Cruel Summer

The official end of summer doesn’t come until September 21st, but by Hollywood standards, the summer movie season for all intents and purposes ended this past weekend with the release of ‘Pete’s Dragon’, yet another movie that didn’t quite live up to studio expectations. Although next weekend will bring both the ‘Ben-Hur’ remake and the well-reviewed ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’, neither of those are expected to set the box office on fire. And so concludes one of the worst summers as a moviegoer I can remember in a long time.

It all started well enough way back at the beginning of May with the release of the excellent ‘Captain America: Civil War‘. That movie was fun, exciting, humorous, action-packed and foreshadowed a movie season loaded with reboots, sequels, and re-imaginings that would surely result in people flocking to their local cineplexes. Who could have guessed back then that this Marvel sequel would represent the best we would see on the big screen until the fall?

The first sign that things were not going to go well happened the very next week with the George Clooney/Julia Roberts (and directed by Jodie Foster) flick ‘Money Monster‘. Once upon a time, just the names Clooney and Roberts on a project would guarantee a strong opening. Not so for this picture, which limped to a third place finish behind the already-in-release ‘The Jungle Book‘ and the aforementioned ‘Civil War’. Any hope that adult audiences would spend much time at the theater during the summer season sunk a week later when director Shane Black’s pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in ‘The Nice Guys‘ landed with a thud (and a 4th place opening).

While it became clear early on that adult-oriented material wouldn’t fare well, even more surprising results came with all of the studios’ summer tentpoles, which were loaded up with sequels and reboots of once-popular properties. While most of these films opened strongly, they dropped off quickly in subsequent weeks, with few of them meeting either their studio or audience expectations. Almost all of them received poor to middling reviews. Instead of going through them one by one, I’ll simply remind you of a number of them by name: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse‘, ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass‘, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows‘, ‘Now You See Me 2‘, ‘Warcraft‘, ‘The Legend of Tarzan‘, ‘The BFG‘, ‘Star Trek Beyond‘, ‘Jason Bourne‘, ‘Suicide Squad’, and the so-awful-I-saved-it-for-last ‘Independence Day: Resurgence‘.

One movie came and went with such controversy, it deserves its own paragraph. I am, of course, referring to the much-maligned reboot of ‘Ghostbusters‘, an idea so bad that when fans of the original 1984 film screamed outrage via social media, the studio, director and cast accused their potential audience of being a bunch of misogynists. In one of the oddest ways of promoting a movie I’ve seen in my years as both a filmgoer and critic, Sony and the powers that be actually thought it was a good idea to try to guilt people into seeing their film – as if by staying home on opening weekend one would announce to the world that they were sexist. While the movie had a respectable – if far from fantastic – opening weekend, its final box office take will fall short of Sony’s expectations, and the studio has already announced that there will be no sequel, turning instead to focus on an animated future for the ‘Ghostbusters’ franchise (with both a TV series and a film in the works).

It was not all doom and gloom this summer. The majority of animated movies still did quite nicely. Disney’s ‘Finding Dory‘ proved not only to be summer’s biggest hit, but as of this writing is the highest (domestic) grossing film of 2016. (‘Captain America: Civil War’ still tops the worldwide box office.) The other summer animated releases ‘The Secret Lives of Pets‘ and ‘The Angry Birds Movie‘ also did very well. The animated sequel ‘Ice Age: Collision Course‘ is really the only one that can be said to be a failure domestically, but the movie still did quite well overall, pulling in (to date) close to $300 million overseas.

Obviously, just looking at the numbers isn’t the most accurate reflection of how this summer went. But the truth of the matter is that most of these movies weren’t very good either. While I personally found things to like in ‘The Nice Guys’ and ‘Star Trek Beyond’, neither of them blew me away. The biggest sin ‘Ghostbusters’ committed was its absence of anything remotely funny (at least anything beyond what one would see in an ‘SNL’ skit), while ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ (my vote for this summer’s worst film) was so long, loud and dumb, it managed to be one of those rare sequels that not only is a disaster itself, but manages to ruin almost everything you enjoyed about the original.

Sadly, movie studios schedule their big budget tentpoles so far in advance these days that it may take a few more years for a proper course correction. I fear next summer’s lineup of titles like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’, ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘World War Z, Part 2’, ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’, ‘Jumanji’ and ‘Alien: Covenant’ may bring us more of the same.

Fortunately, it’s now time for the fall movies, which, historically, bring us more intelligent fare. Films like ‘Sully’, ‘Snowden’, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and ‘The Girl on the Train’ should wash summer’s bad taste out of my mouth, right?

It was a cruel, cruel summer… but now you’re gone. Thank god.


    • Chris B

      I wonder if there will be a similar response when the first trailer for the all-female Ocean’s 11 remake drops…

      • I don’t think that Ocean’s 11 has quite as emotionally stunted a fan base. I know a lot of people who like those movies, but I don’t know anyone who’s really passionate about them, to the point that they’ll be enraged by a remake. The problem with Ghostbusters is that a lot of the kids (specifically boys) who grew up adoring it in the 1980s are now adults whose feelings are weighed down with toxic nostalgia. Remaking the movie, and by God actually making a big change to it, is seen as a direct affront on everything that was ever sacred in their childhoods.

        Ocean’s 11 was never a kids’ movie. It was a box office hit, mostly with adults, but nobody grew up watching it over and over again. When the all-ladies reboot comes out, I’m sure that there will be some grumbling about it from the truly hardcore misogynist a’holes, but your run-of-the-mill sexist jerks will just ignore it. They certainly won’t pay to see it, but nor will they raise a huge fuss over it.

        • NJScorpio

          While the Ocean’s cast of thieves had a varied skill set, and several were quite handsome, none of them used sexuality to deceive anyone in executing their overall plan. For instance, nobody lured a victim to a secluded area with the promise of sex, to then knock them out and steal a keycard. I wonder if the all female Ocean’s film will make the choice to avoid a character/plot point like this. It would only hurt matters to have one of the females as a “seductress” who’s contribution to the group is how much men want to have sex with her, and how she uses that to her advantage. I’d like to see all 11 women as thieves of various skills, and not devolve into sleeping with a mark to steal his wallet.

          • The reboot will actually be called Ocean’s Eight, with only 8 thieves. This has prompted much joking about how women only get 70% of the job opportunities men do.

  1. Ross

    Good article. More and more people are skipping the theatre experience for the home experience. I for one would much rather watch a movie in my theatre room. You can spend $50 for 2 tickets and food or spend $24 and own the movie. Television shows are offering much better content anyway, shows like Daredevil, Stranger Things, Narco’s etc. Way better than a remake IMO.

    • William Henley

      Now that I have the home theater, I am seeing less and less at the theater as my home experience is better (not bigger, but seats are more comfortable, and no rude people) unless you go to one of those premium theaters, and then they may have only one screen that’s any good.

      But I will take it a step futher than the $24 for a disk. I am starting to enjoy the greatness of rentals. $1.50 at Redbox, $3.99 on Vudu, Amazon and iTunes. This works well for movies I am only vaguely interested in. Oh, and the 3D is much better at home (Vudu has 3D). So I pretty much only do movies at the theater for big movies. My buddy pretty much goes every weekend, I go maybe once every month or two now.

  2. John Smith

    “when fans of the original 1984 film screamed outrage via social media, the studio, director and cast accused their potential audience of being a bunch of misogynists”

    Well did you think they were wrong for doing that Shannon? I mean did you read some of the comments on Twitter or YouTube? Like Josh said, many of the comments were straight up sexists and some even racists.

  3. Scott

    I’ve ranted and raved on this subject in the comments before, but this article gives me a perfect chance to do it again.

    I would HOPE that people are finally getting sick and tired of the CG mess that is getting thrown up all over screens the past several years. Hopefully people have reached a breaking point where story will matter again, where mindless entertainment just won’t cut it. We can’t see the same mess of CG destruction over and over without reaching a breaking point.

    Let’s go back to more practical effects, compelling stories (new ones hopefully), and heart in our films.

  4. David Batarseh

    For me Suicide Squad sealed the deal as this being my least favorite summer time movie season in my 34 years of life. As a movie it might be the worst comic book adaptation since the Shadow. Horrible creature effects, lame villain, boring set pieces and literally no plot with lifetime movie of the week worthy dialogue; actually makes the Shadow, Dick Tracy and Meteor Man look like Shakespeare in comparison.

  5. A ‘Jumanji’ remake/reboot sounds like such a bad (and unnecessary soon) idea. The original – while not beloved by everyone, but I like it – is still very watchable today.


    -‘Warcraft’ doesn’t really belong in your rundown of sequels and reboots.
    -Funny you’re looking forward to ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (a remake) 🙂

  6. Clark

    Isn’t nobody going to address the fact that, even though it is the biggest domestic release of the year, “Finding Dory” didn’t match “Nemo”‘s box office internationally? With 13 years of inflation and market growth, I thought this would be the second $1 billion Pixar movie, maybe the first to reach $1.5 billion. I know the movie is not *that* good, but it is a shame that it didn’t do better, specially in the UK and in Japan.

  7. Wanrer

    When will the movie studios realize that we are all getting tired of remakes and reboots? Where is the original content?

    • David Staschke

      The studio-made’ big-budget original content also flops and/or gets panned by critics just as much as the sequels and reboots: Chappie, Jupiter Ascending, Gods of Egypt, Tommorowland (not “original” but it wasn’t a sequel or remake), Seventh Son, Pixels, The Last Witch Hunter, Pompeii, Pacific Rim, 47 Ronin, White House Down, etc. The source material is not the issue here. If you want original content you have to look for it in the independent film world or in the mid-level budget studio stuff that comes out towards the end of the year.

  8. I was rooting for Ghostbusters to fail for no reason but I hated the virtue signaling marketing campaign. Even if the movie isn’t bad I still don’t want such detestable marketing to succeed. Fox tried to do the same thing with Fant4stic. Trying to argue that racism over the casting of Michael B Jordan was the reason behind the negative backlash and not because the movie genuinely looked terrible and in that movies case firmly was a terrible movie. If you make a terrible movie own it and try to fix it don’t insult the fans to cover up for your own failings

    • Ghostbusters: Yeah, We Know the Movie Is Terrible, But Come See It Anyway and We’ll Try to Do Better with the Next One. #honestmarketing

      With a campaign like that, the movie’d be guaranteed to hit $1 billion. 🙂

  9. Bolo

    I don’t really think there are movie seasons anymore.

    Blockbusters (or at least would-be blockbusters) open all year round now. Smaller movies probably do the bulk of their business through streaming, so there’s no point in saving their release for a season where there will be less competition. If you’ve got a movie like ‘Swiss Army Man’ or ‘The Lobster’ it’s going to be “counter programming” whenever you release it because there’s always two or three blockbusters jockeying for cinema space. So you might as well just let it fly whenever.

  10. Patient O.T.

    Check me if I’m wrong…But absolutely NO mention of the highest rated movie of the summer?
    Whit Stillman’s LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP.
    It’s great to have Stillman back. And it would be great if people would support well written, acted and directed grown up movies.

  11. David Staschke

    I’ll never understand why critics and people over the age of 25 even bother with summer movies. They are mostly made for and marketed to teenagers. Sure, there is the occasional exception and a good movie slips through the cracks now and then, but for the most part the thin plots, underdeveloped characters, unfunny jokes, and crappy CGI/cartoon visual effects are here to stay folks. Don’t believe me? Ask a 15 how he or she feels about the use of CGI in films. I did, and the kid didn’t even understand what I was trying to ask. To them, that’s just how movies look and they accept it. Teenagers care even less about sloppy editing and poor pacing because they grew up watching YouTube videos.

    If you’re looking for serious, thoughtful, and well-crafted films you’re barking up the wrong tree. All the grown-up movies come out in the fall. I’m 32 and for the last 7 or so years I find myself drawn to the theater way more during the months of September-December. I out-grew summer movies a long time ago. For a few summers in my 20s I tried to keep the dream alive but slowly came to the painful realization that the dream is dead. Now I don’t even waste my time and I’m perplexed by the people who still go see summer movies and expect something that just isn’t there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *