There is a great divide pulling two different notions of success away from one another. One notion is gauged by a film’s eventual bank account, the other measured by its appraisal (the latter doesn’t count in this feature).
The situation is as awkward as a messy divorce – and to make matters worse – imagine the debacle being live on international television (or to be politically correct, on local cinema screens); you’ll laugh at the antics, knowing full well that the enjoyment will launch other hackneyed productions before you can scream, “not another Star Wars” (or, if you so prefer, insert any other favorite Marvel, DC, young-adult, horror or animation franchise here).
The top earners of the year are Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, The Secret Life of Pets, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Deadpool, Suicide Squad, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange – or to put it into perspective, five superhero movies, three animated movies (with one being a sequel), one partially animated re-telling that was more in-tune with its animation roots than the original work of literature (re: Jungle Book), and one spin-off of Harry Potter, which is already a part of a series of upcoming films.
The story – or its lack thereof – is the same as last year’s: The Martian and Inside Out were two exceptions. Actually, we’ve been in a re-run since 2013, and the box office has never been better (with slight exception to 2014).
Counting the numbers, 2016 is set to end on another global high by December 31st. The record tally should be around $11 billion worldwide or about a $500 million less than last year. The overall total for year-to-date gives us far better accounts: a growth of approximately $274 million from 2015 to 2016 from between January 1st to December 22nd.
While this may seem like a time to bring out the cake and confetti, ponder on this for a second: the annual box office total of the top 10 films in the US in 2016 was $8.82 billion (Rogue One, while just making it to the US domestic top 10th position, is still at $419 million; or $230 million less than Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). In contrast, 2015’s top 10 worldwide grosses took $11.5 billion.
The drop in the top 10 is evident, however, it also means that more films have a far bigger stake – which might be a mixed blessing. You see, films today are more expensive to produce, and therefore, need to make more money to be in profit. Any film with a wide global appeal would have an excessive production budget north of $150 million, supplemented by a comparable promotional spending amount. A film making hundreds of millions worldwide may still end up losing millions for the studio.
Romance, once a good-enough genre, has taken a backseat; in its place, is the cheapest (figuratively and practically speaking) genre: horror. Conjuring 2, the less scary sequel to Conjuring, Purge: Election Year (not really horror-horror, unless you take in the dystopian concept), Lights Out (again, not really scary), Ouija: Origin of Evil and Don’t Breathe (both better than expected) left their makers happy. Even The Shallows, starring Blake Lively’s barely-clothed swimmer-babe caught off-guard and stranded on a rock by an angry insomniac shark, was a hit at $119 million (the production budget was a mere $17 million).
It is quite possible that today’s top studio – Disney, in this case – may not be reigning supreme next year. (Last year, it was Universal). Of the top ten, five are Disney releases – again not counting Rogue One, which may make upwards of $600 million by 2017.
There have been a fair share of perplexing disappointments as well: Tom Hank’s return as Robert Langdon in Inferno – a mostly paltry thriller directed by the mostly dependable Ron Howard – grossed a measly $34 million in the US; regardless of that, the film still became a success story of sorts – its international box-office stands at $185 million, signalling that Mr. Hanks, amongst other known A-list celebrities, still have audience drawing power outside of their native country.
Other, more fitting disasters, include the ocean-disaster drama The Finest Hours (Chris Pine and Casey Affleck), Zoolander 2 (Ben Stiller), Snowden (director Oliver Stone, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Tina Fey), Hail, Caesar! (George Clooney), Allied (Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, directed by Robert Zemeckis), The BFG (Steven Spielberg), The Huntsman: Winter War, sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain), Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Tom Cruise, director Edward Zwick), Alice Through the Looking Glass (Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp amongst a lot of others), Deepwater Horizon (Mark Wahlberg, director Peter Berg), Gods of Egypt (Gerard Butler, playing an angry Egyptian god under director Alex Proyas), Independence Day: Resurgence (the original cast minus Will Smith, plus a truck load of additions), Star Trek Beyond (every one of the cast, less Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, with director Justin Lin), and the critically bashed Ben-Hur (Jack Huston and Morgan Freeman under director Timur Bekmambetov).
Some motion pictures barely hung-on by their teeth. X-Men: Apocalypse whose $543 million gives it the far-off third position in the X-Men franchise (X-Men: Days of Future Past raked in $747 million in comparison).
In terms of entertainment value, most of these, in fact, some of the top ten movies – lie somewhere between the atrocious, bearable and the just-about-good category. Some better ones, like Jack Reacher, are shunned by the audience. Appallingly made movies like Warcraft, which already had a following from die-hard video game fans (and general idiots who don’t know better), end up with $433 million worldwide – thanks to China, a country that contributed $220 million to the film’s bank account.
China, a rapidly expanding market that recently opened its doors to American motion pictures is by far the US’s biggest market; one that already has hundreds of millions, if not billions, invested in Hollywood (Independence Day: Resurgence was partly backed by Chinese investors, featuring Chinese milk product placements, and, of course, actors).
It is also a market that may end up wrecking Hollywood’s next year’s box office if President-elect Donald Trump makes good on his foreign trade policies.
But then again, as per my predictions, it may not: China has a lot of investment in its entertainment properties – especially the multiplexes. Closing doors on Hollywood may end up punishing the exhibitors, like the lack of Indian releases in the last few months in Pakistan.
So, despite some heated debates, Hollywood may end up on the top next year as well – though don’t end up predicting an otherworldly number, like $12 billion; that would be 2018. (Yes, note it down). •