So, like it or hate it, Suicide Squad is the #8 domestic movie of the year and will remain so until November, right behind Batman vs Superman. BvS will generate around $175 million more internationally and even so, it is seen as a disappointment.
So you make the call. What does the $875 million outcome mean and what does the $675 million outcome mean? Both figures (will) rank in the Top 90 worldwide grosses of all time. BvS improved on the gross of Man of Steel. Suicide Squad will be the third best performing first film among comic book adaptations after Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy.
I don’t think either movie is very good, but opinion is opinion and numbers are numbers. The real smack on the two WB comic titles this year is that neither was so strong that they will slingshot the other DC titles the way that Iron Man has, leading to the billion-dollar success of Avengers and the billionaire build-outs for Captain America and, they hope, the upcoming Thor/Hulk combo film.
This is the problem for Warner Bros. The Zack Snyder extended universal is doing mediocre (in context) business and shows the huge muscle of these characters, regardless of quality. Yet, it has not collapsed… not by a long shot.
This phenomenon really started with Sony and the Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Both films grossed over $700 million worldwide. And yet, Sony was anxious to dump this iteration and took on Marvel as an active partner in relaunching as a MCU-connected series.
Keep in mind… only 16 comic-based films have grossed $700m+ worldwide. If that is the standard now, the future looks rough. Batman, Iron Man, and/or Spider-Man have been in 12 of those 16 titles. No comic book film has ever grossed more than $800 million without at least one of those characters (Cap: Civil War features two of the three).
Newcomers Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool were both seen as underdogs and hit home runs. Fox went all-in on X-Men: Days of Future Past, all hands on deck and the biggest budget in studio history, and got the $748m worldwide gross… then backed off a bit and grossed $543 million worldwide this summer.
Peak Comic Book may have been 2014. There were four $700m+ worldwide grossers. Last year, one. This year, three. There are six mainstream comic book titles scheduled for 2017. Among them, only one Batman and one Spider-Man (and Guardians 2). There are seven such titles scheduled for 2018, with probably just one Batman and one Iron Man (and I am betting on a Deadpool sequel).
So we will know a lot more about the future of comic book movies in these next two years, for better or worse, with two brand-new solo films and two sequels to modest hits that aspire to step up to the $700m+ level. We’ll also see if Guardians is a growth business (it should be) and we’ll have the two major team-up franchises (Justice League and Avengers) within 6 months of one another.
Meanwhile, can we stop whining about comic book movies as though they are all that exists?
This massive business of very expensive, very high grossing movies has taken position on top of the film industry that already existed. But this didn’t start three years ago or 8 or 10. It was not the natural evolution of Jaws that led to Star Wars that led to Burton’s Batman.
The beginning of the CG revolution was 1991’s Terminator 2. It was the first time that massive audiences in the post-studio-system era came out to see, primarily, a CG effect.
Until that film, there were only four films that had grossed $500 million worldwide in unadjusted dollars. Two were Star Wars films, then E.T. and Ghost.
Of the 14 films that grossed over $400 million worldwide in original release, before or concurrently with T2, the only ones that were not genre/action/fantasy/animation were Home Alone, and Pretty Woman, and Dances With Wolves… all three from 1990 (suggesting that those numbers were part of a rising worldwide gross profile).
The first film to crack E.T.‘s $619 million worldwide (original) gross was Jurassic Park… not coincidentally, the next massive CG-driven experience blockbuster. Soon we would see that massive numbers were possible for The Lion King and Forrest Gump (which was also driven by a lot of seems-real CG technology). Then Independence Day.
And then Titanic. Could not have been what it was without the CG, even though it was shot with a ton of on-set, in-camera production. It was also the most expensive film ever made at the time (except perhaps for Batman & Robin, earlier that year… whole different discussion).
But still, as of 1997, the first year ever with three $500m+ worldwide grossers, there had still only been 27 films ever to gross over $400 million worldwide. In the next six years (end of 2003), that list would more than double, with 61 titles having hit the mark. Also in that six year period, we went from 5 films to ever have grossed $700m in their initial worldwide runs to 14,
Event movies, with lots of CG content, were driving a new kind of theatrical business on top of a still-robust DVD business. Potter and Rings and Spider-Man and Pirates and Pixar and Shrek changed the game in that window.
2003 set a record with 9 films grossing over $400 million worldwide. 5 were sequels. 1 was animated. One was the first Pirates. One live-action comedy (Bruce Almighty) and one original drama (The Last Samurai). There has only been one year with fewer than 7 such films since (2007) and in 2015, we had 18.
In the 100 or so years of theatrical films before 2004, 61 films had grossed over $400 million worldwide. In the 12.5 years starting with 2004, there have been another 169. And of those 169, I count 20 of them that are not overtly driven by computer graphics or franchise status. Three years stand out with threevsuch films… 2009 (Sherlock Holmes/Angels & Demons/The Hangover), 2012 (Les Miserables, The Intouchables, and Django Unchained) and 2015 (The Martian/Fifty Shades of Grey/The Revenant).
The change, I would argue, did not come with a lowering of the standards or a pandering to international or anything so nefarious. The change has come because technology allowed what has always been most appealing to moviegoers, in the US and across the globe, to rise to another level. Obviously, the expansion of international theatrical has also been a huge factor in grosses.
I have made the comparison before, but I will make it again.
What you are looking at is the old Soldier Field, which is next to Lake Michigan and was mightily cold during winter games and the new Soldier Field, which hasn’t moved or changed a lot… except that they build a modern facility on top of the old Soldier Field that adds sky boxes and high tech stuff and a wind break from the lake so the “outdoor” seating is not nearly as frigid.
That is how I see the CG-driven industry of the moment. Yes, it does take up a significant amount of the studio slates. And it takes up a wildly oversized amount of the media’s attention. But it is, essentially, an expansion of the industry and not an overall replacement for what was.
The 2000 worldwide Top 10 is how things once were:
Mission: Impossible II -$546.4m
Gladiator – $457.6m
Cast Away – $429.6m
What Women Want -$374.1m
Dinosaur – $349.8m
How the Grinch Stole Christmas – $345.1m
Meet the Parents – $330.4m
The Perfect Storm – $328.7m
X-Men – $296.3m
What Lies Beneath – $291.4m
It’s probably not quite a pretty as the memory people have in their heads. Dinosaur was an early CG effort by Disney on which they lost money. X-Men was pretty low tech, emphasizing character over computers when CG movies were insanely expensive and Fox was fabulously cheap. And The Perfect Storm was the first CG-driven drama, really.
Last year, the only non-CG-driven or franchise or animated (though it had plenty of CG) movie in the Top 10 was The Martian. So I understand the feeling that there has been a massive change.
But… The Martian did $630 worldwide. Mission Impossible 2 did $546m. Pretty similar.
Gladiator did $357 million in 2000. The Revenant did $535m last year.
Cast Away… $430m. Can’t find a great analogous film, though The Revenant has some connectivity.
What Women Want, $374m. Fifty Shades of Grey, $571 million.
Meet The Parents, $330m. There was no uber comedy last year, but Pitch Perfect 2 did $288m, Daddy’s Home did $240m, and Spy did $236m. Even the disastrous Ted 2 did $231 million.
What Lies Beneath did $291 million. Can’t find a great analogous film.
So the two Zemeckis films, a long drama with a major movie star and his throwaway Hitchcock movie (which I love) don’t match up. The rest? The business is still making those movies and people are still going to them in large numbers.
Of course, there was a Zemeckis film last year (The Walk), But it flopped.
And there were a bunch more $100m+ grossing films last year that are “the kinds of films that studios aren’t making,” including Straight Outta Compton, Creed, Bridge of Spies, The Hateful Eight, Trainwreck, The Big Short and even Joy.
“But why are all the pretty girls with the 5′ 2″ non-English speaker who is betting $20,000 at a time at the Baccarat table when we $20 blackjack players are so much more fun?!?!”
Same as it ever was, gang.
Spielberg has made 5 movies in the last 5 years. Retired Soderbergh is making his fourth film of the last 5 years while also doing three seasons of very hands-on television. Scorsese hasn’t pumped out as much over a 5 year period since the early 90s. Even Zemeckis (who I revere), who crashed a whole business for Disney in 2009 and was movie-jailed, has made 3 films in the last four years.
I love what is happening on TV and have endless respect for many of the former movie makers who shifted to the medium in recent years… but can you name any of the great TV success stories who made hit films before they made the leap (except as exec producers)? There aren’t many examples. I love Jill Soloway’s work, but Afternoon Delight did $175k in theatrical and Vince Gilligan has never directed a feature. He did write two of my 1000 favorite features, Wilder Napalm and Hancock, both of which showed the glorious kink that would show up on Breaking Bad. But not really a movie guy. Frank Darabont is brilliant… and was a decade away from his last film hit before “The Walking Dead” happened. Etc.
We go from reading and often mocking trend stories to believing them to being convinced of their absolute veracity.
There is no “normal.” The film industry changes constantly. We have seen four major paradigm shifts in the last 30 years. That’s a ton of change. There are great successes and great failures. Important and unimportant trends.
But every time I see a movie these days with a bunch of Chinese company names on the front credits, I remember the German money and the Japanese money and the French money and the corporate money and on and on and on.
You can play the complaints about movies by almost anyone over 40 on a loop that could have been created any time since the 1960s… we all try to rationalize how it really is different now… but it’s not… not by much.
On a one-on-one or internal studio level, there is a lot of room for improvement. Absolutely. Start with more inclusion, continue with more creative ideas about engaging audiences, and then focus on improving the same old same old, because there is a ton of room for that. But big picture?
Everyone’s first rodeo is their first rodeo.
Go see Pete’s Dragon and Kubo or go to your local arthouse and see art, because art is lovely and enriching. But stop the whining. We’ve never had more options or more movies at our disposal to enjoy and appreciate.