Sticklers will tell you that the season’s not quite done yet, but we know we’ve closed the book on summer. Certainly the movie industry, which typically begins its summer season in May, has moved on. It’s now in the process of tossing out all of its cinematic afterthoughts, hoping that one or two might strike a chord with the audience.
Which makes today a great opportunity to take stock of the summer movie season: What succeeded, what failed and what discerning moviegoers might be able to glean from the whole shebang.
So with that in mind, let me offer some quick observations.
1. It’s not dead yet. No secret the entertainment world is changing. The music industry has basically imploded, at least financially. Broadcast television is hanging onto relevancy by the very tips of its fingernails. Many folks have been wringing their hands over the fate of traditional moviegoing, too: Are people still, y’know, actually going to movies anymore?
You bet they are—so much so that the box office is actually breaking records. This June, moviegoers ponied up nearly $1.3 billion, which was 17% higher than the same period the year before. Moviedom’s second quarter—April, May and June—also set a record, raking in $3.3 billion.
Why so successful? Well …
2. Superhero movies still rule. If we look at the cinematic summer as, say, May through August, superhero movies topped the weekend box-office charts just five times in that 17-week span. But consider two of those superhero movies for a minute: Avengers: Infinity War and Incredibles 2 are both on the top-10 list for highest-grossing movies of all time. (Avengers: Infinity War is fourth with $678.8 million domestically, while Incredibles 2 lands in ninth with $604.5 million.) Deadpool 2 ($318.5 million) and Ant-Man and the Wasp ($214.8 million) have also banked some healthy grosses. Indeed, if you look at 2018’s top money-making movies, five of the top six are superhero flicks—including No. 1 Black Panther ($700.1 million). Only No. 4 Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom breaks up a superhero sweep. (And you could argue that Chris Pratt basically plays a superhero there, too, the raptor-whispering type.)
Speaking of which …
3. Sequels still rule. Bemoan the lack of innovation in Hollywood these days, but here’s the truth: The entertainment machine is giving us exactly what we moviegoers want: More of what they’ve already given us. Only one entry in the year’s top 10—No. 9 A Quiet Place—isn’t part of a franchise, and that came out in April. The rest are all sequels or prequels of one form or another, and most of them came out this summer. Solo: A Star Wars Story slots in at No. 7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is No. 8 and climbing. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is tenth.
We knew, of course, that most of those movies were going to be big (even though Solo, despite its impressive take, was considered a big monetary disappointment). But some of the year’s surprise successes tell an interesting story, too.
4. Sweet is in. We’ve chronicled the surprising success story of Crazy Rich Asians, a funny, if occasionally crass,comedy with lots of sweet family messages therein. It’s now No. 13 for the year with $135.8 million, and will probably be No. 11 this time next week. Another late-summer entrant, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again isn’t exactly family friendly, but its light, buoyant vibe helped the sequel earn $119.1 mil. And while Disney’s charming (and PG-rated) Christopher Robin entered the box-office tourney almost unnoticed, it’s quietly collected $91.9 million since the beginning of August.
In contrast …
5. Crass comedy is out. The R-rated puppet show The Happytime Murders bombed at the box office this summer. Tag, also R, underperformed as well. While audiences have embraced many PG-13-rated comedies like Crazy Rich Asians, they’ve largely rejected R-rated laughers recently.
Which brings us to a final, wider point—one we’ve made before but worth reiterating.
Look at the year’s biggest box-office successes and you’ll find only three R-rated flicks in the top 20: Deadpool 2, The Equalizer 2 (No. 17, $101.6 million) and Fifty Shades Freed ($100.4 million). Not too surprising. Statistically, R-rated films make a smaller and smaller share of the box-office pot, despite the fact that Hollywood makes more R-rated movies than any other kind.
What are moviegoers telling the entertainment industry this summer? Keep giving us our superheroes, sequels and sweet, uplifting stories.
But don’t fill it with questionable content, please. We don’t want it.