2019 was shaping up to be one of the best summer movie years of all time. The season began with Avengers: Endgame, which would later become the highest grossing film in the history of planet earth. Some big films – like Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, the Fast and the Furious spinoff Hobbs and Shaw, an Elton John biopic, and a Men in Black sequel – teased that the summer would only get better. But in actuality, it did not.
The four highest grossing films of the summer were all released or produced by one studio, Disney. Those films being Lion King, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Toy Story 4, and Aladdin. There’s a steep 200 million dollar jump from the number four film Aladdin and the number five film John Wick 3.
Only one of the ten highest grossing films of the summer is an original film, that being Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood. But distancing it from the other franchise outings is hard because you can consider the director, Quentin Tarantino, to be a franchise in his own right. The film also stars Brad Pitt, Leonardo Dicaprio, and Margot Robbie. Suffice to say, it was born to perform well.
If we look beyond monetary qualifiers to judge this summer’s slate of films we can also look at each film’s ability to stay in the national consciousness for more than a day. Most of these films’ moment in the spotlight came long before the film was actually released and were surrounded with Twitter controversies. Remember when all of Twitter freaked out at the sight of the Will Smith Genie in Aladdin? Remember when everyone was upset at The Lion King for remaking the original without any of the stuff that made it good?
Men in Black: International’s moment in the spotlight came when Liam Neeson, who portrayed one of the film’s minor characters, revealed that he once almost committed a hate crime. An outcry of people online and in the media asked for Neeson to be removed from the film. However, when the film was released Neeson was still in the film but nobody cared because nobody saw it.
All in all, besides a few Disney movies and the Quentin Tarantino movie, nobody saw anything this summer. This is a reflection on both the studios’ inability to produce things people actually care about and want to see. Our goldfish attention span certainly doesn’t help either, coupled with the fact that we can sit in the comfort of our home and watch thousands of better movies and tv shows for less than the price of a single ticket.
While I stand here on my soapbox, I must admit that even myself, the Movie Man, had neglected to see a number of the things that were released this summer. I passed on Rocketman, Spider-Man, Detective Pikachu, and Yesterday. Of the handful of movies I actually saw I only cared about a couple of them. It’s with deep sorrow that I admit that I was somehow tricked into seeing Hobbs and Shaw.
With the state of the business being as it is, it’s unlikely that the 2020 summer season will be any better.
Marvel, also known as my wallet’s daddy, is keen on releasing its biggest films in late spring, ending the summer movie season before it’s even started. Netflix, the most consistent studio, will probably never release something of the same cultural magnitude as Stranger Things season 3 in theaters – or anything for that matter.
So what can save the summer? The same thing that always saves movies: original Oscar-worthy films.
Get Out, one of the biggest films of 2017’s summer, was an original movie that later won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars; it spread by word of mouth. A sort of “you have to see this” moment, something we don’t often get in theaters anymore.
This summer’s Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood did well for its non-superhero-ness. It will more than likely come out of this year’s Academy Awards with a few Oscars.
Traditionally the awards-season films start at the end of the blockbuster season. Why not start at the beginning? Generating both critical and box office success at the same time. It’s hard for most awards season films to do both, these days.
But in the end, as long as there is summer and as long as there are movies the two will coexist well. Whether that’s in theaters or on streaming services. We may never have an original film top the box office in the summer season, but is that such a bad thing in the end?