The Star Wars franchise is currently experiencing its first real flop. (Side note, I am not taking 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars into account.) Solo: A Star Wars Story has opened to dismal earnings, and is dropping fast. For reference, it’s the first Star Wars film since 2015 to not gross a billion dollars. Granted it’s still in the middle of its theatrical tun, but estimates have the film maxing out near $400 million. Ohh, how the mighty have fallen. Solo joins a number of poorly reviewed films in beloved franchises have flopped in the past few years. This raises an interesting question. Are audiences getting smarter, or are they just experiencing fatigue? Let’s break it down.
Audiences are Dumb
Audiences are not getting smarter, they have a track record of supporting horribly reviewed movies. How else do you explain the following franchises?
The first Transformers film is alright, the others are some of the garbagiest garbage in the history of garbage. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or being misheard. Yet, two of the five films in the series have grossed over a billion dollars. On paper, it makes no sense. Audiences knew these movies would be bad, but $1 billion dollars worth of tickets were still sold. Twice.
The franchise has a whopping 29% average Tomatometer score. It’s not as if there were some really good movies and then a sleeper bad movie came along and surprised everyone — i.e. The Phantom Menace with Star Wars. Transformers has always been bad, but from 2007 to 2014, people supported it increasingly nonetheless.
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003- 2011)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was good, but the franchise is lackluster at best in terms of how “good” the movies are. For reference, the average Tomatometer score is 48%. Again, there is an extremely low average Tomatometer score for a franchise that has several billion dollar grossing installments. Yet, the franchise made more money as the score got lower. At least it did so for the first eight years and four films.
The Fast and the Furious (2001- 2017)
The Fast and the Furious franchise is better than the Transformers Franchise, but it barely scrapes by with an average 56% Tomatometer score. These movies are terribly reviewed, and while they have improved a bit since the first three, they still aren’t spectacular in any fashion. Nevertheless, The Fate of the Furious crossed a billion dollars last year at the box office.
The franchise peaked with Furious 7, but when the quality of movie went down in F8, it grossed more money. Clearly audiences are dumb, how else would you explain the quality going down, but the profits going up?
Audiences are Getting Smarter
Transformers: The Last Knight
This movie bombed both critically and commercially. It fell flat on its stupid exploding face. And, while it still grossed $600 Million, it fell far below any previous installment in the franchise. The end is neigh for Transformers, and audiences will soon get to see if it has any legs without Michael Bay.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
This movie didn’t exactly bomb, but it earned less money than all but the first Pirates movie. For once, audiences actively avoided a beloved franchise that had poor reviews.
“But Collin, we’re just tired of seeing the same franchises over and over again.”
Wrong. This is not franchise fatigue, because it is not widespread, and most franchises aren’t feeling it.
Audiences are Not Fatigued
Several franchises returned to glorious box office hauls in the same year that Pirates 5 and Transformers 5 flopped, negating the idea that audiences were fatigued by them. For the sake of this argument, look at Fate of the Furious, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok.
Exploding Cars 8
Fate of the Furious was the first to follow Paul Walker’s untimely death and not feature his character Brian. This put the already aging franchise at a disadvantage, despite the acclaim and reception of Furious 7. However, the film managed to gross over a billion at the box office despite moderate reviews and anticipated franchise fatigue. If franchise fatigue caused audiences to skip Exploding Robots 5, then they certainly would have skipped Exploding Cars 8.
Angsty Teenage Superhero 6
Spider-Man: Homecoming is the third Spider-Man franchise in ten years. Ten years, three Spider-Men, and a million reasons to feel franchise fatigue. Sam Raimi’s trilogy was brilliant, even considering Spider-Man 3. Marc Webb’s two films were utter garbage. Thrown together by the only studio that can’t maintain a franchise, they both fell flat. So flat that neither of Webb’s films matched any of Raimi’s films at the box office. Spider-Man: Homecoming should have fallen flat on its face, weighed down by the failures of Spider-Men past. However, it swung to a total haul just short of $900 million.
People weren’t tired of Spider-Man films, just fed up with bad Spider-Man films.
An Actor Named Chris Without a Shirt On 3
Thor had a rocky start with the first two films, and Thor: Ragnarok should have bombed in the wake of franchise fatigue. But it didn’t, Marvel’s first full on comedic take turned the franchise around to the tune of $850 million. Audiences were fatigued by bad Thor films from day one in 2011, but one good movie turned that all around.
If franchise fatigue was a legitimate factor, then it would be felt across the board. The key here is that audiences are fatigued by bad franchises and lackluster films. I find that this trend is easiest to analyze in the DC Extended Universe.
The DCEU, Box Office Fools’ Gold
Man of Steel
The DCEU started off decently. Man of Steel is flawed, but it hovers around the first Transformers and first Pirates movie in terms of quality. It garnered an earnest $668 million and gave DC a decent start in catching up to Marvel and The Avengers. It was a moderate film in terms of quality, and it came with moderate success.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Batman fans have had a rough go of it. On the plus side, Burton delivered two solid Batman films, and Nolan delivered three more. On the downside, the 60’s made Batman campy and dumb. Schumacher returned Burton’s Dark Knight to ridicule for two films, and then Zack Snyder stripped the character of everything that makes him likeable. These fans have been disappointed more than even Spider-Man fans.
Batman V Superman marks a turning point in blockbuster cinema, as I believe it to be the film that made audiences smarter. This movie should have wiped the floor with 2012’s The Avengers. But, it fell laughably short. That’s right, Marvel’s ragtag B-list heroes from the sixties managed to outgross the likes of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Not to mention the fact that Batman and Superman have been the top two most recognizable heroes for decades, but still fell short.
Batman V Superman was one of the most hyped and anticipated movies of all-time. For decades studios had been trying to bring it to light, and fans have been clamoring for it even longer than that. It should have grossed over a billion dollars. However, it was one of the worst comic book adaptations ever. It is also the biggest let down in nerd history. People were furious with DC for butchering Batman, Superman, Lex Luthor, Doomsday and Wonder Woman in a single 2.5 hour go. When Suicide Squad turned out to be terrible several months later, the nail was sunk into the DCEU’s coffin.
Wonder Woman is the only true critical success of the DCEU. It is also the biggest commercial success for the franchise. Noticing a pattern here?
The combined likes of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and the Flash were outgrossed by the following heroes in 2017: Thor, Black Panther, Spider-Man/Iron Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. If you’re not either laughing or crying right now, you don’t understand the gravity of that. Marvel’s B and C-list heroes are out grossing the best that DC has to offer. Justice League may have made over $600 million, but it is a complete and utter failure.
The DCEU is a perfect example of what happens when studios get money hungry and put out inferior films in the hopes of earning a quick buck. Audiences are willing to take risks, but they get fatigued with risks that don’t pay off. Infinity War crossed the $2 billion dollar mark yesterday because Marvel’s risky ventures continually paid off for audiences. DC’s risks have continually left audiences in a state of hate and frustration, tanking the franchise and its characters in the process.
Audiences ARE Getting Smarter (or at least have better options)
This isn’t the early 2000’s anymore, audiences have dozens more blockbuster options to choose from. Take superhero movies for example. From 2000-2010, there were maybe two or three superhero films released a year. Audiences saw whatever was available, and so lackluster films still achieved moderate success.
From 2015- Present there have been about 5-6 superhero films a year, as well as other franchises such as Star Wars, Jurassic Park/World, Transformers, etc vying for blockbuster-sized audiences. Not only do casual moviegoers have more too choose from, but they are almost overloaded with choices. Now audiences don’t have to sit through a poor take on the Justice League, because they already saw a better ensemble film in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This analysis clearly involved hyperbole to an extent, but the foundation is still there for an interesting trend.
If you learn anything from this, let it be the following:
There are dozens of blockbusters a year, don’t pay to sit through a bad movie; because you don’t have to anymore.
Audiences are getting smarter, critical and audience opinions are easier to find via sources like Rotten Tomatoes and Twitter.
Don’t let cash grab studios continue to trick you with films like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Suicide Squad.
Congratulate yourself, Justice League failed, and Warner Bros will have no choice but to make better films.
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