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Saturday, January 2, 2016

(EXLCUSIVE): 2015 #BoxOffice Resolutions

Here's what Hollywood can do immediately to ensure lush 2016 profits.

Story by Matt Cummings

In a year that saw Hollywood take home the biggest profits of all time (just over $11b), there were many glaring signs that the industry needed a new set of resolutions. And while don't condone the greedy getting greedier, the 2015 box office proved that Hollywood still doesn't have its act together when it comes to producing, distributing, and marketing their films. In some cases, terrible choices were made that cost Sony, Paramount, and Lionsgate millions.

What are the essential resolutions which Hollywood must adopt for a profitable 2016? We list just a few below:
1. Fox must give Fantastic Four back to Marvel: When fans heard about the on-set troubles behind FF, it was more than an indication the Josh Trank film was in big trouble. Then the film came out and fans realized it was much worse than we thought. With the dust now settled - and a sequel apparently axed - it's time for Fox to give back the rights to the first superhero family to Marvel. Even if the move doesn't mean that we'll see a standalone film any time soon, it's clear that Fox neither understands how to portray these characters nor market them. Considering that Marvel transformed second-rate heroes in Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor into box office superstars, it's possible they could do the same with a Phase 4 Fantastic Four. It's time, Fox.

2. Stop releasing similar films so close to each other: Why did Warner Bros. move The Man from U.N.C.L.E. from a potentially excellent January to within two weeks of Paramount's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is anyone's guess. But the decision doomed the Henry Cavill/Armie Hammer vehicle, because Nation was such a rousing success. Hollywood's done this before: Tombstone/Wyatt Earp, Armageddon/Deep Impact, and dozens of others create a cannibalistic system in which neither film fully profits from their release. Perhaps that lesson was already learned: after an early pissing match, WB moved Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice from its guaranteed annihilation against Captain America: Civil War. This guarantees success for each, because audiences will have time to see (and save up for) both releases.

3. Do a better job of coordinating releases: Consider that we went 10 weeks during the summer doldrums before we experienced a #1 movie with an opening box office of $100m or more. In fact, the total for the Matt Damon survival film The Martian made in its opening week than the previous four week #1 winners combined. The same thing has happened during the last two Christmas seasons, with Hollywood releasing a staggering amount of films instead of spreading them out throughout the year. This hurt a lot of Oscar contenders, even though the message was clear: we don't want our film forgotten come Oscar time. Still, a film like The Big Short could have cleaned up in August, along with The Revenant, and Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. Now, they're just competing against Star Wars: The Force Awakens and an entire January schedule that already looks fairly appealing. Stop doing this to fans. Stop making us choose between great, great, and great films as we try to purchase gifts and attend holiday parties.

4. Stop creating 'Dump Months': While the recent fervor surrounding Star Wars: TFA has seen packed theaters, there were many periods throughout 2015 that saw the complete opposite. Labeled as the doldrums of the year - January, February, August, September,/Early October - many theaters turn into mausoleums, as one disappointment after another competes for our dollars. If your film gets re-scheduled here, someone in Hollywood just hates you. This doesn't mean your film isn't good - take Kingsman: The Secret Service, Paddington, Compton's Most Wanted - but even a film like UNCLE could have fared better in its original January slot than right after the very successful Rogue Nation. But let's not kid ourselves: these are terrible months for a reason (see Get Hard, The Wedding Ringer, 50 Shades of Grey, Jem and the Holograms, etc), so it's time for Hollywood to re-consider whether films like these even deserve a standard release. With the burgeoning VOD market, along with Netflix and Amazon producing full-length films, perhaps they could thrive better in alternative formats. It would also give truly worthy dramas like Brooklyn, The Big Short, and others a better chance to thrive.

5. Several genres are dead - put a fork in them: Once guaranteed to bring in the numbers, several genres have fallen on hard times, sending a clear message that perhaps they've run their course. This was especially clear with Terminator: Genisys, a worn-out, shoddily-acted affair that proved both Jai Courtney and Arnold Schwarzenegger are done. The same goes for YA: The Scorch Trials ($81.6m) have experienced declining interest, with their upcoming third installments looking to take in even less. Even darling The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 took in the lowest of the four films in the franchise. With profits declining and even less interest among moviegoers, it might be time to retire these genres until the public can forget their mockery.

6. Some lead actors don't deserve #1 status anymore: We've made our disdain on this subject clear for awhile: just because you were a success 2 movies ago, that doesn't mean you still deserve the same access now. Adam Sandler doesn't deserve #1 status any longer, due to a long list of flops that have seen him banished to Netflix. So why don't we feel the same about Hotel Transylvania 2? It's simple: Genndy Tartakovsky directed it with Sandler serving as Producer, which basically means that it wasn't his project from the start. But in the case of Pixels, Sandler proved once again that he fails miserably as a lead. The same goes for Terminator star Schwarzenegger, Paul Blart 2's Kevin James, and others. Creed star Sylvester Stallone might have figured it out: he excelled as a supporting actor and might even get an Oscar nod for bringing the right kind of Rocky Balboa back to the big screen. But in general terms, it's time to replace many of these aging stars with younger ones, including Dylan O'Brien, Asa Butterfield, Nicholas Hoult, Amy Schumer, Kate McKinnon, and others. Don't get us wrong: we'd love to see Arnold in a great vehicle, but his age and lack of depth make anything original seem problematic. Just look at the self-produced zombie flick Maggie for all the proof you need.

7. Star Wars has changed everything: In one year, we saw the top box office record fall not once but twice, thanks to Jurassic World and then Star Wars: TFA. But the latter is proving to be a game changer that really began with Marvel's The Avengers. Both might go down as destroying the entire independent film market, because it proved that audiences will pay to see big blockbusters but perhaps not smaller independents. Films like True Grit, Black Swan, The Social Network, and Flight took in amazing profits based on their budgets, but 2015 didn't have that winner. Steve Jobs, Burnt, Pawn Sacrifice, Everest, and a half-dozen others failed to make even a blip on the radar. One insider believes those films just weren't very good, and that many moviegoers felt they were being propped up by critics. Others aren't so sure, and many believe those smaller flicks will flee to cable and VOD, which means their exposure will become even smaller. One thing cannot be debated: Hollywood needs to find a way to balance the release of these titles with larger tentpoles by spreading them out over the calendar (see #s 3&4 on our list). The practice of glutting us with Oscar wanna-bes in the Fall has to stop, lest Hollywood wants to see that market dry up permanently.

LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL?
It appears that Hollywood might be getting the message, at least on some of these fronts: no superhero film has a new-release competitor in the same week (or even month), and several independent hopefuls like Gavin Hood’s Eye In The Sky (March 11), The Coen Bros. comedy Hail, Caesar! (Feb. 5), Oliver Stone’s Snowden (May 13) and Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (July 15) are appearing outside of the normal release window. If the industry can adopt these resolutions fast, they could see increased profits, generating a more profitable and healthier box office. That's a goal everyone in Hollywood can agree upon, even if it means sacrificing a few egos along the way.

Don't forget to read our story about Hollywood's biggest year ever.

Discuss this story with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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