Why The Blockbuster Movie Bubble Will Burst In 2018
In 2013, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas predicted the film industry as we know it would "implode" if/when, in the near future, too many wildly expensive blockbuster movies flopped. And if ever there were a year for an implosion on that scale to occur it would be 2018, the year when there are nearly as many major studio tentpole releases as there are weeks in the year. Well, here's the thing ...
Do you like big blockbuster movies? The kind that will make a billion dollars but will never be financially profitable, thanks to Hollywood's shady accounting practices? If so, here's the insane slate of blockbusters 2018 has to offer:
Avengers: Infinity War, Ready Player One, Pacific Rim 2, Aquaman, Toy Story 4, Deadpool 2, Black Panther, The Flash, How To Train Your Dragon 3, Ant-Man And The Wasp, Jurassic World 2, The Predator, Fifty Shades Freed, Jungle Book: Origins, Marry Poppins Returns, Tomb Raider, Alita: Battle Angel, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them 2, The Secret Life Of Pets 2, an animated Spider-Man movie, Hotel Transylvania 3, The Wolf Man, Wreck-It Ralph 2, the Star Wars Han Solo spinoff, the Transformers Bumblebee spinoff, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Gigantic (Disney's next hand-drawn animated musical).
Here's another seven movies that, at the time of publishing, don't have solid release dates but are scheduled for 2018:
Madagascar 4, Independence Day 3, Gambit (an X-Men spinoff), The Invisible Man, Venom (a Spider-Man spinoff), Uprising (Bryan Singer's big-budget movie about a war on the goddamn moon), Mission: Impossible 6.
And then there are the spots in the schedule studios have claimed but haven't specified what movies are going to be released. Like Nov. 2, 2018, the date Disney plans to release another live-action adaptation of an animated movie they made 50 years ago. Or March 2, the day Marvel and Fox will, presumably, release whatever scraps of the X-Men franchise they can cobble together into a movie with a tube of Elmer's glue. Or any of the other six or seven dates on which studios have hanged a sign that reads "TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT." And all of it would have been even crazier if Warner Bros. hadn't decided to haul The Lego Movie 2 out of its original July 2018 release date and into the safe confines of February 2019, where it will likely destroy box office records instead of getting lost in the shuffle of an unreasonably packed 2018 release schedule.
"Run! Run from the very corporate greed our movie railed against!"
So 2018 will see the release over 40 massive, tentpole movies. There are nearly 20 releases that happen exactly a week apart. This means that Marvel's Black Panther will have only a week to make most of its money before Pacific Rim 2 steals its audience, which will give the unnamed Marvel/Fox movie a week to make its money before Wreck-It Ralph 2 comes out, which will only have a week before The Flash and/or Tomb Raider comes out, because Warner Bros. is dumb and scheduled two of their own tentpole movies for the same day. And all of those movies will be released in February and March, the two months studios usually use as a landfill to dump the movies they think suck. The year isn't just crowded; it's a clusterfuck, and there are going to be big casualties. There are too many massive movies and not enough people to watch them.
Except for that one guy you know whose family burned in that fire and movies are the only thing that ease the pain.
Here's a graph from The-Numbers.com (a site that studies movie grosses). It tracks box office totals between 1995 and 2015, comparing them to the number of tickets sold in that time.
Less and less people are watching movies in theaters, but studios are making more than ever on theatrical releases. Why? The average price of a ticket has nearly doubled, from $4.35 in 1995 to $8.43 in 2015. Right now, in 2016, the average ticket price is the highest it's ever been: $8.66. For that uptick you can thank 3D movies and premium-seating theaters with dining and alcoholic-beverage options that make falling asleep during a movie more luxurious than ever. As studios spend more per ticket on big movies that result in less-than-impressive returns, they're making fewer mid-range films. While we're all being dazzled by comic book adaptations, cinematic universes, and sequels to movies released 20 years ago, the middle-class of the film industry is dying. Those less expensive comedies, thrillers, and dramas aren't being made anymore (at least for theater distribution), even though their smaller budgets make it easier for them to turn a profit.
What does all of that mean? Spielberg and Lucas will tell you.
Without much breathing room, all of these movies are going to start cannibalizing each other's revenues. And that's why 2018 has the potential to be a year of reckoning for Hollywood's blockbuster industrial complex.
Or 2018 will end up being the year when two of the film industry's back-up plans for financial success will succeed beyond everyone's wildest expectations and we'll get an unstoppable train of blockbusters every month of every year until we all die after Michael Bay blows a moon-sized hole in the Earth while filming Transformers 15.
"I'll see you in Hell."
Hollywood is making these gigantic movies not just for American audiences but for the rest of the world, too. Mostly China. Pacific Rim is getting a sequel in 2018, even though it only recouped $101 million domestically of its $191 million budget. But then it made $114 million in China, with a grand total of $411 million worldwide. Warcraft was a colossal failure by American standards, making only a pathetic $46 million domestically on a budget of $160 million ... and it's more than likely getting a sequel after it reeled in $376 million worldwide, with $156 million of that coming from China alone. It beat out the box office totals of The Force Awakens and every Marvel movie. The American film industry is going to keep pumping out gigantic movies, even if they suck terribly and their predecessors bombed here, because nothing gets lost in translation when the movie you're trying to sell overseas is about robots punching monsters.
From left to right: Whiskey Dick, Shit Kicker, Wolf Embolism, and Scum.
The lesson here is that studios are learning to not give a shit if a hugely expensive movie sucks. The reason for that goes deeper than just overseas box office returns. Summer blockbusters are spreading out into every other month on the calendar, partly because every studio either has or desperately wants their own mega-franchise that can launch 1,000 smaller franchises that will generate ancillary revenues from now until the end of the (cinematic) universe. The idea isn't new, but it's recently been taken to its logical extreme.
According to shady Hollywood accounting, every movie by Marvel Studios up to the first Avengers movie actually lost money. About $50 million each. That's considered a failure if you only think of them as individual movies and not as a small piece of a sprawling multimedia empire of geeky shit with dozens of parts that prop each other up. People aren't buying tickets to a single comic book movie. They're watching a dozen movies, a handful of TV shows, and buying the DVD and Blu-ray box sets. Toys and action figures and apps and theme park tickets and Iron Man-shaped dildos and life-sized Hulk fist butt plugs all play a big part of that too, but they aren't nearly as important as the development of a franchise. The same could be said for pretty much everything under the Disney banner, from Star Wars to Frozen to anything made by Pixar. One new movie in a theater is an excuse for a studio to make a fortune on ancillary revenues that flip a failure into a success because the meta-franchise is doing OK. And it's not just Disney. It's Paramount with Transformers. It's Warner Bros. with the DC cinematic universe and Harry Potter. It's Universal with Fast And The Furious. And Universal with their weird monster movie shared universe. And Universal with Jurassic Park. Universal needs an intervention. They're out of their goddamn minds.
"More monster pictures from the 1930s and '40s!" - a Universal executive just after claiming he "gets" today's teens.
According to corporate strategy consultant Matthew Ball (whose three-part investigation into the failures that result in spectacular successes of this mega-franchise trend is a must-read), all of these movies with hyper-inflated budgets that are a part of Hollywood's obsession with blockbusters have been eating into each other's box office revenues for some time, often resulting in huge movies that never turn a profit but get a sequel/spinoff anyway. He predicts blockbusters will soon start eating into each other's ancillary revenues as well, negating each other's safety nets. So, what happens when studios, who are heavily relying on ancillary revenues to spin their losses into profits, have chewed away each other's back-up plans? I don't know. But we'll find out in 2018.
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