Off the back of a report by the Los Angeles Times, a number of trade journals and the like came up with reports and analyses that portend to a doomed summer for major blockbusters.
The Los Angeles Times' report stated that it expects the total summer box office for the US and Canada this year to be somewhere in the region of $4 billion, which would be the worst figures the industry's received since 2007. The crux of the Los Angeles Times' piece - and the subsequent pieces that sprung in the aftermath - all cite a number of factors that all make sense and are all reasonably predictable.
There's franchise fatigue, the lack of original content in cinemas, the availability of streaming services and the quality therein, and the fact that there's simply too many options for people to spend their disposable income on. While all of these are pertinent and very real, the fact remains that there's only a finite amount of money to be made from the summer box office - and, more specifically, that audiences tend not to care what time of the year is it when they go to the cinema.
Last year, we analysed the summer box office of 2016 with the summer box office of 2006 and found that, by and large, the figures were largely the same. In other words, approximately the same amount of money was made in 2016 was made in 2006 - but more films were being released in 2016 than in 2006. In fact, our analysis of the figures showed that in one month - June 2006 compared to June 2016 - were practically identical, but that the money was dispersed differently.
The highest-grossing films, ten years apart, were animated Disney films - Finding Dory in 2016 and Cars in 2006. Finding Dory made $916 million whilst Cars made $462 million. The total box office for that month in 2006 was $1.159 billion and in 2016, it was $1.166 billion. Granted, Finding Dory opened in more cinemas, but the total amount made in that month at the box office is largely the same. Sixty films were released in June 2016 at the box office, compared to fifty-three in 2006.
That's a difference of $43 million, but only seven more films released in 2016. Spread evenly, those seven films would need to have made $6.14 million each to match the figures from 2016.
This summer, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is being singled out as the first flop and is set to lose something in the region of $150 million for Warner Bros. There's also gloomy predictions for Transformers: The Last Knight and Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge, both of which are fifth entries in their respective franchises. Box office analysts cite the fact that word-of-mouth is moving away from cinema and instead pushing audiences to television, with buzzy shows like The Handmaid's Tale, House of Cards and Game of Thrones all launching in summer months and directly competing for audience attention.
Leaving aside the raw data, the fact is that the offerings from major studios aren't making the same waves as they did before. It's a common complaint from audiences - oh, it's all sequels, it's all comic-book movies, it's another explosion-fest - yet audiences dutifully turned up for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, which is both a comic-book movie and a sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 currently has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 82% and so far has made around $630 million against a production budget of $200 million.
Even when you compare the winter box office to the summer box office, the figures are largely the same - and the same goes for which films audiences turn out. We analysed the winter box office figures and overall critic ratings with the equivalents in the summer and found that the only correlating factor was whether or not a film was actually any good. In other words, audiences didn't care what time of year a film was released - if it was a good film and people talked about it, people came to the cinema to see it.
It's a tricky thing, trying to figure out audience's taste and there's been plenty of examples of excellent films that are completely overlooked by audiences - Edge of Tomorrow being the most egregious example in recent memory. Nevertheless, repeated analyses and studies show audiences respond to quality and if studios and filmmakers were more concerned with creating quality films instead of longevity and franchise-building, their fortunes may change. Box office tracking and predictions are based on a number of nebulous factors that can't be readily quantified or explained. Surprise hits are common, sure-fire hits don't always come through in the way they want and it's hard to get an overall view of things when studios and analysts alike are concerned with the opening weekend rather than the year in total.
Ultimately, the box office runs on a cycle and there'll be fat years and lean years, but one constant remains the same - if the films are good, people will come. So the question isn't about whether or not the summer box office is tapped out, it's whether the creative juices and studios willingness to take a risk is tapped out.