“Wonder Woman” has faced inordinate and arguably unfair levels of scrutiny and pressure since the title was announced; why not add a little thing like “saving the summer box office” to the mix?
To the industry’s delight, Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ latest superhero looks like a hit. With opening-weekend domestic totals reaching a blockbuster $100.5 million, “Wonder Woman” is one of the summer’s biggest bows so far.
But it will take more than one movie to overcome the string of flops and disappointments — among them “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” “Alien: Covenant” and “Baywatch” — that have the first four weeks of summer trailing last year’s by nearly 9%. Last summer’s box office earned $4.5 billion, and some analysts and industry experts who optimistically predicted a record $5 billion season for 2017 are growing worried.
“This is a summer movie season that has already had many casualties and will have many more,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. “Now the pressure is on for the rest of the summer to deliver.”
Any box office flop will be put under the microscope: Did the marketing fail to entice? Was there too little star power? If the critical reception is poor, is that enough to tank the film? In the era of reboots and sequels, it’s useful to know who’s clamoring to see a film. If there’s no clear answer, trouble could lie ahead. Paramount’s Megan Colligan pointed to “aggregated scores” from review websites like Rotten Tomatoes as a reason why “Baywatch” belly-flopped. Multiply that by how instantly negative buzz spreads on social media. As Dergarabedian put it, “You can only hide a bad movie for about 15 seconds.”
The slow start only adds to the burden — and the uncertainty — of the rest of the summer slate, starting with the “Mummy” reboot, which debuts June 9.
“It’s a modern-day remake of an older tale,” said Eric Wold, senior analyst at B. Riley & Co. “It’s one that I’m a little cautious on given what we’ve seen so far with a couple of films this summer.”
Another upcoming release that’s drawing skepticism is Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” based on a popular French comic series that’s relatively unknown Stateside. And August threatens to end the summer on a low note, without an apparent hit like last year’s “Suicide Squad.” This time around, even the most anticipated titles, like the adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower,” look like risks. “It’s not on people’s radars even though it’s only a couple months away,” said Eric Handler, an analyst at MKM Partners, of the Sony release.
While big-budget blockbusters like “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “Transformers: The Last Knight” will likely perform well, the annual concern over the slate’s depth and the need for successful counterprogramming is especially urgent this summer. Wold points out that the number of raunchy, R-rated comedies scheduled for the next few months — including “Rough Night,” “The House” and “Girls Trip” — illustrates Hollywood returning to the same thematic well, even if the words “sequel” or “reboot” don’t apply.
“We’ve done every sex joke there is — how much more shocking can you be?” he said.
Still, if there’s one lesson to be gleaned from the past month of clunkers, it’s how volatile the box office can be. The good news is, that cuts both ways.
“Fortunes rise and fall extraordinarily quickly over the summer,” Dergarabedian said. “If you have three weeks of great box office, this could turn around.”