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The Future of the Summer Blockbuster

I recently read an article through Moviepass (free promotion for Moviepass: they are a great service for the avid filmgoer) about the history of the Summer blockbuster. Near the end of the article, they address a shift in Summer movie box office trends. This and recent thoughts I’ve had about this Summer’s slate of new releases have spurred some personal speculation on the future of the Summer blockbuster. Moviepass looked into the past, let’s now look into the future.

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The Summer movie season, in recent memory, has been littered with big superhero fanfare and big animated children’s movies. Both trends make sense. Spectacle has always been a staple of the Summer season, looking all the way back to 1977’s Star Wars. Superheroes being the fad of the day (and by day, I mean to say the last decade), it tracks that these spectacle movies will make easy money in Summer.

Children’s movies, too, make more money in Summer due to kids being out of school. Pixar and Illumination releases have done very well in this season. Pixar’s Finding Dory is currently aiming to be the number one or number two highest grossing movie of Summer 2016. Dory is also currently the highest grossing animated film of all time.

Long story short, Summer is reserved for a certain brand of entertainment with well known formulas that work. And everyone knows that Summer is the big time of year for studios to make money. Moviepass highlights that this wasn’t always the case. While the early days of nickelodeon theaters advertised cool theaters to escape the heat, the real boom of the Summer season didn’t begin until 1975’s Steven Spielberg classic Jaws.

Moviepass also addresses that some of the biggest contemporary films, such as Avatar and The Force Awakens, have been released in the Winter. The real question from this point is how to assess this disparity.

The short speculation is that more big spectacle movies are being widely well-received by both audiences and critics. Avatar and The Force Awakens were both released during the height of award season releases, and both received Oscar nominations.

Now, the perennial blockbuster films also received crossover acclaim between audiences and critics. The difference nowadays is market saturation. There are so many high profile movie releases that the Summer season has been diluted in terms of quality of output. A wide release today has a much larger theater count than the early Summer blockbusters. Jaws was released in just over 400 theaters. Most wide releases today open in over 2,000 theaters. With so many movies competing nationwide for stock in the box office landscape, the biggest of blockbusters fare better being released in the other busy movie season: Winter.

Will this shift from Summer to Winter become a trend? Possibly, yet it seems that Summer will always have its place as the blockbuster season. Even the smallest trend toward more Winter blockbusters, however, could negatively affect the Summer box office numbers.

Quality-wise, Summer could suffer as well. In my opinion, Summer 2016 is not a great slate of releases. There are hits and misses, sure, but the hits aren’t hitting particularly hard for me. And my excitement for the Summer slate going into the season wasn’t particularly high. Ghostbusters and Suicide Squad piqued my interest, and another good Jason Bourne movie would certainly make me happy. For the most part, though, anticipation for Summer 2016 hasn’t been a big factor in my moviegoing experience.

Perhaps it is just the pessimist in me that accounts for this lack of anticipation, or perhaps it is me being spoiled by the classics I’m still being introduced to. But Winter has always been, for me, the time of year for anticipated releases (the Oscar junkie that I am). Having the biggest of blockbusters in Winter as well (as in, the next 20 Star Wars movies we’ll inevitably get) is an interesting shift.

In a way, it is disappointing. Having those films to be excited for for Summer is better for my happiness as a critic than having all of my excitement contained within the confines of two months of the year. Then again, movies aren’t made for the sake of critics; they’re made for the sake of money. The industry would love to have wall to wall blockbuster hits from January to December. Unfortunately, bad movies exist, and they are often shoved into the corners of January where they may have a shot at winning a weekend box office.

In the long run, this is all rather arbitrary. The movies will not change in quality due to whatever trends in release dates may occur. They may just be released in places we may not expect.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

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