LOS ANGELES – So far this summer humans have been forced off Earth in the wake of environmental destruction, our nation’s capitol has come under fierce attack, a legendary Native American has recounted his Old West adventures, and colossal alien beasts have risen to destroy humanity.
But so far, audiences don’t care.
This year Hollywood unveiled an unprecedented amount of big budget summer blockbusters, and in return it has been dealt an unprecedented amount of embarrassing flops, losing millions and millions of dollars. First of all, Will Smith’s highly-anticipated, Sony-distributed “After Earth” with its $130 million production budget was a bust, having debuted at number three at the domestic box office on its opening weekend last month, making a mere $27 million, and generating less than $60 million so far during its U.S. box office run. Sony flunked again with Roland Emmerich’s “White House Down,” a film that cost $150 million to make, but opened at number four and brought in $24 million on its disappointing opening, and only $68.5 million to-date.
Then along came the Johnny Depp-starring, $215 million Disney picture “The Lone Ranger,” which failed to top the box office over its extended domestic opening weekend – instead making $29 million and just over $81 million on American screens so far. And last week, yet another bomb exploded on Tinseltown in the form of Warner Bros.’ “Pacific Rim.” Guillermo del Toro’s $190 million movie opened at $37 million and a number three slot, and has made only $68 million at the box office to date.
Plus, in addition to their exorbitant production budgets, it is estimated that studios forked out $150-200 million per film for their global marketing campaigns.
So what's going wrong?
“It seems that the ‘summer blockbuster’ is becoming a thing of the past. The cinema model is changing. Unless it is a genius concept and genius marketing, nobody cares. Take ‘White House Down’ which is just another version of ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ and months before the film’s release the Internet is buzzing with people talking badly,” one L.A. film producer told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “The only way to push forward is go backwards and learn. The ADD generation doesn’t care if a movie is in 3D, they don’t care about ‘Transformer’-sized effects, so what do they care about? Regardless of the generation, people have a natural empathy towards people, and if the actor cannot transcribe the emotional conflict to the screen, the audience isn’t interested.”
Some experts and analysts anticipate that collectively studios will write up hundreds of millions, heading toward the billion dollar mark, in losses from these summer disasters.
Time Magazine has dubbed 2013 as being inflicted with “summer blockbuster fatigue,” and according to The Hollywood Reporter, studios are releasing double the number of expensive movies than they usually do during the summer, pushing the boundaries of how much the marketplace can expand, and raising questions as to why studios are giving the go-ahead to so many pricey flicks when so few have managed to succeed.
“The biggest issue is dating. You had too many $100 million-plus movies, not to mention $200 million-plus movies, jammed on top of each other,” a studio executive told the entertainment industry publication. “There isn’t enough play time, and the result has been more movies that wipe out.”
However, other industry experts argue that it is not the timing or the overcrowded schedule that has made it hard for films to earn big bucks, but rather that studios opted for expensive special effects and fancy filmmaking over engaging storylines.
One industry insider observed that all four aforementioned money-losers were characterized by muddy stories, and characters nobody cares about, inlayed with amazing effects.
“That’s it,” continued the source. “The end.”
Producer Madison Jones of the production company de Passe Jones concurred, although he insisted that the “summer blockbuster” concept isn’t hasn’t been detonated for good.
“It’s not the budget audiences are attracted to, it is the content. The films were not that good. They all feel like formulas we have seen before just presented with robots, cowboys and Indians, special forces or in the future. They don’t feel fresh,” he said. “But the summer blockbuster category will be with us for some time. If one of them hits, it pays for the risk. Studios have formulas that have worked for years that keep them in business.”
Yet Paul Dergarabedian, President of the Box Office Division of Hollywood.com pointed out that the irony in all these losses is that the summer box office to-date is actually running ahead of 2010, 2011 and 2012 when it comes to profits, making 10 percent more than last year.
“Most problematic is a string of high profile, big budget -- and notably, non-sequel -- under-performers which have given the perception that Hollywood is failing right now. While the hits have actually outweighed the flops this summer, the industry cannot afford – literally and figuratively – to have this many failures in a row,” he explained. “The biggest problem is that most of these failures just were not good movies, and in this world of immediate social interaction via Facebook, twitter, text etc., there is nowhere and no time to hide a lackluster movie. Budgets are simply too high and just because you have Johnny Depp or Will Smith in a movie is no insurance policy anymore.”
And while American audiences have clearly shown their apathy towards these heavily-marketed but perhaps less-than-enticing tent pole productions, studios can still hold out hope of making ends meet through international box offices and future DVD and download revenue. But if Hollywood doesn’t want to repeat its mistakes this time next year, the big-wigs may want to listen up.
“Number one tip is to keep budgets reasonable, number two is to have a great concept and number three is to make a movie that is actually good,” Dergarabedian added. “As for number four, have the star serve the movie. Not the other way around.”