Where the movie industry is concerned, this summer could well be remembered more for the past several months' box office slump than any of the movies released in the same time period. Until last month when The Fantastic Four was released, box office revenues had been down for 19 straight weeks. Unfortunately for Hollywood, The Fantastic Four brought only a brief reprieve, not a full recovery; profits from movies have still been down from previous years. Even the latest Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith, considered by many to be among the best of the franchise, could not raise box office revenues to the levels that they once were.
The current box office slump has been blamed on many different culprits. Among the foremost of these is the increasing popularity of DVDs. I have to admit that this could be one possble reason that people are not going to the cinema as often as they once did. I know many people who, rather than going to the theatre to watch a movie they want to see, simply wait for the DVD to be released and then rent the DVD or buy it. And with many movies being released on DVDs after only a few months after they are released to theatres, these individuals do not have to wait long. That having been said, I do not think that DVDs are the only factor which have led to the current box office slump. Many people I know, who usually wait for movies to come out on DVD before seeing them, went to see Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith on its opening night at the theatre. Now I will admit that much of this is because most of the people I know are fervent Star Wars fans, but I think it could also point to the fact that if a movie is good enough, if a movie is remarkable enough, people will go to see it in the theatre. Indeed, last year saw record breaking box office revenues, despite the fact that DVDs were selling well too.
While many might wait for movies to come out on DVD, others might simply wait for them to be shown on one of the many cable outlets. Most movies debut on one of the premium movie channels (HBO, Starz, Showtime, and so on) about a year after their initial release and often on Pay-Per-View sooner than that. It seems possible to me that many people may simply be electing to wait until a movie is shown on the premium movie channels or Pay-Per-View before watching it. Still, as with DVDs, it seems to me that if a movie is good enough or intersting enough, people will go see it in the theatres rather than wait for it to be shown on a premium channel or Pay-Per-View. Again, I know of many who went to see the latest Star Wars movie even though they don't usually go to the cinema.
Another factor could be rising ticket prices at theatres. In many places ticket prices at cinemas have risen with every passing year. In fact, in many places it is not unusual for a family of four to spend over $100 on a night at the movies, after buying the tickets and a trip to the concession stand are factored together. With the cost of day to day living what it is today (especially the price of gasoline...), many families may not feel that they have the money to spare on too many trips to the movies. Going to the movie theatre then becomes something they do only once in a great while.
As to the ultimate reason for this year's box office slump, I suspect it may be the quality of this year's releases more than anything else. Indeed, it seems to me that in some respects Hollywood has been showing an amazing lack of originality the past several years, with many movies being simply sequels to prevoius movies, remakes of previous movies, or remakes of television shows. I do believe that this summer has not seen as many sequels as last year, but there were still a few, XXX: State of the Union and Herbie: Fully Loaded among them. Among the remakes of old movies there have been The Longest Yard and The Bad News Bears. As to remakes of old television shows, it seems to me that they have nearly been a dime a dozen this year. This summer alone has seen movies based on The Honeymooners, Bewitched, and The Dukes of Hazzard. It occurs to me that many people might simply not want to pay money for something which they have essentially seen before. Why go see the new version of The Longest Yard when one can simply rent the original on DVD? Why go see the cinematic remake of The Dukes of Hazzard when it is still in reruns on various channels or one can see many of the episodes on DVD (of course, I don't know why anyone would want to see the TV show or the movie based on it, but that's a whole different story...)? While many sequels and remakes are very successful (Shrek II and Spider-Man II from last year are two examples), it seems to me that many others simply fail at the box office. I suspect the reason for that is simply that people often won't pay money for something they perceive as having essentially seen before.
Of course, even when a movie is a remake or a sequel, it seems to me that people will go see that film if it is actually good. As I pointed out above, both Shrek II and Spider-Man II were hits from last year. This brings me to what I feel is the underlying cause for this summer's box office slump; whether a remake, sequel, or a movie based on an original idea, many of this summer's crop of movies simply have not been very good. The Bad News Bears, The Dukes of Hazzard, Stealth, and many other releases this summer have received simply wretched reviews from critics. And while the public often disagrees with the critics, it seems that this year they might well agree with them more often than not. Both The Bad News Bearsand Stealth failed at the box office. The Dukes of Hazzard did well its opening weekend before seeing its box office take plummet. While some films recieved bad notices from crticis, yet others recieved mixed reviews. Bewitched is a prime example of this. Many critics felt that its idea was sound and that the cast was good, but that it simply fell short of what it could have been. Regardless, it performed poorly at the box office.
It then seems to me that if Hollywood wants the box office to peform better, then it simply has to start making better movies. To me this means cutting down on the number of sequels and remakes they release. Was XXX successful enough to warrant a sequel? I'm not sure it was. Was anyone out there demanding a movie based on The Dukes of Hazzard? I suppose there could have been, but I rather doubt it. This also means simply taking greater care in making movies. Hollywood is going to have to see to it that the scripts are better, the directors are better, and the casts are better. It seems no secret to me that many of the most successful movies this year had good scripts, good casts, and competent directors--just look at Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Batman Begins, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As I said earlier, if a movie is good enough, people will go see it.
Of course, the unfortunate fact is that I don't know that Hollywood will take these steps in an effort to improve box office receipts. While the movie industry has produced many classics over the years, and has even produced many quality films in recent years, the fact remains that most movies over the many years have not been that good. Like any industry, it seems that Sturgeon's Law holds true for the cinema: 90% of everything is crud.