Is it just me or was the summer 2016 movie season a little underwhelming?
What's sad is that I feel I said the exact same thing about last summer's list of films. What is it now about our summer blockbusters that is going so preposterously downhill? Has Hollywood finally become "just" a business?
Now I know. The summer movie season has never been the mecca of perfect filmmaking. You never see me or any of the hundreds of critics working in film criticism loading their end-of-the-year best lists full of summer fair. But its always a fun time of year. A time to really enjoy the world of effects and mayhem that a summer movie season can offer. The thing is, summer movie seasons used to feature films that were actually kind of good. The studios tried to deliver, even if they didn't quite have to. If these last two summer movie seasons were to be judged, they just didn't deliver. On a film perspective at least.
Are studios caring about making great movies for this season? Do they need to? Even though the season was uneventful, there was still a massive cash flow you could find if you follow box office numbers. I never follow box office numbers, because I don't think the rate at which tickets were bought can gauge whether or not a movie is actually good. But that's beside the point. Studios look at the money being made and they take it as an excuse to keep making these movies. If the movies themselves are so underwhelming, why go see them? Why not keep that hard earned cash on something else besides a movie ticket? Do we still enjoy the experience of the theater that we will go see movies, even if they are trash? Do we have nothing else better to do? I think if a studio doesn't have to try so hard to make good movies, why should they? They know they will see their profits returned.
Or will they? We know "Ghostbusters" and "Independence Day: Resurgence" bombed at the box office this year. We know that their respected studios were planning on making more of those films, but now that may not be a sure thing. Thanks to Marvel, DC and Middle-Earth, making entire universes of films is becoming a hot commodity. Studios are planning their entire year around two or three movies, knowing full well there will be sequels in the next few years. Planning an entire massive paycheck over the course of a decade. Will all of them work? So far, they learning the worst possible lessons from the Marvel films. Take "WarCraft" for example. That doesn't feel like a complete experience, simply because its not vague at all that we are going to get more movies. They built that into the first film, but what about the first film itself? Shouldn't we get an established world and characters before we get a sequel? Shouldn't the first film be good before we decide we want more? That's how it used to work. If we keep allowing this half-work of filmmaking to continue, it will keep right on happening.
What did work about summer 2016? Well, it was a big year for horror films. "The Conjuring 2," "The Purge: Election Year" "Lights Out," "Don't Breathe" and "The Shallows" were all well received. I may not have gone crazy for each and every one of those films. But any year that features ambitious and smart horror filmmaking is a big deal for me. When so many horror movies these days are doing so little to scare the audience, its nice to have horror movies where I can point and say, these are fine examples. Even though I just got done laying down problems with blockbuster filmmaking, that doesn't mean there weren't movies to not like. I know everybody had a good time hating on "The Legend of Tarzan," I really don't think that movie got that fair of a shake. "Star Trek Beyond" felt like vintage Star Trek and hopefully pleased all Trekkies everywhere. Then there is Marvel, a studio we can seemingly always rely on. "Captain America: Civil War" was another smash hit, proving that their ongoing franchise experiment continues to work for them.
My favorite film of the summer wasn't a blockbuster though. It wasn't a horror movie. In fact, it was a movie that barely anybody heard about. Just because it didn't have money to throw at marketing doesn't mean it wasn't a summer movie. Sometimes the best medicine in a slow summer movie season is a good indie film, and "Hell Or High Water" certainly fit that bill. I just wrote my review for the film here. I also got to say that I enjoyed the hell out of "Sausage Party." It was a good summer for adult entertainment. When the more kid-friendly, let's-get-butts-in-seats fair didn't have the same effect I hoped for.
After two slow summer's in a row, the best thing to have is hope. Hope that studios take a look at this year in retrospect and learn from it. Hope that they will take the right lessons away from what happened here. Hope that the best ingredients for a great summer movie is keep things simple, but tell a complete story, create characters we will want to meet again. Not because we didn't get their full story the first time around. I just hope by this time next year, I am telling how sorry I am to see summer 2017 go, instead of having a small opinion about it as whole. The summer movie season can be something to get excited for again. The only question is when?