The Great (Hollywood) Reset
By Julien Rodger
This June’s box office was marked by two catastrophic performances in the Flash and Indiana Jones 5 for their budget and expectations, and Elemental also a poor performer for its budget although showing signs of being well received. Earlier in the year Shazam 2 was also a fiasco and other films like Ant Man 3, The Little Mermaid and Fast X did average at best domestically.
Sure, you can explain away all of it when drawing trends like the decline of superhero films or IP-fests. DC appears to be suffering badly, but there is not enough of a sample to bury Marvel yet as Guardians of the Galaxy had an expected performance, and Wakanda Forever was only 8 months ago. Everyone knows DC is bailing on their current generation of superheroes to usher in the James Gunn kind, so it makes sense nobody cares. Meanwhile an animated superhero film in Across the Spiderverse is a success story, and the biggest film of the year The Super Mario Bros Movie and July’s expected breakout Barbie still fit nicely into the “IP mining” concept that defined the 2010s.
Yet if you go with your gut, it feels like something is happening. Even Guardians of the Galaxy 3 who’s total ended up fine, had a disappointing opening weekend at the time to barely out open Ant Man 3, and ended up saved by people liking the movie. Despite DC’s struggles, the Flash seemed to have things going for it and there’s a reason they stuck with it after Ezra Miller’s controversy, the trailer was exciting and teased the return of Keaton’s Batman well, and the multiverse concept has proven popular in other superhero movies like No Way Home or Into/Across the Spiderverse. Disappointing is one thing, but if this isn’t reflective of overall superhero fatigue, did it have to do that THAT aggressively poorly? As for Indiana Jones, it’s debatable whether this is reflective of the decline of family friendly franchise IP that’s been Disney’s sweet spot, or there’s other factors that doomed it like casting an 80 year old Ford when Crystal Skull was already seen as the old guy nostalgia movie just didn’t work. Much like how Live Free or Die Hard was popular, but when they scraped the bottom of the barrel for the 5th film, it was only half as popular.
In the rest of the year, The Marvels is the perfect film to see where the MCU stands compared to DC. Captain Marvel blew up because it rode the franchise’s peak popularity right before Endgame, and the sequel is also likely a litmus test. Aquaman 2’s fate is not hard to guess with the pre-Gunn version of DC being received as a dead man walking, nonetheless a likely collapse from the first film would be another strike on the card of superhero films. The superhero era will have a chance to rebound when Marvel comes back with Fantastic Four and Deadpool and DC starts over with its Gunn Superman film, but it would be no surprise if the 2000s and 2010s is the decade known for their dominance, not the 2020s. Trends do not last forever, the shift in decades is sometimes not as obvious in film as ones like in music where 70s, 80s and 90s all feel different, but genres have still faded in popularity time such as westerns, film noirs or on smaller level the machismo Arnold and Stallone action movies of the 80s or Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts romcoms of the 90s. Superheroes have already ruled roughly as long as Westerns did in their peak decades. Going forward, studios, especially Disney are going to have to learn new tricks than superhero films and taking a franchise from 20-30 years ago people are nostalgic for and rebooting it. Surely some of those will still succeed, including a few superhero films as they did in decades like the 80s and 90s. But these are frequently big budget CGI driven movies and if more of them go the way of The Flash and Indiana Jones 5, it should make them more hesitant than last decade that the reward is bigger the risk.
The most likely adjustment is to mine as much non-superhero IP as possible, as Mario Bros or Barbie did using video games and toys, but there is only so many good ideas left to do, and it can’t fill up the whole schedule anymore. For the rest they’re going to have to start getting bold, taking chances, making vehicles for stars such as in comedies, dramas or non superhero action movies. Some of these movies it’ll be hard to know if it’s going to hit until the marketing comes out, Barbie on paper with a a more generic director than Greta Gerwig could have been a flop, but when the trailers came out, people online responded to it. One day there will be new trends that once again make the studios job easier by just copying what worked, but in the meantime, it could be a rocky road of hits and flops as has been seen this summer.