“June Gloom.” That was a phrase I heard on Twitter describing the woes that have befallen certain meant to be blockbusters this summer. From Dark Phoenix to Men In Black: International and Shaft, the current crop of blockbusters have been plagued by critical disdain and less than stellar box office results. But why is this happening?
It’s important to note that I took two things into consideration while writing this article. The first was looking at the films have had mixed to negative reviews. Second, they have fallen short of their projected box office openings, and are continuing to struggle.
To start, when you make a film that is part of an ongoing franchise, you run the risk of losing your audiences. There are only so many times you can tell the same story before audience members start to lose interest. Similarly, when trying to jumpstart a dormant franchise, you must find a new way to approach the franchise and bring in a new audience. Making each film in a franchise answer these questions: What has changed since the last entry? Why are these films still relevant?
Men in Black: International tried to answer these by expanding the Men In Black’s operations around the globe. In theory, this is a good idea. I mean, why would aliens just stay confined to New York City? But the film failed to capture the outlandish vibe of the rest of the series and lost its original audience with it. Even worse, it failed to capitalize on the chemistry of leads Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth. This lead to a lukewarm critical reception and a dismal opening of $28.5 million against a $110 million budget.
But that wasn’t the only continuation that failed. Shaft also tried to have a message for a new audience. Unfortunately, that message translated to simply “Millenials are bad.” The fact that it was stuffed with Islamaphobic and homophobic jokes only made things worse. As a result, Shaft opened with a measly 8.3 million dollars and failed to attract audience members under 25-who are usually the target audience for genre films.
Dark Phoenix fared far worse, as it is currently the lowest rated X-Men film on Rotten Tomatoes and also bombed during its opening weekend and stands to lose $100-120 million dollars, against a budget of $350 million dollars. This is due to extensive reshoots, and the release date being shuffled multiple times. Furthermore, X-Men: Apocalypse had suffered a similar critical drubbing which may have diminished audiences’ interest in Dark Phoenix.
Most franchise films this summer have felt stale and repetitive, instead of vibrant and engaging. And truthfully, this may be due to behind the scenes turmoil. When the term “Creative differences” comes up while discussing a franchise film, it usually translates to multiple parties involved in the film’s production butting heads. Making commercial art that manages to satisfy the masses, while putting your own personal stamp on the material, is a very tricky balancing act that few filmmakers have managed to accomplish.
In both the case of Men in Black International and its director F. Gary Gray and Dark Phoenix by Simon Kinberg, “creative differences” ended up wounding their respective films. Gray reportedly clashed with longtime Men in Black producer Walter Parkes, especially over the script (which received multiple re-writes) and the final cut (Parkes’ version is what ended up in theaters.)
Kinberg, who also wrote and produced Dark Phoenix, was also beset with several problems while shooting, namely scheduling. Reshoots pushed the movie from an initial release date of November 2nd, 2018 to February 14 of this year and then again to June 7th. This was due to James Cameron wanting a better slot for Alita: Battle Angel, and given Cameron’s clout with the studio, Fox was more intent to side with him than with Kinberg.
Movies as Events
In an age of slowly rising theater prices and alternative forms of entertainment, many studios have tried to sell movies as must-see events. This worked extremely well for Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which was billed as the grand culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With ten years’ worth of films that delivered a solid run of character-driven stories, audiences showed up in droves for both Infinity War and Endgame.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters tried a similar tactic, using the battle between Godzilla and the other Titans as its main selling point. However, this failed to appeal to general audiences, with the exception of Godzilla fans with the film opening below its projected box office. Dark Phoenix was also marketed as the “end” of the X-Men film franchise-the problem was that audiences had already seen a potential end with both Logan and Days of Future Past, and thus had little interest in watching Dark Phoenix.
Alternate Forms of Entertainment
As I mentioned before, there are nearly unlimited forms of entertainment in addition to the movies-mainly due to various streaming services. With Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime offering a vast number of films and TV shows, audiences have the option to save their money and pursue other avenues if they don’t feel like going to the movie theater. If you don’t feel like watching Dark Phoenix, FX has nearly all the X-Men movies on demand. If Godzilla isn’t your thing, you can rent Jurassic World or Pacific Rim. Streaming offers far more choices for a lower price.
With so many films underperforming in the box office, film studios have to consider what went wrong with these films and what to do with future endeavors. Even with Toy Story 4’s critical and financial success, it’s one hit out of a sea of flops. So what do these studios do? Do they take a chance on original IP? Do they put more effort into films based on established IP? Either way, something has to change, and change fast.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.