Sunday, May 19, 2024

Big movie weekend. So what else do you have? – Deadline

It was a great movie weekend. Barbie, Oppenheimer, The Sound of Freedom. All strikes, one strike out!

So what else do you have?

The question sounds embarrassing, like its close cousin, the always angry: “What have you done for me lately?”

But it’s an honest and important question for a strike-bound, broadcast-prone, pandemic-wracked industry still in need of revival.

The record-breaking weekend is a great tonic, a welcome reminder that the public, given half a chance, is still up for it. But a weekend, even with the business predicted by her hits, does not mean a return to health.

This calls for even more watchable films, many of them, preferably back-to-back, while viewers are showing an appetite. And they won’t be easy to come by in a Hollywood that has been shut down by twin strikes — raising the possibility of potential scheduling delays — and is already operating with perhaps a third fewer than the 900 theatrical films it released before the pandemic.

An old maxim of show business says that ‘hits beget hits’. Teased by a movie one week, a viewer is more likely to come back the next week for something else. Before social media, the dynamic was driven by what producers and executives called “the movie wheel”—just the right trailers attached to just the right hits, all of which kept the reels spinning.

Of course, there was a counter-theory. Some executives repeatedly argued that fewer films and less competition would mean more ticket sales for the lucky holders of a major studio distribution slot. I remember one competition-obsessed executive telling me – unfortunately off the record – that his major studio had just bought and shut down a pesky, over-prolific indie distributor because, in his words, “it was our turn to take one down.”

But those great men were wrong, just as they were wrong when Betamax killed the movies. As we’ve learned in recent times of the pandemic, fewer movies mean fewer ticket sales, and audiences, once turned off, take a lot of piss.

So with viewers watching Barbie, Oppenheimerand yes The Sound of Freedomwhat can they hope to see next?

Strictly by the numbers, not nearly enough.

Based on Box Office Mojo’s fairly reliable numbers, it looks like there were about 50 movies in theaters every weekend this summer — a number that dropped by about half when current hits soaked up screens last weekend.

Assuming the selection increases to about 50 in August, the available photos will continue to be about half of the last summer number in 2018 and 2019.

Worst of all, the “movie wheel” lacks its biggest buzz—catchy events like the trio that got things moving this weekend.

This does not mean that nothing can hit in the next month. It is foolish to judge the prospects of pictures you have not seen. But the wide releases planned between now and the end of August-Haunted mansion? Grand Touring? Blue Beetle?—are completely different from the movies we’ve just seen and we can’t count Barbenheimer for momentum.

For long-term perspective, compare now to 1999, when the 25th week in the movie calendar, the equivalent of last weekend, was dominated by Eyes closed AND american cake— like this year, a serious photo, a comic.

Each of the next five weekends saw an average of 65 movies in release, about a third more than we’ll see this August. And on the “wheel” were a series of unforgettable photos: bow finger, Mickey Blue Eyes, The runaway bride, The Thomas Crown case, The sixth sense, The Iron Giant. Not all were huge hits. But each did their best to keep the audience engaged.

This is what a healthy business looks like. Despite the good weekend, we are not there yet.

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