The 2024 Summer Movie Season Needs a Serious Shakeup

Ben Friedman

 

The days of “Barbenheimer” seem far behind Hollywood. While the Writers and Actors strike came to an end before the new year, the industry continues to reel from the work stoppage. As a result, the 2024 movie release calendar appears barren. This year, the last weekend of May saw no major release from any of the major film studios resulting in The Garfield Movie topping the weekend’s box office with $14 million domestically in its second weekend.

 

Combined, the top-10 earners grossed $60 million domestically, half of what Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse grossed exactly a year before. One month into the summer movie season, three major studio films have already underperformed well below studio expectations: The Fall Guy, If, and most recently Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. All three of these titles had budgets well above $100 million, and none of them were crucified by critics.

 

Among the three films, the star power is exceptionally strong, including the likes of Ryan Gosling, Emily Blunt, Ryan Reynolds, Steve Carrell, Bradley Cooper, George Clooney, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Chris Hemsworth, yet none of these factors seemed to matter to movie-going audiences.

 

Naturally, studio executives are asking: How did this happen? To better understand the current state of Hollywood, let’s partake in an autopsy of the May 2024 flops and determine what lessons should and should not be learned.

 

 

Case Study #1: The Fall Guy

On paper, The Fall Guy reads like a big summer crowdpleaser. Take two beloved actors, Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt, both coming fresh off their recent Oscar nominations, and surround them with lots of stunts and provide them with quick-witted, breezy romantic comedy dialogue and tropes, allowing both of the actors to showcase their comedic sensibilities.

 

Yet, not even the stars of Barbie and Oppenheimer could make The Fall Guy the smash sensation Universal Pictures was hoping for. Despite largely positive reviews, especially regarding the two stars' shared chemistry, the film underperformed expectations. As poor as The Fall Guy’s $28.5 million opening weekend was, it opened to about the same number as the Sandra Bullock/Channing Tatum-led romantic comedy The Lost City. The difference is that The Lost City cost around $70 million, whereas The Fall Guy’s budget was north of $125 million.

 

To better understand The Fall Guy’s financial struggles, look no further than the film’s video-on-demand release date, which occurred 17 days after the film’s debut. Universal’s strategy makes sense. Why wait to release a film on VOD if it flopped in theaters?

Yet, that line of thinking may well be what caused The Fall Guy to underperform in the first place. Think of it from the consumer’s standpoint. Why buy something new for full price, when you can wait a few weeks and get it for cheaper and more conveniently?

 

Studios have empowered movie-going audiences to determine what will be a success. This has allowed for such recent summer entries as Top Gun: Maverick, Barbie, Oppenheimer, and Sound of Freedom to far outperform original expectations. In all of these cases, they became sensations and topics of conversation, allowing these films to permutate the cultural zeitgeist as audiences seek out these films due to word of mouth and fear of missing out.

 

On the flip side, that allows audiences to determine whether they deem the most recent studio film worth seeking in theaters, or wait a few weeks to catch it on V.O.D. or streaming. Essentially, the audience now determines the theatrical window, thus stripping that power away from studios and marketing teams. Yet, the financial bar was set so high for The Fall Guy, which never allowed the film to be anything but a huge sensation or a financial disaster.

 

 

Case Study #2: IF

First, let’s start with the most obvious of explanations on why IF underperformed. As popular as John Krasinski has become post the success of A Quiet Place and its lackluster sequel, advertising a film as coming, “From the imagination of John Krasinski” means nothing to children. Krasinski is not a brand unto himself, especially to a young demographic. He is not Walt Disney, Jim Henson, or Steven Spielberg, yet Paramount treated him as such. As a result, IF’s marketing was confusing. Paramount seemingly was banking on the wide-scale appeal of Ryan Reynolds and the film’s lead vocal performer Steve Carrell, or as children probably know him best, Gru from the Despicable Me franchise.

 

There is no question that Krasinki assembled a cast of some of the most famous people in the world, including George Clooney, Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon, Blake Lively, Sam Rockwell, and Jon Stewart. Yet, therein lies IF’s biggest fault. Whom was this film made for? Those actors appeal to me, an adult. As much as I love Jon Stewart’s recent return to The Daily Show, I wouldn’t say kids are spending their days talking about the host’s recent takedown of Donald Trump’s hush money verdict. IF spared no expense in its vocal talents, as evident by the film’s $110 million budget, yet the gimmick of casting these famous A-listers is lost on kids. While the gimmick was enough to get me in the theaters out of sheer curiosity, the result proved neither funny nor emotionally impactful.  Thus, Krasinski’s film exists in no-man’s land: too adult for kids, but too kiddish for adults, resulting in IF grossing $33.7 million domestically in its opening weekend.

 

 

Case Study #3: Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Before opening wide, Furiosa had everything working in its favor - a beloved predecessor, a loyal fanbase, and enthused early reviews from critics. Despite that, the fifth entry within the Mad Max series grossed $32 million domestically in its four-day opening weekend. Given that Warner Bros. spent upwards of $168 million to make the film, this opening weekend was an unmitigated disaster. How did this go so wrong?

 

Look no further than the cast, specifically who is missing from the actors. Mad Max: Fury Road had Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. Furiosa features neither. Instead, Anya Taylor-Joy plays a far younger version of the character made popular by Theron. Sound familiar? Maybe Warner Bros. should have learned from the failures of their rival studio company Disney, which tried and failed at successfully launching Solo: A Star Wars Story and Lightyear. Both films were high-budget prequels that saw the new actors stepping into iconic roles, only for both films to vastly underperform financially.

 

To George Miller and the studio’s credit, Furiosa is a far better-made film than either of the Disney entries, but the point remains that audiences are not interested. The warning signs for financial failure were evident, especially after the first trailer was met with criticism because of its seeming overuse of CGI.

 

On top of that, people seemingly forgot that despite Mad Max: Fury Road being lauded as a masterpiece by critics, audiences, and the Academy, the film was a modest hit, having grossed $381 million on an estimated $150 million budget. To succeed financially, Furiosa had to gross more than its predecessor, despite having none of the previous film’s stars returning and the titular Max not appearing within the 2024 installment. Ten years ago, when Fury Road was released, it seemed new and exciting - the first Mad Max film in 30 years. It was a breakthrough in technology, visual storytelling, and an elevation of the franchise. What was exciting nine years ago now feels familiar.

 

If May was any indication, the well-being of the film industry seems bleak. Yet, I would be cautious in authoring the eulogy of the summer movie season. While Universal, Paramount, and Warner Bros. mourn the failures of these films, the warning signs were present and the studio ignored them.

 

 

Doom and gloom may well be coming for movie studios, but for a vastness of reasons, including studio overspending, the streaming model, and an inability to manage audience expectations -- The Fall Guy, IF, and Furiosa all seem to have fallen victim to self-imposed failure brought about by poor studio financial strategies and decisions, and not a mass exodus of audiences abandoning the theater forever.

 

If upcoming titles such as Inside Out 2, Despicable Me 4, and Deadpool and Wolverine flop, then we know something is awry with movie-going audiences. Until then, maybe the kickstart of the 2024 summer movie season will serve as a warning sign for Hollywood on what not to do if you wish to succeed in the business.

 

Author Bio:

Ben Friedman is a freelance film journalist and a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine. For more of his reviews visit his YouTube channel: Ben Tito Friedman Reviews Movies, or follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @bentitofriedman.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

 

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