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by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES Maxx Williams Jersey , Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- Hollywood has been known to tout its "fewer movies with bigger budgets - winner takes all" strategy as the secret to its success.
To use a tried and true baseball metaphor, their goal is to hit a steady stream of box office singles and doubles during the rest of the year to keep them in the game, while piling up their heavy-hitter triples and homeruns in the summer months when audiences have the leisure to flock to the theaters.
But this risky strategy rests Hollywood's collective fate in a handful of summer blockbusters and can lead to a strike out - as it did this summer.
Total box office in North American returns were only around 3.8 billion U.S. dollars, well shy of the usual 4 billion to 4.8 billion U.S. dollars seasonal returns that the industry has enjoyed for the past 11 years.
In fact, this year was the lowest since 2005 - a summer most notable for the release of the prescient "Mr. & Mrs. Smith", Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's hook up film, that kicked off a decade of mind-bending Bradjolina-mania.
But this summer, the studios served up a spate of misses, including: Sony's "The Emoji Movie" (82.8 million U.S. dollars), "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" (39.1 million U.S. dollars), "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets"(40.3 million U.S. dollars), Paramount's "Baywatch,"(58 million U.S. dollars), and Sony's "The Dark Tower"(48 million U.S. dollars).
Some other usually reliable, "turn-the-crank-for-cash" Hollywood franchises also ground down this summer, such as, Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean 5" (172 million U.S. dollars); Universal's reboot of "The Mummy" (80 million U.S. dollars) starring Tom Cruise; and Paramount's "Transformers 5" (130 million U.S. dollars), all of which grossly underperformed in the North American box office. Fox's downer, "Alien: Covenant", actually garnered less than "Alien," its franchise-launching parent did almost forty years ago - in unadjusted dollars.
With Disney's megahit, "Beauty and the Beast," (504 million U.S. dollars) opening too early in the year to count toward summer returns, that left only a handful of successes to keep Hollywood's Big Top Tent from collapsing.
The homeruns were: Warner Bro's fem-power, "Wonder Woman" (411 million U.S. dollars), expertly helmed by female director, Patty Jenkins; Disney's laugh-out-loud, sci fi crowd-pleaser, "Guardian's of the Galaxy 2" (388 million U.S. dollars), and Sony's more accessible, coming-of-age "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (328 million U.S. dollars).
Even global crowd-pleasers like Disney's "Despicable Me 3" and Universal's "The Fate and the Furious", which nabbed cums of over 1 billion U.S. dollars and 1.2 billion U.S. dollars in the combined global box office, delivered disappointing North American revenues of only 260 million and 226 million, respectively, more than 100-million-U.S.-dollar shy of their immediate predecessors, "Despicable Me 2" and "Furious 7."
This season from hell has led many industry pundits to speculate on its root causes.
The LATimes reported concerns that, "the industry is once again relying too heavily on sequels from aging franchises, and that audiences are growing weary at a time when they have more entertainment options at home..."
Entertainment megasite, Variety commented, "Reboots or part of a major franchise...that's precisely what summer ticket sales indicate audiences are tired of."
But for some industry professionals, the long-standing contention that audiences are suffering from "sequel fatigue" didn't hold water, since 12 of the 15 top-grossing films in the North American box office this summer were precisely that: reboots or sequels.
ComScore contended that, "it really is a reflection of audiences rejection of a lower quality of blockbusters..."
Successful film and television producer, Michael Berk, told Xinhua, "Television has evolved. I think it's even better than most film these days. That's tough to compete with."
There is no doubt that the landscape of film viewing habits is being impacted by increasing competition from TV, cable and online streaming video, especially from the rapidly-growing online streaming video aggregators, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Hulu, etc.
Fortune Magazine reported that, "the rise of streaming media and in-home entertainment options is likely the most oft-cited reason for flatlining movie theater attendance..."
No matter the reason, Hollywood's dwindling box office should be a clarion wake up call to studio executives to take their blinders off and set their sights on more diverse and female-friendly fare, which were clear winners this summer. When studio misfires left the door wide open, smart, engaging and diverse indies were quick to slip in to reap industry kudos and unexpectedly high returns.
These plucky indies included the unexpected and refreshing, Asian-centric "The Big Sick" (42 million U.S. dollars), starring Kumail Nanjiani,the star-studded, African-American themed,"Girl's Trip" (114 million U.S. dollars) and Blumhouse's horror hit,"Get Out,"(175 million U.S. dollars) which opened in February but played into June; and the Cannes-nominated, Native American-themed, "Wind River", which garnered 26 million U.S. dollars in its first 6 weeks and is still going strong.
Hopefully, these strong indie showings will motivate a few, gutsier studio execs who are not locked into a Stepfordian rut to take more chances on the incredibly diverse and unique voices in the entertainment industry that audiences are clearly craving to hear from.
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