Adam B. Vary / BuzzFeed News; Paramount Pictures; Universal Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures; Disney; Universal
For Hollywood, 2017 has been two big steps forward, one calamitous tumble backwards onto its butt. The first three months of the year featured an unprecedented run of hit movies (Beauty and the Beast, Hidden Figures, and Get Out, to name a few), culminating in the best first quarter at the domestic box office in at least 35 years. By the end of March, it seemed like maybe, just maybe, the film industry had finally figured out how to make successful movies for a diverse array of audiences.
Adam B. Vary / BuzzFeed News
Or maybe not.
Since April, Hollywood has spent a breathtaking amount of time and money on a slate of dilapidated franchises and highly dubious attempts to create new ones. The result has been one of the industry’s worst second quarters ever, with the lowest ticket sales since 1986. 1986! Thirty-one years ago! In fact, were it not for a plucky crew of intergalactic ne’er-do-wells and a certain Amazonian princess, the first two months of the summer would be starved for any blockbuster hits at all.
Adam B. Vary / BuzzFeed News
This general see-saw between smart risk-taking and fear-driven risk aversion has left domestic ticket sales down 1.7% from last year, with overall domestic box office revenue up a meager 0.5%.
Adam B. Vary / BuzzFeed News
Studio filmmaking moves so slowly that it will be at least late 2018 before we know whether Hollywood has heeded the lucrative lessons of 2017’s early months. So in the hope that somebody’s paying attention, below are the highlights from the year through the end of June, and the calamities Hollywood should hope to avoid in the future.
<h1>WINNERS: Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot</h1>
Clay Enos / Warner Bros.
Imagine for a second a world in which Wonder Woman had flopped. Imagine that its story had been as needlessly grim as its DC forebears were and that its title superhero had been portrayed in some exceedingly unpleasant way. Now imagine how much harder it would be for female filmmakers to convince studios to hire them to make expensive studio tentpole movies. Imagine how many female-forward action movies would be sidelined instead of greenlit. Imagine all the terrible hot takes about blah blah blah the death of third-wave feminism blah blah blah Trump-era superheroes. And imagine all the millions of Wonder Woman fans heartbroken after seeing a movie that failed them.
Now rejoice, because we don’t live in that world!
Instead, we get to live in a world in which director Patty Jenkins delivered a Wonder Woman movie filled with heart, humor, and romance, in which Gal Gadot embodied her role with soul-stirring goodness and strength, and in which audiences wholeheartedly embraced the film en route to $700 million worldwide and counting. Wonder Woman has single-handedly repaired the reputation of Warner Bros.’ shaky DC cinematic universe, and exploded the lie that audiences aren’t interested in action movies starring and/or directed by women. It is easily the movie of the summer, and if studio executives still enjoy making lots of money, the ripple effects of Wonder Woman‘s success should hopefully be felt for years to come.
What’s next? Jenkins is developing the Wonder Woman sequel with an eye to directing it; Gadot will next appear as Wonder Woman in Justice League, scheduled to open Nov. 17.
Courtesy Of Disney
In 2016, Disney redefined box office success with three movies in the first half of the year that earned over $1 billion worldwide. So when pointing out that this year, Disney has opened just one $1 billion movie (Beauty and the Beast), please understand that the studio is now competing with its own astronomic expectations. Two of Disney’s high-profile sequels — the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, and Cars 3 — have also underperformed in comparison to their predecessors.
But thanks largely to Beauty and the Beast and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Disney has still earned over $3.6 billion worldwide, leading the rest of the top studios by a comfortable margin. And even though this looks to be a rather fallow year for the studio — it won’t open another film until November — there is a very good chance it will still end up on top of the box office for the third year in a row.
What’s next? Marvel Studios’ Thor: Ragnarok on Nov. 3, Pixar’s Coco on Nov. 22, and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi on Dec. 15. Speaking of…
Ben A. Pruchnie / Getty Images
When Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens this December, Lucasfilm will almost certainly three-peat for the highest-grossing movie of the year domestically, after The Force Awakens in 2015 and Rogue One in 2016. That is as close to the definition of winning as you can get in Hollywood, but that level of unparalleled success also brings an equally unparalleled level of unforgiving pressure — and scrutiny.
Exhibit A: Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy’s decision to fire directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from the untitled Han Solo prequel movie when they only had weeks left to shoot in principle photography. The dispute reportedly came down to intractable issues over creative control, and the immediate blowback cast as much of a cloud over Kennedy’s judgment as it did over Lord and Miller’s abilities as filmmakers, not to mention the ultimate quality of the film (which is now under the direction of Hollywood veteran Ron Howard). This story is not going away anytime soon, particularly as the Directors Guild sorts out the messy question of directorial credit and the film’s in-demand actors deal with inevitable questions over what went wrong.
Exhibit B: Colin Trevorrow. The Jurassic World director’s latest film, The Book of Henry, is a small-scaled family drama that opened on June 16 in just 579 theaters — and to some of the most scathing reviews of the year. That would be embarrassing enough for any filmmaker, but several of those critics also went out of their way to call into question whether or not Trevorrow is qualified to direct 2019’s Star Wars: Episode IX, as was announced in 2015. Were it any other franchise, this kind of open hostility would feel wildly out of line, but Episode IX is a movie that stands to make upwards of $2 billion. And after two years of dominating the box office and pop culture, Lucasfilm is now learning about the, er, dark side of astronomic success.
What’s next? The Last Jedi on Dec. 15, followed (purportedly) by the untitled Han Solo movie on May 25, 2018.
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures
Two of 2017’s most painful flops — The Great Wall with Matt Damon, and The Mummy with Tom Cruise — came from Universal’s slate this year. But the good greatly outweighed the bad. The Fate of the Furious did cool a bit at the domestic box office in comparison to Furious 7, but it still earned over $1 billion internationally, with the biggest global opening weekend of all time. Similarly, Fifty Shades Darker wasn’t nearly the phenomenon of its predecessor, but it still took in a steamy $378.8 million worldwide. And Get Out and Split each scared up over $250 million globally on budgets that weren’t even a tenth of that amount.
Overall, 2017 so far has been quite good to Universal — save for its record-setting run in 2015, it’s been the studio’s best year ever.
What’s next? Universal’s second half of the year showcases the rare studio slate that’s heavier on non-franchise fare, like the comedy Girls Trip with Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah on July 21, the fact-based dramedy American Made with Cruise on Sept. 29, the Groundhog Day-but-a-horror-movie Happy Death Day on Oct. 13, the serial killer thriller The Snowman with Michael Fassbender on Oct. 20, and the military veteran drama Thank You for Your Service with Miles Teller on Oct. 27. And then on Dec. 22, the Barden Bellas reunite for Pitch Perfect 3.
As if haunted by the ghosts of last summer’s wasteland of antique sequels and dubious franchise “debuts,” several sequels this year — like the sixth Alien movie, the fifth Transformers movie, and Cars 3 — have earned by far the worst domestic grosses in their respective franchise’s histories when adjusting for ticket price inflation. Meanwhile, expensive wannabes Power Rangers, Ghost in the Shell, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword failed in spectacular fashion to do the only thing they were made to do: open the door for lucrative sequels. The Mummy‘s flop at the domestic box office was at least mitigated by its decent international returns. But Universal meant to use that film to launch its already questionable Dark Universe of interconnected monster movies starring actors (Cruise, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe) who were a really big deal in the early 2000s. Given its embarrassing reviews and lackluster performance, the studio is perhaps wishing it had instead kept that title under wraps. (I’m sorry.)
Consider that studios spent roughly $1 billion — that’s $1,000,000,000 — on just these seven movies, according to their reported respective budgets. Think about all the movies that didn’t get made because that money was being spent on these projects instead, projects that weren’t particularly in demand in the first place, and didn’t particularly make their studios any money — and, in many cases, actually cost them dearly.
What’s next? Thankfully, the rest of the summer promises sequels — Spider-Man: Homecoming and War for the Planet of the Apes — that audiences seem genuinely keen on. There are, however, several questionable franchise premieres on the horizon: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets on July 21, The Emoji Movie on July 28, and The Dark Tower on Aug. 4.
<h1>WINNER: <i>John Wick: Chapter 2</i></h1>
Niko Tavernise / Lionsgate
Speaking of sequels, no franchise follow-up has been more successful in 2017 than John Wick: Chapter 2: The stunt-focused action thriller is the only franchise movie this year that has nearly doubled the global take of its predecessor, earning $166.8 million against the $88 million global take of 2014’s John Wick. This is how franchises are supposed to work, satiating an undeniable audience demand, instead of trying to manufacture it.
What’s next? Director Chad Stahelski told The Independent in June that he’s “knee deep” in developing Chapter 3.
<h1>WINNER: Jordan Peele</h1>
Justin Lubin / Universal Pictures
In hindsight, Jordan Peele’s feature directing debut, produced by micro-budget super-producer Jason Blum, seems like such an self-evidently great idea: Use the tropes of thrillers and horror movies to make a smart film about race that wouldn’t feel like a lecture. And yet, watching Get Out for the first time, especially in a packed theater, felt like a revelation — or maybe just a long overdue reminder that studio movies can still speak directly to the real world as it is today both on a grand scale and in a delightfully entertaining way. Audiences flocked to it: Get Out made $175.5 million in the US and Canada, more than the far more expensive — and far less entertaining — Kong: Skull Island, Pirates 5, and Transformers 5.
As a result, Peele rocketed from a popular Comedy Central star to one of the most in-demand filmmakers in Hollywood. But he’s decided not to chase the career path of so many filmmakers with sudden success at their fingertips, declining offers to direct expensive studio tentpole movies and instead reinvesting in his genre of self-described “social thrillers.” If only more filmmakers would follow his example — and had his daring.
What’s next? Another social thriller for 2019.
<h1>WINNER: M. Night Shyamalan</h1>
John Baer / Universal Pictures
Four years ago, M. Night Shyamalan’s career was a sad shadow of its former glory. Between the infamously bad acting in 2006’s The Happening, the controversial whitewashing in 2010’s The Last Airbender, and whatever was happening between Will and Jaden Smith in 2013’s After Earth, the filmmaker had slipped from “The Next Spielberg” into something of a Hollywood joke. But then he met Blum, and learned the power of a tiny budget — or, to put another way, the power of restraint.
Their first film together, 2015’s The Visit, took in $98.5 million on a reported $5 million budget. But January’s thriller Split truly resurrected Shyamalan’s career as a blockbuster filmmaker — in more ways than one, really. The movie took in $276.9 million worldwide, and reminded audiences of his genuine talents as a filmmaker and storyteller. To say more would be to spoil the very Shyamalanian twist at the end of the film, but suffice it to say for the first time in more than a decade, people are genuinely excited to see his next movie.
What’s next? A sequel to Split.