Movies suck right now.
They suck so bad that Warner Bros delayed Wonder Woman’s home release to bring in more ticket revenue. But the entire industry cannot depend on Wonder Woman’s Amazonian success. According to The Hollywood Reporter, 2017’s domestic box office revenue is down 5.7 percent. Earlier this month, the industry experienced a record $1.3 billion stock collapse. Nobody’s buying movie tickets.
It’s not hard to see why. Hollywood doesn’t know how to change it up. It’s more than franchise burnout: it’s trope burnout, actor burnout, anger and disenchantment at the lack of casting diversity. Moviegoers aren’t inspired and it shows.
By far the easiest shot to take is at The Emoji Movie, because it’s The Emoji Movie. But I’m not even mad about the film (can we call it a film?). It’s a weird idea, but last year Seth Rogen’s Sausage Party—a movie about sentient groceries (like sausages and bread) that culminates in SPOILER: a grocery orgy—garnered rave reviews and achieved a massive profit.
That said, The Emoji Movie was no Sausage Party, Inside Out or Toy Story. It was a complete failure, critically and financially, and embarrassing for all involved. But there were far bigger mistakes this year: a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean, another Transformers, even the sexy bods of the Baywatch reboot failed bring in the bucks. And, of course, Tom Cruise’s The Mummy. Something none of us needed.
A few exceptions to the summer slump are Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. But they’re not enough and given the trends, it’s unlikely the industry can coast on a third Guardians or a Wonder Woman sequel.
Beyond this summer, 2017’s most profitable movie was Get Out, Jordan Peele’s thriller about WASP racism. Coming out amidst the xenophobia of Trump’s America and unprecedented awareness of violence against black Americans, it was the perfect movie for its moment.
Similarly, the all-black female cast of Girls Trip was the only R-rated comedy of the summer to turn a profit. People want to see themselves represented on screen. Once they do, anything else feels cheap. It’s no wonder establishment Hollywood (white male Hollywood) is so averse to diversifying: it’s hard to let go of seeing and hearing yourself in high definition with surround sound.
We even could have seen The Emoji Movie coming: ever since Toy Story became a legit franchise with Toy Story 3, animators found an easy way to cultivate storylines by simply bringing inanimate objects to life. It’s a decent idea but audiences can tell when movie makers take them for granted. We don’t like being patronized and that is precisely what this summer has felt like.
Forget about the moral imperative of representation: Hollywood can’t afford to keep with the same stories and actors, with the usual moderate politics that coddle moderate white America. People didn’t reject The Emoji Movie or The Mummy because of their silly premises.
We rejected these movies because they don’t respect their audiences and don’t deserve our money.