Could it be Zack Snyder’s fault?
You remember Snyder. He directed “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Though that film came out in March, it felt like a summer movie — popcorn-infused entertainment — right down to its comic book origins. (Why there should be a distinction between “summer movie” and “serious Oscar bait” is a post for another time, but we’ll go with the conventional wisdom.)
“B v S” also came with a ton of hype and received, at best, a mixed reaction: decent but not spectacular box office and middling (at best) reviews. It was overlong, disappointed many fans and landed with a thud. For a movie that was going to dominate the theaters, it proved strangely unmemorable.
Six weeks before the start of the summer movie season, it somehow set the tone of what was to come. Just look at “Ben-Hur” and “Jason Bourne” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “The Legend of Tarzan.” Even “Captain America: Civil War,” which did well financially and critically, seemed to have less buzz than, say, “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Such was the summer that was.
Amazingly, it’s apparently slightly ahead of last year’s huge haul at the box office. (Equally amazingly, “B v S,” though not a billion-dollar rainmaker, did make $330 million domestically, though it crashed pretty quickly after its first couple weeks.) And the movie reviews averaged out to about what summer movie reviews always average out to, last year actually being higher than usual.
So why did it feel so wearying?
Wired’s Brian Raftery has a theory. He believes that movies have finally hit that tipping point culture watchers have predicted since we got used to having 55-inch screens at home: They just don’t matter as much anymore.
What’s further diminished the power of movies in 2016 is the fact that while your local marquee was being programmed by de Sade, nearly every single other art form was experiencing a commercial and creative summit—starting with television, cinema’s long-time rival for our affections (and our screen time). You could spend 10,000 hours watching TV this year, and still not be caught up on all the good stuff.
Ironically, in fact, the most talked-about “movie” of the summer was a throwback to when blockbusters weren’t lined up like 747s on a bad day at O’Hare: Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” a pastiche of Spielbergian sci-fi and old-fashioned thrills.
“Stranger Things” also benefited from a lack of hype, which may be the biggest problem with the summer juggernaut: There’s little sense of surprise. Many of them are sequels, spinoffs or reboots to start with, and after months of Instagrammed on-set images, Twitter wars and YouTube-released trailers, is there anything left to watch?
On the other hand, major musicians have been releasing their new releases suddenly, with relatively little fanfare — and reaping a ton of publicity.
Now, maybe summer 2016 was an exception, a victim of mundane scripts, overbooked theaters and viewer fatigue. (And, it should be said, there was that box office take, and a lot of non-blockbusters were pretty good.) But this summer does feel like a wasted opportunity. Raftery’s story, today’s Sunday read, offers some reasons why — even if he left out “Zack Snyder.”