Rounding out the box office: Good, bad and mediocre
When the curtain falls on 2017, two observations appear certain:
First, six out of the top 10 popular films will be superhero related (submission deadline was late November, so expert projections are included from Box Office Mojo and Boxoffice Magazine). And second, it’s been a Rotten Tomatoes kind of year.
HITS AND MISSES
“The Amazing Wonder Woman” holds the second position (about $412 million) behind the live action “Beauty and the Beast” ($504 million), but “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” likely will rearrange the positions, especially the lower half of the top ten with a healthy portion of “Last Jedi” rocketing into 2018. Experts predict a $750 million run for “Jedi,” which would give it top of the box in 2017. The animated Pixar/Disney entry, “Coco” has a strong chance for a top 10 finish, too, as its Thanksgiving opening demonstrated.
As of this writing, “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2,” “Spiderman Homecoming,” “Thor Ragnarok,” “Logan,” and “Justice League” will grab a spot in the top ten. Despite the mixed critical response, most “JLA” fans have given an early thumbs up – meaning the film will easily clear the domestic $200 million threshold; it’s the $300 million one that’s now doubtful.
The breakout Stephen King terrorizing clown, Pennywise, propelled “It,” which is solid to hold fifth or sixth place. “Despicable Me 2,” “Fate of the Furious” and “Dunkirk” round out the entries (as of November 2017).
Unfortunately, 2017 movie news is what’s not at the top. It’s been a year of tentpole topples and mid-range pictures ignored.
“Geostorm,” “King Arthur, Legend of the Sword,” “Baywatch,” “Chips” and “Monster Trucks” went bust. “Blade Runner 2049” did not have strong lasting word of mouth. Neither did Tom Cruise’s “The Mummy.” The latest entry in the “Planet of the Apes,” “King Kong,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Cars,” “Transformers” and “Fifty Shades” franchises finished in the top 20.
Comedies mostly failed to sustain laughs. “Boss Baby,” “Baby Driver” and “Girls Trip” pulled the best figures. “Snatched” under-performed since Goldie Hawn had expectations high. “Rough Night” and “The House” fell into the same category.
Since gender equality and inclusiveness has rewritten the formula for romantic comedy, few dared to accept the challenge. “Trainwreck,” which opened in July 2015, is the last one charted in the top 25 rom-coms. “The Big Sick” (2017), “About Last Night” (2014 remake), and “How to Be Single” (2016) are in the top 100.
Ironically, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” demonstrated that it takes a twist to do “falling in love” nowadays. Though it did not play wide, “How to Be a Latin Lover” (with Eugenio Derbez, Rob Lowe and Kristen Bell), came closest to the romantic roses and sweet nothings approach.
Various horror genres thrived. “It,” “Get Out,””Happy Death Day,” and “Annabelle: Creation” demonstrated that writing and imagination do not require mega production budgets. Delight the viewers and their screams initiate an unintended franchise.
TOMATOES AND SOCIAL MEDIA
The Rotten Tomatoes website that combines critical reviews into a “tomato score” – fresh or rotten – has some distributors crying foul. Attacking reviews by top critics has occurred, too. Actually, “critics” have been around since movies; now, there are many that express opinions not a select big city and eclectic few who find themselves quoted for favoring a picture or followed for their expertise of artistic endeavors and knowledge of historic comparisons.
“Tomatoes'” torpedoes, in my opinion, are only partially on target. It’s not the website, it’s the instant trickling of social media – professional reviewers and tweeting moviegoers – that quickly speed up favorable or unfavorable word-of-mouth.
Picking hits and misses on the screen has gone Vegas for odds. A fantasy pick-a-winner movie game has surfaced. It appears that the weekend finish results of box office popularity has taken on the same impact as charting a single (i.e. song) in the Top 40.
A former cinema chain owner once shared a theory with me: He could walk in on Friday afternoon and, by attendance, predict how strong new titles would be. (That was before the widespread practice of premiering nearly all new films on Thursday evening, a practice that evolved from the midnight openings of select films.) I didn’t have an opportunity for a full explanation (or whether his reasoning was confidential), but tweets and text messaging trends have replaced slow building word-of-mouth from ordinary viewers. Studios relied on so-called “sneak” or “advance” showings a week or two in advance of opening to churn up favorable response. Those fingers flying in the afternoon, viewers have opportunity to influence social media friends.
However, the social media indexes are less than accurate. Scooping a Facebook tally of “total likes” (compiled by Boxoffice) near the end of November, “The Last Jedi” had above 19 million likes. Next was “Jigsaw,” the re-boot of “Saw,” whose torture rehash did not churn crowds, yet it has more than 16 million likes. “Justice League” had 2.5 million; “Coco,” 350,000; the teary sleeper “Wonder,” 324,000; and animated “Ferdinand,” 252,000. Number three on Facebook is “Incredibles 2” at 7.4 million likes.
Incidentally before the Internet, new releases had at least the first weekend to rise or fall on orchestrated buzz and star casting. Not anymore. Studios blame the tomato score gatekeepers, when it’s the simultaneous spreading of reaction that solidifies, praises an unsung “sleeper” as view-worthy, and dings those that don’t make the grade.
Viewer reactions to some degree have influenced super secret test screenings where the filmmakers fill the auditorium for a surprise film, then filmmakers pay close attention to audience reaction – laugh, cry, shout – in the proper locations. “Clue,” a mystery based on a game, for example, had three separate endings that could be rotated. Interactivity could influence films with video game-like choices.