Summer 2016: We Can’t Go On Like This

So the parade of dull, CGI heavy ‘blockbusters’ has finally wheezed its last and now we get to pick over the bloated carcass trying to find out what the hell went wrong with 2016.

Because on paper, there was no cinematic offering that sounded like an absolute stinker. True, there was no offering that sounded amazing, but for the amount of money that was spent- the returns were absolutely shocking.

Now, obviously the main film that everyone is focusing on is Suicide Squad which according to backstage sources needs to take 750 million dollars just to break even. And now that it’s been denied entry to China that’s not going to happen.  And to make enough profit to have been worth everyone’s while? It would need to take 1.5 billion dollars or become the fifth highest grossing film of all time between The Avengers and Furious 7. That’s just not going to happen.

But what about Ghostbusters? The most pointlessly controversial film of the year? That’s on course to lose 70 million dollars and despite allegedly renaming itself the “Super Power Dare Die Team.” Which I would watch in a heartbeat was again refused a licence in China because.. well…  most films that films that promote “cults or superstitious beliefs” get rejected by the state film board. Don’t worry though, because franchise desperate Sony is still going to be making more films under the Ghostbusters name- it’s just going to be animated. And released in 2019

Now before I go on, a quick not about how much films cost. Whilst finding out the filming budget is relatively easy, finding out how much the advertising costs is next to impossible. A general rule of thumb is to assume that the amount spent advertising is roughly the same amount as was spent in making it. Which is why the 2005 movie Sahara – despite being a pretty good action adventure film managed to lose over 105 million dollars.

Back to 2016- What about the already forgotten Independence Day sequel? Whilst it did take 382.1 million against a budget of 165 million, you might think that this counts as a hit, right? Except when you factor in the marketing, it cost roughly the same as it took, leaving the heavily hinted at sequel in severe doubt.

Hell, even Star Trek Beyond, released in the franchises 50th year, with such an in-built fan base that it should have turned a profit in its sleep… took 212.5 million against a budget of 185 million which again-  doesn’t factor in advertising costs. Meaning that a fourth film is probably going to happen but with a reduced budget.

Finally, The Nice Guys – the lone film in the last three months that I’ve given my highest rating to?  57 million against a 50 million dollar budget. The sequel probably isn’t going to happen despite the fact that it currently has a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Now, films failing to make money isn’t something new. I mean, according to the paperwork Return Of The Jedi (Yes, THAT Return Of The Jedi) is still in loss. But with the amount of big budgeted  films released this summer, that only Finding Dory (and Civil War depending on when you think that the summer blockbuster season begins) is making anything like the money that these films ‘need’ to make in order to be worth anyone’s time, we really need to have a look at film because this high-risk high-reward strategy just isn’t sustainable.

Backstory

When Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, it’s budget was 115 million which at the time was a shocking amount, people were convinced that it would ever make its money back, and now? People would be worried that the budget would be to small, a comparable film Guardians of the Galaxy released in 2014 required a budget of 232.3 million!

And yet, for the two years I’ve been reviewing as well as all the years before that I’ve been a film buff the only recent blockbusters that I enjoyed so much that I would watch again, let alone own I could probably count on one hand. (Of course one of them is Mad Max: Fury Road) 

A major part is the growth of CGI, meaning that we could do things in films that were unimaginable 20 years ago when I was growing up. But on the flip side decent CGI is horrifically expensive and to my mind will never look as good as either a practical effect or even the nearly extinct art of stop-motion. A good way forward would be to treat CGI as a glace cherry, used sparingly it can be a rather nice treat but used to excess it loses its effectiveness quickly and can make me feel rather sick.

We also need to talk about the effect that Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy has had. Sadly not in bringing back model-work and practical effects but in making convincing movie executives that all films need to be ‘dark’ and ‘gritty.’ Now obviously an exception is the Marvel Universe but i’m going to get to that later. But in general, most films this summer were dark, depressing, with no witty banter or actually interesting dialogue. Seriously, people special effects and A and B list actors can only take a movie so far. It’s writing a good, decent, script that takes time to establish interesting characters over time that is more memorable and is more likely to be watched again and again than these CGI heavy, explosion and cardboard character filled things…

And bringing things back to the Marvel movies, on thing I am beginning to get seriously annoyed about is the setting up of cinematic universes. Something that’s happened in the last few years is that a film isn’t really allowed to tell a complete story. Because films are so expensive to make and market it’s easier to try to make every film the next episode of an ongoing saga than to try to create new films with new charterers every time And whilst I do understand this it means that I never really feel anything at the end of the film. And it never used to be like this! Indiana Jones, Star Trek, even my own beloved James Bond franchise never really bothered with continuity until the last few years. They didn’t need to. And I miss films that end. And no film this summer ended! Even The Nice Guys sequel baited desperately. And whilst sequel baiting has been a part of film since forever it typically happened after the film had wrapped up and lasted for less than thirty seconds. It wasn’t happening continually during the damn film!

Things have to change. Because cinemas are more profitable than they have ever been, and there are small movies that come out and are awesome but more and more they are getting drowned out by unimaginative sludge that like the blob just keeps coming and coming no matter what you do. I mean Sony is so desperate for a franchise that it overlooks that fact that it’s mid-budget movies really are good and make 200-300 million at the box office but when everyone else is making billions who can blame them?

But what did you guys think of this summer? I’m off to go watch something from when films were allowed to be fun. And violent. And probably from the 80’s.

Warcraft: Budget 160 million- #1 video game film of all time- still considered a major financial flop with takings of 433 million

Gods of Egypt: Budget Budget 140 million- takings 145.7 million

Jason Bourne: 120 million- takings 250.9 million

The Legend of Tarzan 180 million v 347.7 million

Alice through the looking lass: 170 million V 292.3 million

 

 

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