After Furiosa flops, Hollywood could be facing a biblically disastrous summer

May 30, 2024 10:33 am

[ Source : BBC ]

May is usually when people flock to cinemas for blockbuster season – but this year, that has got off to a terrible start. The industry needs new ideas if it’s going to recover.

The summer is only just getting started, but there are mutterings in the film business that it’s already a wash-out – the kind of waterlogged season in which every picnic is ruined by a downpour.

To stick with the weather metaphor, the thunder began rumbling earlier in May when audiences didn’t exactly flock to see Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in The Fall Guy.

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But the heavens really opened last weekend when Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga and The Garfield Movie were serious commercial disappointments over the US Memorial Day holiday, topping the box office but making only $32m (£25m) and $31.1m (£24.3m) across the four-day period respectively. That compares disastrously to last year, when

The Little Mermaid topped the same weekend with takings of $118m (£92.4m).

In fact, as has been widely reported, the paltry total takings at US cinemas made it the worst Memorial Day box-office weekend in almost 30 years. Overall, ticket sales for the US and Canada are down 22% year-on-year, according to Comscore.

Over the next couple of months, the would-be blockbusters on offer include Bad Boys: Ride or Die, Inside Out 2, A Quiet Place: Day One, and Twisters, all of which have a strong whiff of “I’ll wait until it comes to streaming” about them.

The biggest star they can boast is Will Smith – and he’s currently best known for slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars. A Quiet Place: Day One is the third instalment in the horror franchise, and the first not to be directed by John Krasinski, so it hardly seems essential.

Tornado disaster movie Twisters is related in some ill-defined way to Twister, which was a big deal back in 1996, but not a film that cried out for a follow-up.
Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman may save the day in Deadpool And Wolverine in July, but otherwise this motley bunch of unnecessary, un-called-for sequels and prequels is lacking in anything you might call a must-see.

What’s missing is a headline-grabbing event movie – and that’s partly a result of Hollywood’s actors and writers’ strikes.

Pixar’s Elio and the eighth Mission: Impossible had to pause their productions, so both films were pushed back from this year to the next.

Even at the time, it was obvious that the Barbenheimer phenomenon was a blip, rather than a long-term solution to the industry’s problems
But it’s not just the strikes that are to blame for the soggy summer.

It’s also the fault of the streaming services, which have attracted both filmmakers and viewers who used to stick to the big screen. Series featuring characters from Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have all provided the kind of splashy entertainment which was once the preserve of cinemas, as have Red Notice, The Gray Man, Heart Of Stone, and the various other globe-trotting action movies starring Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and the Ryans. Post-pandemic, it takes something special to lure audiences back to their local multiplex, and the likes of Furiosa (a Mad Max film without Mad Max) and The Fall Guy (a spin-off from a half-forgotten 1980s TV show) just didn’t seem special enough.

Meanwhile, most of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster franchises have run their courses. There hasn’t been a new Star Wars film since a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – well, 2019, anyway. The last version of DC’s superheroes have hung up their capes, as we await the start of another universe reboot from James Gunn.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is officially ongoing, but the flopping of The Marvels in November felt like the end of an era. JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts series has been “parked”, according to the director of those films, David Yates. There is no sign of a follow-up to Spider-Man: No Way Home, which came out in December 2021. And we’re still waiting to hear who the new James Bond will be, even though No Time To Die came out in September 2021.

What we’re left with for the moment is Godzilla, King Kong and The Planet of the Apes, but can anyone name the main human characters in those franchises?

At this point, Hollywood’s slump looks less like a damp summer and more like a biblical deluge.

The studios have been fixated on a handful of high-profile intellectual properties for the past 20 years. When those properties run out of steam, what can they do?

The scale of the crisis was disguised by the worldwide success of Barbie and Oppenheimer last summer.

But even at the time, it was obvious that the Barbenheimer phenomenon was a blip, rather than a long-term solution to the industry’s problems.

Here, after all, were two risk-taking projects from distinctive auteurs, given an extraordinary publicity boost from a meme that prompted customers to see both of them, one after the other, while wearing costumes and buying souvenir merchandise.

The phenomenon was fun while it lasted, but if it took a set of circumstances as unrepeatable as that to fill cinemas, it couldn’t be taken as a positive sign.

That’s not to say that blockbusters won’t keep coming out – every now and then. Executives at Marvel and DC will be hoping that Captain America: Brave New World and Superman: Legacy can beat superhero fatigue when they are released next year.

But there is no indication that anyone in Hollywood knows how to put hit films into cinemas on a regular basis any more. The climate has changed.

As the characters in Twisters might say, Hollywood has sown the wind and is now reaping the whirlwind. If the summer blockbuster season is ever to recover, it’s going to require some blue-sky thinking.