In a World Where Blockbusters Bomb


Friday, August 09, 2013

It’s been a typically explosive summer at the movies, in that there has been a big-budget, effects-laden release nearly every weekend since May. But playing it safe with franchise fare seems to have backfired for The Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D., White House Down, Smurfs 2, and several others. In the past two months, more than a billion dollars in American movie-making and advertising has bombed domestically and internationally.

Industry bigwigs, including blockbuster pioneer Steven Spielberg, have predicted a proximate “implosion” if the major studios continue their strategy. Lynda Obst, who has been producing movies in Hollywood for 30 years, admits this summer’s slate has been nearly catastrophic, but it doesn’t herald the end of the big-movie business. “It’s a very reactive, bright crew of people,” she tells Kurt Andersen.

Obst attributes the glut of action, animation, and endless sequels to international audiences, which she says account for 80 percent of Hollywood’s bottom line these days. She explores the international market’s influence on the movie business in her new book, Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business. “When I discovered this fact I feared that we in the domestic market no longer count,” she tells Kurt, “but what you see this summer is that a total failure of a movie in the US market doesn't behoove it well overseas.” Americans have essentially become a focus group for the rest of the world’s movie-going audiences, Kurt realizes.

So why does Hollywood keep churning out big budget movies when they don’t succeed here? Big international markets like China only allow America’s 3D action extravaganzas to show on their screens; dramas and romantic comedies are of no interest. Obst says that’s partly to protect smaller-scale films made locally, and partly to prevent “the infiltration of our ideas.”

But with the blockbuster formula starting to break down, Hollywood might be forced to stop putting put all their eggs in one basket. “I see more original ideas in development this year,” Obst says. “Instead of making the one marginal tent pole, dump that one and make five smaller movies.” 

→ What do you think? Does Hollywood need to rethink its blockbuster strategy or is it just giving the people what they want? Tell us in a comment below.

Comments [7]

Greg from Los Angeles, CA

I grew up wanting to make movies, and I have no problems with blockbusters--Spielberg's Minority Report is a fantastic piece of work, Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy is great--but now I want to make TV. There are entire networks--HBO, Showtime, Netflix--whose built-in mission statement is to make high-quality, challenging stuff. No movie studio exists to do that.

Obviously, the massive success of "The Sopranos" and "Mad Men" and the survival of "Community" and "Parks & Rec" has proved there's an appetite for smart, complex storytelling in both comedy and drama.

Sure, I'd prefer to see the 6 major studios (there's no such thing as "Hollywood," really) make smarter movies, but I have no power to change that, and neither does anyone else here. I made my own webseries with a friend of mine (WRNG In Studio City, if you're interested). 13 years ago we would've written & directed an indie movie, but with distribution the state it's in, there's just no point.

All we can do is go to good movies in the theatres--studio-funded or indie-funded--in the first couple of weeks they're out, ideally--and not go to dumb movies. But, with the studios looking overseas, I'm not even sure what impact that'll have on the studio decisions. It'll help the indies, though.

Sep. 04 2013 12:21 PM
Francis Newman from Sydney

A definite rethink is in order. Hollywood need to offer promising young directors and writters with successful films behind them to have creative liscence and forget these big budget sequels they have had their day. Now everyone is bored of them and enough with the super hero films. Empower us OK WEGET IT enough.

Aug. 17 2013 05:14 AM

Hollywood is essentially pumping out homogenized movies all in the name of worldwide revenue. The end result is a deterioration of taste or penchant for quality amongst American audiences and consumers.

I talk movies with people all the time and it strikes me that so many find these Hollywood blockbusters to be of high caliber storytelling. One reason most audiences seem drawn to these movies is that they offer a means of escapism. People seem willing to forgo story and character in favor of sensationalism.

The cinema was once regarded as the medium for compelling stories. It has since been replaced by television which has introduced to the public a variety of original programming complete with engaging stories, themes, and characters.

Aug. 15 2013 09:48 PM

I’ve only seen the trailers for the blockbuster movies, both this and last summer, but they all strike me as boring. Admittedly I’m in my forties with different tastes than when I was seventeen, but I do prefer movies about people with stories over special effects. I think the reason so many movies this summer bombed is because the novelty of them has worn off.

Aug. 11 2013 07:29 PM
John A

Dumb movies need to die. It is the way of evolution. Recent history is proof that in the short run, evolution can run backwards, but as another commenter has implied, we can be left behind for it.

Aug. 10 2013 05:40 PM
Czekaj, Lawrence

If you don't like what Hollywood is producing, DON'T GO TO THE MOVIES. Eventually, mainstream cinemas will change.

Aug. 10 2013 02:17 PM
Franziska Oliver from Switzerland

It's not only the very thin unrewarding content of the blockbusters, nor the sometimes utter predictability, but also US-American chauvinism that we are tired of in europe. The inhumane treatment of prisoner Manning, the hunt for Ed Snowden as if he was a terrorist, and of course the NSA scandal, all this is making us turn away. The fascination of US popular culture has its limits - so it seems. Europe has a rather old population, millions of seniors, who have time at their hands and love the movies. They used to be able to go see pretty good mainstream movies, but now....? Where are they? If only the biggest common denominator counts, then go on Hollywood, make blockbusters for China! Or, take a large national and international audience serious, who appreciates good stories, complex emotions and is neither interested in the darkness (akin to fashism) surrounding some superheroes, nor in the military power of the US- It's good movies we want!

Aug. 09 2013 10:33 AM

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