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Box office update: Hollywood’s long, hot summer

Cairns on Cinema - Hollywood execs are hoping Tom Cruise, not to mention Barbie, can bail them out from all of their current problems
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It has not been the best of summers for Hollywood, inside or outside of the cinemas.

REGINA - We are now into mid-July, the prime time of the movie box office season, and I thought I would provide a bit of an update as to where things stand in the summer of 2023.

So far, it is safe to say these have been tough times for Hollywood. I’m not saying that just from a box office perspective. I’m saying that from a labour perspective. The last time I talked to you, the Writers Guild of America had walked out on strike, shutting down most production in North America. Now, this week, the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has gone on strike, too, bringing Hollywood production to an absolute screeching halt. 

This is the first time since 1960 that both the writers and actors have gone on strike — back when the Screen Actors Guild was led by a guy by the name of Ronald Reagan. The current President of SAG-AFRTA is Fran Drescher. That’s right: “The Nanny”.

The most noticeable impact so far has been on television, with pretty much all your favorite late night TV shows down for the count for weeks. Now, even the dramas and comedies will be hit. As for the movies, while these strikes aren't going to make an immediate impact on what you see at cinemas right away, it will have a major impact down the road. Projects that depend on these workers who are walking the picket lines will have no choice but to push things back. The labour disputes are also likely to impact the film festivals if they last any length of time, with actors not showing up for red carpets. The Toronto International Film Festival red carpets look to be pretty barren this fall -- what will the entertainment reporters do?

That all adds to the heap of bad news that has also been coming from the North American box office. It seems like North Americans just aren't in a mood to rush to the cinemas.

Let’s take a look at the situation that has emerged this summer season:

Things seemed to get off to a good start at the start of the summer blockbuster season when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opened May 5-7 to a weekend domestic of $118.4 million. It currently stands at a $358 million domestic haul.

Fast X then missed expectations with a weekend of $67 million on May 19-21, but that was followed by The Little Mermaid, which opened on the May 26-29 Memorial Day weekend to a gross of $118.8 million and has been doing steady business since then. It now stands at $292 million domestic. 

Then came the animated Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which opened the weekend of June 2-4 to $120.6 million and currently stands at $364 million domestic. So far, so good, you would think.

Soon enough, cracks began to show. The following weekend was the release of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts and it only hauled in $61 million. The next weekend, June 16-18, it dropped like a rock — a massive 66.1 per cent drop according to Box Office Mojo, for a lousy second weekend haul of $20.6 million.

The movie that finished first that same June. 16-18 weekend was The Flash, from Warner Bros., but it came in well under expectations with an opening weekend haul of $55 million. The reviews from the critics as well as from audiences were very so-so, and it, too, dropped like a rock at the box office after its first weekend. Its domestic haul, so far, is a very unimpressive $106.3 million. Not a hit. In fact, it's been called a disaster --  it's not going to make its money back. 

That weekend had also seen the release of Pixar’s Elemental. Usually, Pixar can be counted on to deliver big box office numbers every year. Again, not this time: Elemental fizzled out at $29.6 million, one of the worst openings for a Pixar movie ever. Granted, since then it has managed to do some consistent business, but still...

The thinking in Hollywood after those disappointments was that Harrison Ford in the final Indiana Jones movie titled Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, would come to the rescue.

Instead, it came in at $83.8 million over the June 30-July 4 period on 4,600 screens, well under expectations. And it got worse.

In fact, just days after its release, Indiana Jones was getting beat at the box office by Sound of Freedom, the anti-human-trafficking movie starring Jim Caviezel! The following weekend the humiliation was complete when the box office was won by Insidious: The Red Door. 

So far, for Indiana Jones, its domestic gross is a grand total of $136.6 million. Terrible!!

So you can imagine the panic gripping the execs in Hollywood with these underwhelming performances. Frankly. these execs now have far bigger problems to deal with than just the box office, but that's the situation now. 

By this point Hollywood was reduced to hoping it would be rescued by three remaining potential blockbusters: Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part One starring Top Cruise opening Wednesday, July 12, and then next July 21 two new releases - Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie, and Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan.

The initial buzz looked good for the latest M:I7 movie, with rave reviews from the critics and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 96 per cent. Cruise himself was coming off the spectacular success last year of Top Gun: Maverick. All signs pointed to Cruise bailing out Hollywood again, with the expectation that this movie was tracking for between $90-$100 million for the first five days.

So, as I write this, the box office numbers are coming in and they point to this latest Mission: Impossible ending up with a five-day-plus domestic haul of around $78 million-$83 million.


Now, it looks like this lousy summer movie box office all comes down to Barbie and Oppenheimer, which are unfortunately scheduled head to head against each other on the same weekend and are guaranteed to impact each others’ business. Still, cinema owners will be happy. Some observers are calling that weekend “Barbieheimer” because it’s sure to be the busiest these cinemas have been all summer, with people flocking to see both movies. That's a lot of popcorn sales.

So far, Barbie has been backed by a massive promotional campaign that is literally all over social media; meanwhile, Oppenheimer has been getting rave reviews from just about all the critics. Oppenheimer, for those wondering, is a flick about the guy who brought you the hydrogen bomb. Compelling stuff.

Interestingly, the reviews have not been released yet for Barbie, but so far the projections we have been hearing is for Barbie to open the weekend domestically at over $90 million, and Oppenheimer over $40 million. I suppose I will leave it up to you to make up your own minds whether or not numbers like that are going to be enough to save Hollywood.

All I will say is this summer we are seeing a lot of things catch up with Hollywood, with audiences underwhelmed about the same old franchises with the same old actors -- some of whom are now over 80 years old (Harrison Ford). Add to that the issues ordinary people at home are facing in making ends meet and keeping up with prices going up.

What Hollywood really needs to do is deliver some fresh entertainment compelling enough for audiences to want to show up for it -- and who knows, maybe Barbie is it, for a change. Or maybe Oppenheimer. I guess there are people out there who will say Sound of Freedom is it. But this year they clearly have not been delivering enough. As I see it, right now Hollywood seems capable of delivering absolutely nothing. That is unfortunately what we, the folks at home, will be stuck with if this labour mess is not settled soon. 

One thing can be said: 2023 has been a long, hot, uncomfortable summer for Hollywood.