still uncertain to say why it failed to this magnitude. “If last summer was Batman & Robin,” Mendelson says, “then this summer was Batman Begins.” Hopefully, next summer, the dark knight of cinema will rise from the ashes and soar back to box office standards.