The credits have rolled, the lights have flipped on, and everyone is either sick of popcorn or desperately needing to use the facilities. It is time to return to the real world, as the summer 2013 movie season has come to an end. The most cinematic time of year brought its fair share of triumphs and embarrassments, but on the whole, domestic box office revenue of over $4 billion suggests that the summer was a success for movie producers. Hidden within the cluster of statistics, trends, and reviews are telling patterns that reveal much about our movie culture. The following are a few of the many lessons we learned from summer movies of 2013.
The first thing that this summer has taught us is that sequels are not as popular as producers might think. Films such as Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Red 2, Grown Ups 2, and Smurfs 2 were all unwarranted tent-poles to franchises that failed to awe moviegoers the first time around. Sequels run the risk of becoming lazy and thrown together versions of their predecessors, recycling themes and tones and spoon-feeding them to bored consumers. Could it be that producers believe that as long as a movie title contains a number at the end, audiences will flock to theaters? It appears so.
The second summer movie lesson is that Hollywood is becoming more global, and that the U.S. is no longer the sole target audience for producers. It began last year when Life of Pi raked in $484 million abroad compared to its $124 million domestically. Hollywood executives became hip to the fact that movies diverse in culture and worldview could become profitable. Big budget films out of the U.S. began reserving main roles for actors from other nationalities. Iron Man 3’s Chinese cut featured Chinese stars Xueqi Wang and Bingbing Fan. Pacific Rim cast Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi in a title role. Elysium contained South African Sharlto Copley and Brazilian Wagner Moura in main roles. The Wolverine contained a predominately Japanese cast, as the film was set in Japan. Fast & Furious 6 and World War Z featured Israeli actresses Gal Gadot and Daniella Kertesz respectively. The list goes on. Next summer’s Transformers 4 will take the new global outlook even further, featuring Chinese actors Bingbing Li and Geng Han, and reserving minor roles for winners of a China based reality TV show. The tide is turning, for the better, in the direction of a more realistic cinematic landscape filled with characters from all nationalities.
The third lesson from this summer is that we have an infatuation with apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic settings. Pacific Rim showcases colossal robots battling sea monsters in an attempt to “cancel the apocalypse”. World War Z tells the story of a man struggling to stop a world ending zombie virus. Elysium takes place in a dystopian future in which the planet has been ravaged by disease and corruption. This is the End is a comedic take on celebrities in the face of judgment day. Oblivion takes place in a universe after the fall of earth. Snowpiercer gives an account of human survival in a second ice age. After Earth’s setting follows a human diaspora from our home planet. Finally, World’s End revolves around a group of friends who uncover a plot that threatens to bring about a second Dark Age. The trend is unmistakable, the apocalypse sells, and we are buying into it with a large popcorn and medium coke.
(Editors Note: To read more of Evan’s Prime Time Review, go to www.livenupexp.com.)
The fourth, and final lesson from this summer is that quality drama and plot is not extinct. Just because giant robots, zombies, and space battles are at the forefront of advertising campaigns, does not mean that there are not a few hidden treasures in the fray. Films like The Way Way Back, Blue Jasmine, Frances Ha, Fruitvale Station, Before Midnight, The Spectacular Now, Mud, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler were popular with critics and fans alike. Film producers who sell explosions and 3D are scratching their heads at how such low budget sagas could become so popular and profitable. We, as a society, are more multifaceted than the film producers think. There still are moviegoers out there who value depth and quality storylines.
The summer film season is the most industry defining stretch in Hollywood. It is in this time that producers lay all their cards out on the table, and audiences are obliged to take a step back and observe what we value, what we cherish, how we define our culture, and where we are headed as a society of storytellers.