Analysis: A volatile summer for Hollywood
This film publicity image released by Universal Pictures shows Jeff Bridges, left, and Ryan Reynolds in a scene from "R.I.P.D." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Scott Garfield, File)
NEW YORK (AP) — On and off screen, it's been a bruising summer for Hollywood.
Every weekend, the multiplex has been under siege like it has rarely been before. One after another, they have come: Big-budget, globe-trotting blockbusters backed, like goliaths with air support, by marketing budgets in the hundreds of millions.
As the studios have focused increasingly on the fortunes of monster-sized "tentpoles," as they're known in the trade, weekend real-estate in the summer months has become precious, fraught territory. In the season's packed schedule, there's little breathing room for the blockbusters: They need to open big, right away.
Some of these films have succeeded. Some have flopped. But more than most summers, the content of this year's seasonal crop of spectacles has felt like a pummeling, leaving both moviegoers and some in the industry dazed from the onslaught.
Zombies swarmed over much of the planet in "World War Z." Sea monsters rose from the ocean and battled giant robots in "Pacific Rim." Superman's Metropolis was haphazardly laid to rubble in "Man of Steel." For the third time, Roland Emmerich destroyed 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in "White House Down." A fiery Rapture engulfed "This Is the End."
Studio balance sheets have been hardly less volatile.
The latest bomb came over the weekend with "R.I.P.D.," in which Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds star as ghost cops. The poorly reviewed Universal film opened with just $12.7 million, suggesting it won't come close to recouping its $130 million-plus price tag. The failure was all the more pronounced because of the robust opening ($41.5 million) for Warner Bros.' "The Conjuring," an old-fashioned horror film made for under $20 million.
It's become a recurring theme of summer 2013: Non-sequel, big-budget films have struggled to find audiences. Most striking was Gore Verbinski's "The Lone Ranger," which Disney had hoped would ignite the same interest as the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series that also teamed Verbinski with Johnny Depp.
But although "The Lone Ranger" was an admirable attempt to update the Western, the film's imbalanced tone fell extremely flat with moviegoers. Made for some $215 million, it has earned $81.3 million domestically in three weeks.
Also underperforming, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, has been:
— "White House Down" ($68.5 million domestically in four weeks, despite its silly popcorn fun and Channing Tatum's rising star).
— "After Earth" ($60 million domestically in eight weeks, despite Will Smith's steady history as a box-office draw).
— Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim" ($68.2 million domestic, despite its well-crafted pop sensibility). Launched with franchise aspirations, "Pacific Rim" may end up in a better situation, since it has quickly made $110.3 million overseas.
So what IS working? Many of Hollywood's classic genre standbys:
— Low-budget horror ("The Conjuring," ''The Purge").
— Animated family films ("Monsters University," ''Despicable Me 2").
— Some A-list star vehicles (Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man 3," Brad Pitt in "World War Z," Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in "The Heat"). Of course, Reynolds, Smith and Tatum would be the exceptions here.
But when Hollywood puts its eggs in fewer baskets, the risks — along with the rewards — grow. In June, even Steven Spielberg, the father of the modern blockbuster, bemoaned the business' swelling trajectory.