Sunday, November 1, 2015

October Film Releases: Over-crowding at the Box Office

The summer movie season is over, but you might not know it. The fall film release schedule has left the box office an over-crowded place. And the big budget fare like “Goosebumps,” “The Martian” and “Bridge of Spies,” are towering over other films that might have done better in a different release window. Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance “Crimson Peak” and Robert Zemeckis’ visual spectacle “The Walk,” have struggled at the box office despite positive reviews. “Sicario” and “The Intern” have done fairly well by wisely releasing earlier than the rest, but films like “Jem and the Holograms,” “Rock the Kasbah,” and “The Last Witch Hunter” have flopped. Their poor openings are likely due to the over-crowding of the box office (not to mention their poor reviews). The other, more surprising, film to struggle at the box office lately is the Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, Michael Fassbender collaboration “Steve Jobs.”

Even with a fairly generous marketing campaign and three notable filmmakers (at least in cinefile circles), “Steve Jobs” has failed to garner itself a sizable audience at the box office. While cinefile’s and news media tend to love Danny Boyle and Michael Fassbender, they have mixed feelings about Sorkin. Nevertheless it’s a filmmaking trio that do add a level of intrigue to a film about a person most of us already know more than we might have cared to. Yet these filmmakers aren’t exactly bankable at the box office. In fact a Variety article, about why the film failed, points to the fact that Fassbender having been cast as Jobs was one of the factors that killed the money making power of the film. As great an actor as he may be, his name doesn’t draw out the crowds the way Christian Bale, Robert Downey Jr., or Leonardo DiCaprio do. Worse yet, it is subject matter we know all too well already due to the failed Ashton Kutcher “Jobs” film, and Walter Isaacson’s bestselling biography. 

Yet the final nail in the coffin seems to be the film’s release date. It opened against stiff competition. Its adult target audience is already out in droves for films like “The Martian,” “Bridge of Spies,” “The Intern,” “Sicario,” and/or “Black Mass.” Even if some of the other competition isn’t being reviewed as favorably or isn’t necessarily made for the same audience, there are more seasonably interesting films out there like, “Goosebumps,” “The Last Witch Hunter,” “Crimson Peak,” and the last film in the “Paranormal Activity” series. Even the smaller indie loving crowd has art house films like “Room” to fill their movie going schedule. This all goes without mentioning the likes of quality “stay at home” releases like “Beasts of No Nation” and “Bone Tomahawk,” which became available on VOD this month. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of quality films (and a few bad ones) out there competing for viewership and “Steve Jobs” has struggled as a result.

It seems the real Steve Jobs’ strategy of not necessarily doing it first, but doing it right and marketing it for the masses hasn’t panned out for the film based on him. The movie business works differently from that of the tech industry. Quality filmmaking and aggressive marketing doesn’t assure success these days in Hollywood, but if it can make a successful awards season run, there’s still a chance for the film financially. Only time will tell.

Yet “Steve Jobs” isn’t the only film to struggle. More recent releases like “Our Brand is Crisis” had a poor opening despite starring usually surefire box office draw Sandra Bullock.  But she isn’t the only one to see her latest film stumble at the box office. Bradley Cooper’s latest film, “Burnt,” had a poor opening as well. They both suffer from similar problems, critics praise the performances but criticize the rest of the film. These films also opened on Halloween weekend while moviegoers are either trick or treating, or catching up on October’s bigger releases.

October may not be prime real estate for film releases. Most average film fans will likely make it to two or three movies in a month if they can spare the time. Considering this month doesn’t include holiday breaks from work or school the way November and December will, it’s no wonder the packed film schedule has left a good number of films with disappointing numbers. For most adults the priorities are “The Martian,” “Bridge of Spies,” and if they have the time maybe “Sicario” or “Crimson Peak.” For most kids it’ll be “Goosebumps,” “Hotel Transylvania 2” and if they have time maybe “Jem and the Holograms” or “Pan.” This, of course, means neither adults or kids are making time for a good portion of the films released in October. And it’s only going to get more crowded in November with the latest Bond film “Spectre,” the last “Hunger Games” film, and a handful of critical darlings coming out, not to mention kid friendly fare like “The Peanuts Movie” and “The Good Dinosaur.”

The fall has suddenly become just as competitive as the summer and holiday movie seasons. Producers and distributors are going to have to think twice about releasing their films in October in the future.