Hollywood Movies

After ‘Fall Guy’ flop, Hollywood braces for uncertain summer

May 11, 20245 Mins Read

A year after the “Barbenheimer” cultural frenzy that raked in hundreds of millions for Hollywood, the movie-making business is entering summer with no clear blockbuster on the horizon and lingering questions about the future of movie theaters.

Universal’s “The Fall Guy,” was seen by many box office watchers as the potential spark the business needed to lure moviegoers back to theaters and kick off what studios are hoping will be a profitable summer. 

But the action rom-com’s underperformance during its opening weekend has experts in the film business warning such a flop is another red flag for an industry still reeling from the ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic and labor issues that put some major projects on hold.  

“After the pandemic and the strikes, the movie industry just hasn’t been able to catch a break,” said Shawn Robbins, a film consultant and box office analyst. “’Fall Guy’ sort of had to shoulder the burden of being the big summer opener, but we’re still seeing the tail end of the effects of those delays.” 

The blockbuster success of WarnerBros.’s  “Barbie” and Universal’s “Oppenheimer” last summer was celebrated by many across the industry as a needed antidote for the years-long trend in declining attendance at movie theaters. 

The global box office was estimated to have reached a more than 30 percent gain in 2023 from the year prior, but that figure still lags double digits behind the attendance figures of the last three years before the pandemic, Deadline reported

“’Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’’s remarkable success owed much to timing: Both films were released in the white heat of their marketing push, an urgency compounded by the need to get all press completed before the looming actors’ strike,” noted film critic Catherine Shoard on Friday.

The full-court press marketing worked, as the two films earned a combined $235 million during their opening weekend en route to an estimated more than $2 billion in worldwide sales last summer.  

Last fall, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists reached a deal with the studios on a new contract after a six-month period of strikes, the first of its kind since the 1960s. 

The flop of “The Fall Guy” out of the gate, observers say, is further tapering expectations from an already gloomy forecast of a drop of as much as a 25 percent in domestic summer ticket sales from a year ago.  

“What we’re most likely going to see this summer is more films performing in that midrange of figures instead of just having a top-heavy $600 million film and $400 million films opening at the same time,” Robbins explained.  

“Fall Guy,” was expected to rake in some $40 million on opening weekend, the Guardian reported, but fell short of that target, hauling less than $30 million. 

Complicating matters for major legacy Hollywood brands like WarnerBros. and Universal, as they look to entice audiences to invest their time and money at theaters this summer, is the continued proliferation of increased quality of at-home streaming offerings. 

The trend toward streaming in Hollywood is nothing new.

The number of streaming service subscriptions around the world topped 1 billion for the first time in 2020, with subscriptions in the U.S. alone jumping by a third that year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.    

But recent struggles at the box office further underscore a saturated market increasingly dominated by tech companies with large balance sheets, those inside the industry say.  

Amazon and Apple have entered the movie-making business in a big way, investing hundreds of millions into films like “Flowers of a Killer Moon” and “Creed III.”  

Disney, whose leadership recently announced it will shift its focus on movies to emphasize quality over quantity, is hoping the upcoming summer’s Marvel installment “Deadpool and Wolverine”  will deliver a return blow to streamers at the box office.  

More optimistic observers and critics contend that the success of films like “Dune: Part Two” suggests there is still some appetite for in-person movie viewing, particularly on premium screens like IMAX.

The slow start to the year will only increase pressure on a slate of leading animated films set to be released this year, including Columbia’s “The Garfield Movie,” Disney’s “Inside Out 2” and Universal’s “Despicable Me 4.”  

Other films moviemakers are hoping will cut into expected declines in profits this year are “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” out this weekend; Mad Max prequel “Furiosa,” next week, and Kevin Costner’s Civil War-era Western  “Horizon: An American Saga,” in June.  

Still, the overall take for moviemakers is almost certain to be smaller this summer than the cash cow that came with last year’s “Barbenheimer” phenomenon. 

“Looking at the summer release calendar, what we don’t see is that guaranteed box office home run,” said Steve Granelli, a professor of film and pop culture at Northeastern University. “It’s something that’s pretty indicative of the overall health of the industry.”  

It is possible one or multiple featured films could attain breakout success, but that would come as a surprise for an industry that is targeting no more than $3 billion in revenues from theater viewing this summer, analysts say.  

“Everything is relative, and the industry has been seeing this coming for a long time,” said Robbins. “The business has always had to plan ahead anywhere from eight to 15 months. It seems it’s at the point of acceptance now and more about leaning into the second half of the year when things could pick up business wise.”

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