Monday, July 7, 2014

A report in the New York Times on Sunday showed that the 2014 box office was the weakest Fourth of July in a decade -- and is down a whopping 34 percent over last year. Overall, the whole year is down a shocking 19.3 percent over 2013.

As I told someone last night: In an era where the costs of movie-making are skyrocketing, but the returns are low, studios have become far more risk-averse. First, star power is almost nonexistent these days. Hiring Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt at $10 million no longer guarantees a $75 million opening weekend. And while one's costs may be lower by hiring Channing Tatum or Chris Hemsworth at $1 million per film, that won't guarantee a big opening weekend, either. But at least overseas, star power still exists -- so studios make movies with the same has-been stars.

Second, studios simply refuse to admit that the problem is one of quality. The process of picking projects, developing projects, approving projects, writing scripts, and filming scripts is clearly broken. But Hollywood has no good model to replace this. So it sticks to what is tried and true. Thus, we get the same old boring thrillers, same old boring comedies, same stories, same robots, same superheroes.

Third, a Joe Roth advised said almost 20 years ago, studios decided to cut back on production. When you have a huge chance of failure, don't risk things. Most studios in the 1930s and 1940s produced 40 A-list feature films a year, and about as many B-movies. Today, a major studio is likely to produce just 12 A-list feature films a year, and maybe six B-movies ("studio indies"). Since there are just six major studios (Fox, Warner Bros., Sony/Columbia, Disney, Universal, Paramount), essentially this means that on any given weekend, you have just a single A-list new release. In the summer, you might have two -- a comedy and an action/thriller/sci fi/fantasy/superhero film. Smaller studios, like Lionsgate, Relativity, Weinstein Co., Focus Features, etc., make up the rest of the releases on any given weekend.

The mix leaves film fans with only one or two new films to go to each weekend. With no diversity in film, most fans just stay away.

Hollywood doesn't make movies for the domestic (U.S. and Canada) market any more, now, anyway. Most movies make their money overseas. To cater to this market, Hollywood makes "cartoon movies" -- ones where it's easy to follow the action and motivation of characters even if you don't understand what they are saying. If that leaves Americans with nothing to watch, Hollywood doesn't care.

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