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Box office disappointments have industry worried about future of blockbusters

The heat has been turned up on Hollywood studios this summer.
gipsy danger

After several high-profile tentpole movies in a row — “White House Down,” “The Lone Ranger” and “Pacific Rim” — tanked at the box office, industry watchers are nervous that the blockbuster model is nearing a tipping point.

“These are films are fall into formulas that have been successful in other iterations,” says Ira Deutchman, chair of the film program at Columbia University.

“I think that it is a sign that the formula that Hollywood thought was going to always work for them is reaching its limitations.

“Too many studios, too many filmmakers are chasing the same audience with same formula — tons of effects and explosions — and people are getting burned out.”

This summer has also been chock full of movies that critics and moviegoers have agreed are not worth the price of the popcorn.

Take “The Lone Ranger,” a $200 million adaptation of a Western character last relevant in pop culture in the ‘50s from the television series starring Clayton Moore.

“Even before ‘The Lone Ranger’ came out, it's not exactly like the entire culture has been clamoring for a new ‘Lone Ranger’ movie,” says Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. “ I'm 54 and Lone Ranger seems stodgy to me . I don't know that we should draw too many conclusions from these particular failures.”

But what’s particularly damning is that the three straight busts over the past three weeks were all non-sequels, including attempts to startnew franchises with “original” stories with “Lone Ranger” and “Pacific Rim.”

“What high profile failures do is chip away at the confidence of studios,” says Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for Hollywood.com.

“Every summer people decry the fact that there are too many sequels, when Hollywood tried to go the original route, it came back to bite them.”

Part of the problem is that its been a “traffic jam,” in Dergarabedian’s words, at the multiplex this summer. In May, “The Hangover Part III,” finished a distant second behind “Fast & Furious 6” — a box office battle between two movies that were chasing more or less the same demographic.

Had the R-rated comedy opened on a less crowded weekend, it likely would have enjoyed the same No. 1 bragging rights as the two previous installments in the franchise.

But during the 18-week summer season that kicked off with “Iron Man 3,” there weren’t any open slots. This Friday, Warner Brothers’ scarer “The Conjuring” is opening against Summit’s “Red 2” and Universal’s big budget “R.I.P.D.” — and a fourth major film, the animated feature “Turbo,” debuted two days earlier. There isn’t enough ticket money to go around and the $130 million “R.I.P.D.” looks to be dead on arrival, according to tracking data from Hollywood.com.

“It's one thing to budget for a blockbuster, it's another thing to market for it, and its another thing to actually bust the block,” says Thompson. “It’s not science, it’s showbiz.”

Hollywood studios, however, are not likely to panic just yet. Even though “The Lone Ranger” will end up costing Disney a projected $100 to $200 in losses, the studio is still basking in the glow of “The Avengers,” which earned $1.5 billion worldwide last year. “Iron Man 3,” which opened in May, has already added $1.2 billion in global box office to the studio coffers.

“From the first weekend in May through this past Sunday, the box office is at 12.95% ahead of last year.” says Dergarabedian. “That's the irony in all this, emotionally it feels like this summer is a bust, but on paper its not bad at all.”


Considering I've been to the movies every weekend this summer and only three have entertained me fully, yeah...I think hollywood needs to rethink their strategy.

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