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Some Thoughts on the Summer of ’03

The summer ’03 movie season is officially over.  The Summer season, as all true movie mavens know, runs from (roughly) early May to late August and accounts for a substantial portion of Hollywood’s yearly revenue.  This means a surfeit of mega budgeted “popcorn” fare aimed at teenagers, the largest movie going demographic. 

     As par the course, the summer of ’03 was packed with formulaic action movies (HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE), special effects extravaganzas (THE HULK), sequels (LEGALLY BLONDE 2, TERMINATOR 3, BAD BOYS 2, etc., etc., etc.) and, interestingly enough, a handful of horror movies.  In retrospect, what makes this past summer different from others is the simple fact that the movies for the most part weren’t very successful. 

     Particularly notable under-performers included GIGLI, CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL TROTTLE, FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY and LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER 2.  All were bad movies, from what I understand (it’s not like I could bring myself to actually sit through any of ‘em), which conventional wisdom would have us believe is the reason for their collective downfall at the US box office.  Furthermore, the proliferation of cell phones and instant messaging now mean that disgruntled viewers can now transmit the bad news far quicker than ever before; so claims a recently published report by the Independent News Service.

     The fact that the above movies all sucked does go some way toward explaining their collective failure (duh!), but I don’t buy the rationale that cell phones are to blame.  Cell phones and instant messaging have been widespread for several years now, but haven’t stopped summertime bummers like TOMB RAIDER 1, MEN IN BLACK 2 and XXX from raking in the big bucks.  I’d also put many of the just ended summer’s moneymakers in that category: THE MATRIX RELOADED and BRUCE ALMIGHTY, good movies?  I think not!

     I will acknowledge the quality (or lack thereof) of the studios’ multi-million dollar advertising campaigns as a possible cause of their movies’ less-than-stellar performances.  The spectacle of CHARLIE’S ANGELS’ three bubble-brained starlets prattling about “Angel Power” from seemingly every media outlet in sight didn’t engender much goodwill from me.  Ditto the smug visages of Ben and J. Lo in the ads and billboards for GIGLI; I’ve long since become sick to death of those two, whose media presence is the very definition of “overexposed.”  And based on the publicity for FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY, I concluded that nobody over the age of nine need apply.  Evidently quite a few others felt the same way.

     But wait a minute.  CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE, as of September, has made over a hundred million dollars at the box office.  Not too shabby a haul, I’d say, especially when compared with that of FREDDY VS. JASON, one of the summer’s biggest hits, whose cumulative gross so far is approximately $20m less.  Another of the seasons’ big disappointments is LARA CROFT ETC., which has taken in $65m, roughly twice the gross of 28 DAYS LATER, another of the season’s “big hits” (GIGLI on the other hand only managed to accumulate a paltry $6 million, a dud in any context).

     Thus we come to the real reason Hollywood has fared so poorly this summer: budgets.  Inflated ones, to be exact.  CHARLIES ANGELS cost a whopping $120 million to make and FREDDY VS. JASON just $25 million.  LARA CROFT had a price tag of $90 million while 28 DAYS LATER was made for a mere $8 million.  Conclusion: Hollywood is spending too damn much money

     This is hardly a radical concept, unless you happen to be a Hollywood studio executive, who apparently can’t grasp the idea that it makes more sense financially and artistically to make interesting films for little money rather than crappy ones for $90 to $100-some million.  Unfortunately, with star salaries hovering around $20m, that seems an impossibility.    

     And yet it was the low-budget horror movies that really cleaned up over the summer, films without big stars or elaborate special effects...or, in the cases of FREDDY VS. JASON or CABIN FEVER, much of anything to recommend them.  The latter film, interestingly enough, disappeared from most LA area movie screens after a couple weeks, usually the mark of a bomb.  Yet CABIN FEVER’S budget was so low it couldn’t help but turn a profit, a phenomenon that also accounts for the success of the pre-summer horror releases HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and WRONG TURN. 

     You think Hollywood studio execs will learn anything from the events outlined above?  It’s doubtful they’ll cease putting out bad movies, and I certainly don’t see them slashing their budgets (most of the money these days is in DVD sales, so the studios will turn a profit regardless of their films’ theatrical performances).  What does seem certain is that horror movies are definitely back “in.”  As has already been demonstrated, quite a few bad horror flicks will be made in the months to come—that’s a certainty—but a proliferation of quality cinema is equally inevitable.  And that’s good news.



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