Hollywood is having a lousy summer, and there’s no relief in sight.
Domestic box office revenue for the season is trailing last year by 11 percent and none of the major releases still coming are expected to change that trajectory. In fact, things are likely to get worse for U.S. studios before the leaves change. Without a film debuting widely over the Labor Day weekend, BoxOffice Media predicts the film industry will end the summer of 2017 with sales down by up to 15 percent.
The ugly numbers inspired the usual array of think pieces pointing to several suspects.
- Social Media
- Poor product
There’s a problem with those theories, particularly the first two. Both social media and Rotten Tomatoes have been readily available for years. That’s not to say they don’t impact interest in a particular film.
But they did last year, too. And the year before. So why do they suddenly hold such sway over our film choices?
And while this summer showcased a one-two punch of rancid movies (“The Mummy” and “Transformers: The Last Knight”) the season produced a number of solid blockbusters (“Wonder Woman.” “The Fate of the Furious”) and original treats (“Baby Driver,” “The Big Sick”).
Esquire.com coined “dazzle fatigue” as part of the problem. Too many noisy blockbusters squeezed into one modest space. As theories go, we’ve heard much worse.
So what’s missing? The one theory makes more sense than most, even if it can’t be measured in any traditional sense. And, of course, it involves the man who’s been sucking the oxygen out of the news cycle for the past seven months.
Only you can’t blame President Donald Trump for this. He’s actually the victim here. Or, to be more precise, those who pulled the lever for him last November.
‘He’s Hitler!’ Lather, Rinse Repeat
Hollywood’s insane reaction to Trump’s ascent may be coaxing customers to skip the multiplex this summer.
Here’s the rub:
Many Americans who lean right, support Trump or check both boxes are aghast at what Hollywood has been up to for the past year. They’ve read the tweets, seen the interviews, watched the smug videos telling them how to vote and heard stars directly attack their candidate.
He’s Hitler. And you’re a Nazi for supporting him. Amy Schumer called Trump voters KKK members (guess which comedy star saw her 2017 film tank at the box office?) Michael Shannon told a reporter Trump votters were ready “for the urn.”
More recently, “Scandal” star Joshua Malina called Trump voters homophobic, anti-semitic, misogynistic and transphobic.
This only intensified following the cowardly attack on protesters over the weekend in Charlottesville. Suddenly, stars like Mark Ruffalo are calling out Trump and his supporters (again) in the ugliest ways possible.
But please see our movies! See the disconnect?
Anecdotal, but Telling
This reporter is very active on social media. For the past year I’ve seen and heard conservatives rail against Hollywood like never before. They’ve had it. The celebrity rhetoric is too much -- too mean, too alienating and sometimes too ill-informed.
And social media amplifies every last message coming from Tinsel Town. You can’t miss it. Select Red State dwellers wouldn’t mind sending a message by refusing to directly support Hollywood product.
It couldn’t be easier, too.
Want to see a movie in 2017? Parents have to arrange for a sitter for a night at the movies. Teens have to pool their cash to pay for the increasingly high prices of the average ticket. Families eager for an afternoon of air-conditioned fun get sticker shock at the concession stand.
That doesn’t mention those unruly patrons talk through movies, yapping to each other or on their cell phones.
Life Is But a Stream
So why aren’t we seeing a stark plunge with TV show consumption? HBO’s “Game of Thrones” keeps drawing viewers in, and everyone is taking about the latest Netflix originals.
It’s simple. Watching TV or streaming devices takes virtually no effort. A few calculated clicks and you’re suddenly asked to choose between hundreds of shows for a fraction of the price you’d pay at the theater.
Who could resist?
Now, compare that to going to the movies. Many right-leaning Americans are saying, “thanks, but no thanks.” The fact that it might send a message to an industry hostile to their world view is icing on the outrage cake.
Some may not actively wish to boycott Hollywood. But it’s a breeze to say, “what about seeing a movie?” and decide on a half dozen home-based options instead.
Battling an Ugly Stereotype
Now, there are many stars who don’t say a peep about politics. A much smaller group are magnanimous toward President Trump (see Jeff Bridges and Tom Hanks for solid examples).
The industry’s image, as a whole, is another story. Conservatives think “Hollywood” and they imagine an elitist group smiting their world views, their candidates … their values. So even if a film features a gaggle of stars who are respectful of others’ views it’s too late. The stereotype has taken hold.
You can point to a number of reasons for the sluggish summer ticket sales. Just don’t ignore the political factor. It’s real, and it may be growing.