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Guilty Displeasures

Hollywood continues its long, dark decline


Your honor. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We're here today to put Hollywood on trial.

Our nation's purveyors of pomp have failed their charge. In the simplest terms, movie studios have turned their backs on the nation's audiences; and those audiences, in turn, have turned away from the silver screen and toward their TV screens. Television is flourishing in a golden era of thrills and originality usually reserved for films. We need look no further than Game of Thrones for unprecedented action-based filmmaking--television is eating Hollywood's lunch (or maybe we should say popcorn).

Your honor, we ask that People's Exhibit A be admitted into evidence: It is an article, published almost exactly one year ago today, in which Boise Weekly predicted "the beginning of the end of the summer blockbuster" (BW, Screen, "Too Big Not to Fail," Aug. 28, 2013). Please allow me to quote:

"When film historians look back on what triggered the demise of the phenomenon of summer blockbusters, they'll look to the early part of the 21st century."

And now, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, People's Exhibit B: The July 24 edition of The Hollywood Reporter. This summer's total box office receipts, which will be tallied in just a few weeks, should reveal the worst year-over-year decline in three decades. In 2013, three films made more than $400 million each in United States theaters. In summer 2014, no film will gross $300 million domestically--the first time since 2001.

And now, in rapid succession, we give you People's Exhibits C, D, E, F and G, all of which reveal a hubris that remains unchecked:

C. The price isn't right: Hollywood paints us deeper into a financial corner by charging more money for less value. The only reason some movies--Transformers, Maleficent, X-Men, Godzilla, How to Train Your Dragon--have, thus far, reported respectable grosses this summer is because IMAX attendance has inflated the numbers: These films require more screens, yet they're filling fewer seats. This is the very definition of unsustainable.

D. The fault in our stars: Summer 2013 exposed the box office vulnerability of Tom Cruise (Oblivion), Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger) and Will Smith (After Earth). Summer 2014 wasn't any better, creating more carnage from previous box-office guarantees: Melissa McCarthy (Tammy) and Adam Sandler (Blended) have now joined the list of walking wounded.

E. Chinks in the armor: Movie studios have been quick to deflect criticism by pointing to what they call this season's "successes," such as Transformers: Age of Extinction (the No. 1 film of the summer), Maleficent or Godzilla. But take a closer look: The latest Transformers grossed far less than the other films in the franchise, and much of its box office bankroll is coming from China. And while Maleficent made nearly $70 million in its opening weekend, that's far below what similar benchmark fantasy films such as 2013's Oz, The Great and Powerful and 2010's Alice in Wonderland made in their opening weekends. Godzilla opened this summer to plenty of buzz, grossing $93 million in its first weekend, but it registered one of the worst second weekends for a tentpole film.

F. No Pixar: Pixar cannot be denied. Their films are almost always a sure bet technically, emotionally and financially. When Pixar executives announced they would not release a film this summer, it revealed how dangerously dependent Hollywood is on this one Disney subsidiary.

G. Staying home is better: You know it, the jury knows it, everybody knows it. Even a studio executive who asked to remain anonymous told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month, "I wish I worked at Netflix." We don't need to subpoena the casts of Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards to prove that point.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we ask for a guilty verdict. The Hollywood summer-blockbuster model is borderline criminal; and it is currently lorded over by men and women who abuse our nation's greatest entertainment legacy by feeding an addiction of meagerness, mediocrity and complacency. The prosecution rests.