It was a dreary summer for Hollywood blockbusters, with many losing millions at the box office. Movie industry site The Numbers estimates a loss of around $1bn (£700.48m), this includes three flops from industry giant, Disney: The BFG, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Pete’s Dragon. On paper these should have pulled the crowds easily, with The BFG being directed by Hollywood’s finest, Steven Spielberg, and Alice Through the Looking Glass boasting a cast worthy of royal titles – Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter and Anne Hathaway to mention a few. However, despite the star-studded casts and crew, both films majorly flopped at the box office, with Alice Through the Looking Glass taking only $28m in its opening weekend – less than what its predecessor made in a single day. And yet, not all hope is lost in the film industry. There have been a string of successes coming from relatively unknown film-makers with relatively unknown casts, which begs the question – how relevant is ‘Star Power’ to Hollywood success today?
Other recent high-profile disappointments include the re-make of Independence Day, starring Liam Hemsworth, running on the back of his Hunger Games fame and household favourite Jeff Goldblum. Yet it severely underperformed at the box office and was met with dismal reviews. The recent trend of sequels and remakes featuring big names makes sense from a business point of view – it should be the safest option – but major studios are not seeing the rewards. Have the general public had enough of this nostalgia-baiting or could it be that big-name Hollywood stars have lost their ability to pull the audiences? Are we tired of the same old faces? This is suggested by Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, who states, “More of the same is not working and that’s a pretty glaring problem for the studios.” He describes the summer’s wave of flops as “a crop of rushed, bad sequels.” It is clear that studios are green-lighting what they think is safest and trying to make as much money as quickly as possible, relying on franchises, re-boots and star power but this hasn’t worked. Even X-Men: Apocalypse and Suicide Squad, whilst not exactly financial failures, underperformed when compared to their blockbuster expectations and definitely left a sea of disappointed audiences, despite having some of the biggest names in Hollywood as part of their casts.
But on the flipside, there is hope for cinema-lovers with the success of smaller films by relative unknowns. The stand-out being Don’t Breathe, directed by Fede Alvarez and starring Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minette and Daniel Zovatto, none of which are household names. The film has been praised for its creative cinematography and its ability to build tension. The film was made with a modest budget of $9.9m and has made $108.6m as of 21 September, according to Box Office Mojo. This is only Alvarez’s second feature film. Levy’s most notable work is the television sit-com Suburgatory which doesn’t compare much with the previous works of Johnny Depp, so why did Don’t Breathe make over ten times its budget, whilst Alice Through the Looking Glass didn’t even make twice its budget, despite having one of the biggest names in Hollywood? This must surely mean star power is not a main ingredient for success anymore.
Another success story starring relative unknowns is Lights Out which also made over ten times its budget. What these films have in common is that they both come from the horror genre, of which films can be made with relatively small budgets. But the sheer scale of their turnovers shows that whilst the studios are still investing their money in remakes, big-name stars and expensive special effects, the general public are investing their money more in new talent that doesn’t conform to the nostalgic trend which mainstream Hollywood has been flogging for the past few years.
It could be said the success of films such as Don’t Breathe and Lights Out is down to the fact they are horror films, which tend to do well no matter what the economic climate as they are cheap to make and we humans will always love a good scare. But we also love to worship the celebrity and this isn’t reflected in recent cinema-going trends. We can assume from this that cinema-goers are tired of mainstream Hollywood churning out uninspiring scripts and using too much CGI. They have shown their discontent by choosing instead, films that employ fresh talent and calmer, more creative film-making, shown in Don’t Breathe’s stellar critical acclaim and 88 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences are smart and they know when studios are just using them as cash cows, rolling out these supposed ‘safe’ remakes and sequels, only to be rejected. Not even star power can save them.
Image: Republic of Korea; Flickr.com