What We Can Learn From 2018's Box Office Bombs
2018 is over, and so is another year of groundbreaking films, both of the blockbuster and independent variety. We can often learn a lot by what movies are successful in any given year. Despite the constant predictions of "superhero fatigue" for example, comic book movies continue to rake in mountains of cash, with Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther the number 2 and number 1 spots, respectively. Of course, the top grossing movies for 2018 are not that surprising - more sequels to beloved franchises like Mission Impossible and Jurassic Park and superhero movies, with the only oddball being Bohemian Rhapsody (so get ready for a slew of music-related biopics in the coming years). To me at least, what is much more interesting is what movies lost the most money, those that put in the effort and failed spectacularly. So what do the box office bombs have to tell us about the future of movies?
Well, first of all, while superheroes may not be going out of style anytime soon, the Star Wars franchise might be. Despite grossing an insane amount of money, The Last Jedi rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and the returns for Solo: A Star Wars Story reflect this. Now this one is also interesting because depending on what list you look at, Solo also was one of the highest grossing movies of the year. Its lack of profitability comes more from the fact that they essentially had to reshoot the entire movie after firing original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. So take it as you will, but it appears that trying to create an expanded universe around Star Wars has not been as effective as Disney predicted, either because they can't seem to stop firing directors (this essentially happened with Rogue One as well), or because Star Wars works more as an event that comes around every so often as opposed to a constant stream of content.
On a more disheartening notes, audiences also did not lend much of their money to original, thought provoking movies, no matter how acclaimed the cast or directors. Both Annihilation (directed by Alex Garland, writer of the more well-received 28 Days Later) and Bad Times at The El Royale (directed by Drew Goddard, writer of the MUCH more well-received The Martian) failed to recoup their production costs in theaters. The critically lauded The Sisters Brothers didn't fare much better either, barely making back a third of its budget. Audiences and critics have always had their differences, and it has always been difficult to push new independent films unless they are high-concept, but this year was especially brutal for those outside of the current mainstream movie trends.
I can gleefully report that audiences have also spent 2018 rejecting angsty, bland YA movies. The Darkest Minds (aka Boring X-Men), Mortal Engines and the unnecessarily rebooted Robin Hood, all featured largely young adult casts and were clearly aimed at the same type of audience once so receptive to movies like Maze Runner and Divergent. While none of these movies were particularly well-executed, I think it is safe to say that YA movie audiences may have largely moved on to different material. On the complete other end of the spectrum, it also was not a good year for old actors half-assing their way through stories even they don't seem to care about. John Travolta and Bruce Willis tanked Gotti and Death Wish, though the failure of the latter may also be chalked up to how poorly the concept of an old, angry white man taking justice into his own hands by killing criminals indiscriminately aged.
Of course, some movies don't do bad because they were unfortunate enough to fall into a certain category on a certain year. Some do bad because they are bad movies, or use ideas that are outdated or stupid. Did Johnny Knoxville really think another movie about him getting hit in the balls (Action Point) would be successful 10 years after the Jackass series stopped being popular? Did anyone really think a movie that's main thread was sex jokes about puppets (The Happytime Murders) would hold up to any amount of scrutiny? Or a movie about a heist that takes place during a hurricane (no shit, Hurricane Heist) and doesn't use that idea entirely for laughs? Some flops really do deserve to be flops.
And I haven't covered every movie that did poorly by a long shot. Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Early Man, Kin, Welcome to Marwen, Chappaquiddick, Life Itself and Hotel Artemis also all did very poorly for a number of reasons, though poor critical reception, confusing marketing and releases too close to other blockbusters are largely the culprit for most of them. What is clear is that audiences appear to be tired of YA, losing interest in Star Wars and are largely averse to character driven independent movies, critics' opinions be damned. Expect another year of superheroes, sequels to popular franchises and the continuing onslaught of live action Disney adaptations. But this upcoming Star Wars might be the last one we get for some time.