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News / Life / Entertainment

Hollywood’s bummer summer

‘Furiosa,’ ‘The Fall Guy’ disappoint at the box office

By Adam Graham, The Detroit News
Published: June 8, 2024, 5:20am
3 Photos
Anya Taylor-Joy stars in &ldquo;Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.&rdquo; (Warner Bros.
Anya Taylor-Joy stars in “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.” (Warner Bros. Pictures) Photo Gallery

The sky is falling at the summer box office, and it’s not even officially summer yet.

Hollywood’s bummer summer started at the top of May when “The Fall Guy,” the highly touted action comedy starring Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt, opened to a soft $27.7 million, well below projections. That kicked off a month of disappointing returns, which was capped last weekend when “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “The Garfield Movie” combined for the worst Memorial Day box office frame since “Casper” opened in theaters in 1995, when Christina Ricci was still only 15 years old.

Things weren’t any better this weekend, with the new releases led by the dismal Diane Keaton comedy “Summer Camp.” And it looks like “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” (opening Friday) and “Inside Out 2” (set to open June 14) will have a lot of heavy lifting to do before Gru and Deadpool arrive and try to straighten things out in July.

The question everyone in the movie industry wants to know the answer to is, “what happened?” There is no one answer, there are a combination of factors, and there’s no quick fix. And things might get worse before they get better, if they ever get as good as they once were again.

Yes, there will be hits again, and “Deadpool & Wolverine,” due out July 26, is as close to a sure thing as there is this summer. It’s the only Marvel movie opening this year, and while Marvel has had its follies over the last few years, “Deadpool” is a proven entity and the circumstances of Ryan Reynolds’ character reteaming with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine should combine to make it a massive hit. Probably.

But sure things just aren’t so sure anymore, and that’s the lesson Hollywood is learning, one painful weekend at a time.

So what happened? Here are a few things that occurred over the last few years that made this the summer Hollywood would rather forget:

  • The strike: Ah, remember the dual strikes last year? Hollywood’s writers and actors strikes, which lasted five months and four months, respectively, slowed down Hollywood’s production pipeline and impacted the summer slate of offerings. That’s partially why it’s a weak summer to begin with, and why unproven entities such as a TV show reboot (“The Fall Guy”) and a “Mad Max” prequel were asked to shoulder the weight of the May box office.
  • Streaming: If you didn’t see “The Fall Guy” in theaters, you can watch it at home. Right now. There used to be a monthslong wait between when a movie opened in theaters and when it was available to watch at home, but that window has been shortened to, in many situations, 17 days. So if you want to see a movie but would rather watch it at home, you’re incentivized to just wait a few weeks and bam, you can pop your own popcorn and watch it from the comfort of your couch. Theatrical purists will always go to the theater, but some people just want to watch a movie, and they can now do so from home more easily than ever.
  • Other entertainment options: Movies are far from the only game in town: There are the streaming services we all subscribe to way too many of and pay way too much money for, there are video games, there are TV shows to binge, there is social media, and there are the phones that we cannot, no matter how hard we try, put down or look away from. Movies require two hours of unbroken attention, which didn’t used to be a lot to ask, but we live in an accelerated world, and our attention spans have been fragmented into bits by constantly refreshing our screens for the latest TikTok video. We’ve become scrolling zombies, and there’s no scrolling at the movies.
  • The pandemic: The closure of movie theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated trends that were already happening in Hollywood and in the culture that were driving people away from the movies, and the pandemic got people awfully used to staying at home. “Top Gun: Maverick” brought people back in waves in 2022, as did “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” last summer, but now people are used to the idea of coming out to one mega-event movie (or double feature, in the case of “Barbenheimer”) a year.
  • The theatrical experience: Phones haven’t ruined the theatrical experience, but they definitely haven’t made it any better. And when the person next to you or a few rows ahead of you whips out their phone to check their texts, it draws your attention away from the screen. (That’s how light works when you’re in the dark. It’s science.) Someone talking loudly, sound bleeding over from the screen next door, projection mishaps, 20 minutes of trailers, on screen advertisements and more are all other factors that have taken away from the theatrical moviegoing experience. When you’re weighing it against staying home and sitting on the couch, the living room often wins.
  • The movies themselves: Maybe people just didn’t want to see “The Fall Guy,” or “Furiosa,” or John Krasinski’s “IF.” A lot of movies are released every week and it’s tough to keep up with them all, even for people whose job it is to keep up with them all. There’s no off season at the movies. So outside of the mega-event movies, and with so many other entities competing for people’s attention, only a few movies are going to be able to break through. And a gas guzzling trip through the Australian wasteland (“Furiosa”) or a winking ode to the hard work of Hollywood stuntpeople (“The Fall Guy”) might not be everyone’s cup of tea. And frankly, it shouldn’t have to be.

So what happens now?

The movies and movie culture will have to adapt to the new reality. That could mean fewer movies or smaller budgets, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for creatives and for storytellers. It could mean less visionary blockbusters the scope and scale of “Furiosa” — all those trucks and explosions don’t come cheap — but it could clear the way for more grounded projects less reliant on special effects and more in touch with the human experience.