HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s only the beginning of May. But believe it or not, the summer movie season is upon us and kicks into high gear tomorrow with the release of a big sequel.
Jeffrey Brown takes a look at the business model that’s driving Hollywood.
JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a tried-and-true formula the Hollywood studios bet on each summer: bring on a heavy dose of aliens, add a group of charged-up superheroes, throw in a few raunchy comedies —
MAN: Going vacation here with your boyfriend?
WOMAN: No, I’m just here with my mom.
JEFFREY BROWN: — plus some kids flicks, and make sure there are plenty of explosions.
What’s changing is how the summer season begins ever earlier. This weekend features the release of one of the bigger sequels of the year, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2.” The first movie was something of a surprise hit, grossing nearly $800 million worldwide.
A mix of special effects, action and comedy and based on a comic book, producers say they are looking to tap into mass appeal again.
MAN: I think audiences are going to love, first off, many of the things they loved in the first movie, the humor, the action, the scope, the characters.
I think the key to keeping these movies fresh is being able to give the audience a new story that nobody expects yet totally in line tonally with what audience responded to from volume one.
MAN: Work you stupid raccoon.
MAN: Don’t call me a raccoon?
JEFFREY BROWN: The new “Guardians” is expected to make a whole lot of money, far more than the $200 million spent on it. But not all of the blockbusters will. Many compete within days of each other, sometimes even on the same opening weekend.
Yet the studios are dependent on the summer season. It accounts for more than $4.5 billion in box-office sales worldwide. This year will see at least 15 sequels, reboots or spinoffs between May and August, including the much-anticipated “Wonder Woman.” Many of the films come from older franchises, that includes “Spiderman,” “Planet of the Apes,” and yet another sequel to “The Pirates of the Caribbean” series, which began 13 years ago.
MAN: This is wheat. What are the odds of finding human vegetation this far from Earth?
JEFFREY BROWN: And there’s one more follow-up to “Aliens” franchise. The first movie in that series opened in 1979. An early start to summer, the film industry’s blockbuster strategy, and a few of the movies themselves. We talk about it now with two film critics, Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, and Alonso Duralde of TheWrap.com.
Alonso, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2.” I didn’t realize it was summer yet, but apparently it is for the studios?
ALONSO DURALDE, TheWrap: Well, you know, I think the studios are all make summer movies all year round now. It’s kind of like being the Hallmark Channel. They make 27 new Christmas movies a year so they have to start showing them the weekend before Halloween. If all they make are giant, colorful explosion-filled movies for mass audiences, then all year has to become summer.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, Ann, summer all year round. Why has the season expanded? And how much is this blockbuster model running Hollywood?
ANN HORNADAY, The Washington Post: Well, the blockbuster model is definitely the dominant business model. Although, you know, other alternative business models have emerged as sort of a counter-weight like the Oscar Award Season business model, but definitely the blockbuster tent pool model is huge. It sort of started out as a strategy to attract teenagers, especially teenaged boys to the theaters.
Now, it’s really a way to get foreign audiences — I mean, the foreign revenues and markets — emerging markets are hugely important. So, these sorts of movies travel very well because they don’t — they’re not as necessarily as dependent on subtitling and cultural understandings and sort of cultural translation.
And in terms of just the expansion of the year, I mean, since everybody was so desperately focused on the summer to kind of capitalize on vacation and people being out of school and repeat business, they’ve discovered that they can go where the other ones aren’t and maybe make a buck.
And I think Disney has really proven this out with their strategy of bringing out their live-action adaptations of animated classics like “Cinderella” and just this year “Beauty and the Beast.” They’ve kind of taken over that March slot and really done quite well with it.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, Alonso, I mean, what do you make of this blockbuster model? You look at $100 million films, $200 million films. They, clearly, can’t and don’t make it. There’s always flops. How does it work?
ALONSO DURALDE: Well, you know, the idea is that audiences want to see something they’re familiar with. They want intellectual properties they’ve seen before, whether it’s a sequel or remake or adaptation of a Saturday morning cartoon. And a lot of those movies do make money.
But it doesn’t always work. We had big flop sequels last summer. “The Independence Day” sequel for one was a big red ink spiller. But they would much rather spend a lot of money on something they think is familiar than to gamble on something completely unknown.
JEFFREY BROWN: So, let me ask both of you. Ann, you can start, which movies are you looking forward to, either because you hope they’re going to be good or it tells you something about the movie business itself that you’re watching so carefully?
ANN HORNADAY: Well, I’m very curious about “Wonder Woman.” I mean, I was one of those many critics last year that were very disappointed with “Batman Versus Superman” and “Suicide Squad.” I haven’t been — I haven’t been over the moon about the way Warner Brothers has handled the D.C. franchise and especially the “Superman” storylines. So, I’m really looking forward to “Wonder Woman.”
In terms of another big movie, I’m very curious about Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”. He has done a huge spectacle of the evacuation of Dunkirk. It’s always interesting to see what Christopher Nolan is up to because he’s a real cinematic purist. So, I think putting him together with history and spectacle should yield some interesting results.
JEFFREY BROWN: Alonso, start with big movies, first, these blockbuster types. What are you looking forward to?
ALONSO DURALDE: Well, in the same way that Ann and I are both looking forward to “Wonder Woman,” having a new director in the chair, Patty Jenkins, instead of Zach Snyder or some of the other Warner Brothers guys, “Spiderman: Homecoming” sees that property going back into the Disney Marvel family. And so, hopefully, they’ll do a better job with it than last few versions of that hero we got.
I’m also looking forward to a couple of films that premiered at South by Southwest this year. They’ve been getting a lot of really positive buzz. “Atomic Blonde”, which is an action film starring Charlize Theron coming off of “Mad Max Fury Road”.
And another driving movie, Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver”, which got amazing reviews, and people are really talking a lot about that one. So I’m hoping that will be something that will add a little pep to the summer.
JEFFREY BROWN: For those of us who want something less — what can I say, loud — or something a little smaller, perhaps?
ANN HORNADAY: Ballistic?
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. What might — what should we look forward to?
ANN HORNADAY: You know, there are some wonderful smaller movies and that’s another kind of counter to the blockbuster strategy is that summer is a great time for counter-programming. And last year, we saw wonderful small movies like “Love and Friendship” and “Captain Fantastic” and “Hell or High Water.”
And I feel another hit from Sundance called “The Big Sick,” a charming, fact-based romantic comedy based on the true love life of Kumail Nanjiani, the Pakistani-American comic. It’s just a really affecting, funny, sweet, very sincere, very affecting little movie that I think has potential to really become a sleeper hit this summer.
JEFFREY BROWN: Alonso, you want to give us one, a smaller run — smaller pick?
ALONSO DURALDE: Yes, I’ve got high hopes for Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled.” It’s based on a novel previously turned into a Clint Eastwood movie by Don Siegel back in the ‘70s. But I suspect under Coppola’s guise, it’s going to become more of a film about sort of women in containment, which has been a favorite theme of hers, and it stars Nicole Kidman, Colin Ferrell and Kirsten Dunst. And so, I’m expecting a lot.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK. The all year round, summer movie season. Alonso Duralde, and Ann Hornaday — thank you both very much.
ALONSO DURALDE: Thank you.
ANN HORNADAY: Thank you.