The blockbuster summer of 2016 will probably go down as one of the worst summers that Hollywood studio movies have ever experienced.
Despite earning box office receipts only fractionally lower than those earned in the $11 billion (£8bn) bumper year of 2015, it’ll likely be remembered as the worst year since 2001.
So why are critics and fans alike bemoaning how abysmal 2016 has been?
There are a lot of definitive reasons for the backlash happening against blockbusters and some that are purely speculative.
But one of the undeniable factors is that there are simply too many studios trying to make too many tent-pole movies, without the audience share to go around.
That means that more massive movies are competing for the same amount of box office takings. In that scenario, unfortunately, there are going to be casualties like The BFG, which despite being critically acclaimed and having a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 75 per cent, was widely seen to have flopped.
But it’s not just gate receipts that films are being maligned for.
One of the most solidly performing movies of the summer was Suicide Squad, which more than recouped its budget both in the U.S. and overseas, but is still being held up as one of the summer’s biggest disasters.
Why is this? Well, mostly because it failed spectacularly to live up to the massive hype and marketing which had promoted the film after it was utterly trounced by critics.
Which brings us on to the next reason that Hollywood will consider this year a failure – audiences are just a bit sick and tired of rehashed movies made from existing source material.
This year, it felt like every film was either about a superhero or was a remake/reboot of some existing and revered source material.
Take Independence Day: Resurgence for example. That could have been a huge film, appealing as it does to a young audience who like to see landmarks get blown up by green fire, and an older audience who remember seeing the original in the cinema – perhaps it was even the first film they saw on the big screen.
But where the original was new and exciting at the time (and crucially had Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum), nowadays too many films plough the same apocalyptic furrow for any of us to really give two fucks any more.
Even though these movies are remakes or continuing a ‘cinematic universe’, another reason why these films crashed and burned was that they weren’t very good to begin with. Mostly for the fact that they ignored basic tenets like story arc and character development in favour of blowing shit up.
Not that audiences are tired of seeing explosions – Michael Bay has built a career out of it – it’s just that we’d like to have some kind of investment in the characters who are being blown up.
When you don’t spend time doing ‘formulaic’ things like developing your characters, then audiences just don’t give a damn when impossibly handsome people are being attacked by aliens.
A part of the reason why Hollywood execs are afraid to include more story development, humour and humanity in the typical blockbuster is because of the expense involved in making these cookie cutter summer films – Batman v Superman reportedly had its budget pushed to $400 million!
So it’s natural to assume that in the editing room you’re not going to cut that super expensive scene with Superman throwing an oil rig into space (this scene doesn’t actually exist, for the record), instead you’re going to cut the scene with him having a human moment where you get to know his character.
Another reason for these choices is the belief that overseas audiences, particularly China, are more interested in the action scenes than the human, emotional ones. Although, the success of Finding Dory throws doubt onto that reasoning.
My main reason, personally, for avoiding the cinema this summer is because none of these dull, plodding superhero movies appeal to me anymore.
They’re all trying to recreate The Dark Knight formula of being edgy and moody with some kind of super deep political or philosophical sub-theme – we’re looking at you Zack Synder.
But they just end up failing spectacularly at being something they’re not, instead of just trying to be different, take risks, and thrill the audience.
Again, it probably comes down to money as the reason why blockbusters are a creative vacuum – but it’s also down to the fact that the most engaging cinematic experiences nowadays are the ones happening on the small screen.
This summer has been dominated by the critically acclaimed The Night Of (itself a remake of a British crime drama Criminal Justice) and Stranger Things, an unapologetic homage to ’80s pop culture nostalgia.
Both of these aren’t exactly breaking new ground but they approach their material with a weight and tone absent from similar procedurals (The Night Of) or a genuine enthusiasm (Stranger Things) that is largely absent from the typical tent-pole summer movie.
As long as summer movies are too expensive to be truly creative, attempting to appeal to emerging foreign markets, and continue to rehash old franchises or ideas, then people are going to keep their cash in their pockets and get their cinematic fare at home via services like Netflix or by playing hyper-immersive cinematic video games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
I mean, would you rather spend £10 on going to see yet another fucking X-Men movie or would you prefer to spend that cash on a Netflix subscription so you can binge watch Narcos in the comfort of your own home and then play GTA:V ’til your eyes bleed while imagining that you’re Pablo Escobar?
I know which I prefer.