A month into the summer movie season and the box office is already suffering from poor performances by a number of widely panned films.
Box-office gross profits so far through the summer season — which kicked off May 5 with the release of “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” — are down 4.7% compared with the same time last year, and studios, critics and audiences seem to be at odds over what makes a movie worth paying to see.
People close to both “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and “Baywatch” blamed Rotten Tomatoes and the poor reviews dolled out by critics for sinking the films’ debuts, according to a report from Deadline Hollywood.
Hollywood just had its worst Memorial Day weekend gross since 1999.
Over the four-day weekend, Johnny Depp’s fifth tour at the helm of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise pulled in $78 million for Walt Disney Co. DIS, +0.18% while hauling a $230 million budget. The take for the film, while nothing to scoff at — it did finish No. 1 at the box office — was well below the opening the franchise has garnered at the height of its box-office powers.
And Viacom Inc.-owned VIAB, +1.48% Paramount Pictures’ R-rated and swimsuit-filled raunchy comedy “Baywatch” couldn’t do much to save the floundering holiday weekend, pulling in just $28 million over the four days.
Paramount’s president of worldwide marketing and distribution, Megan Colligan, told the Hollywood Reporter, “The reviews really hurt the film, which scored great in test screenings.
“It is a brand that maybe relied on a positive critical reaction more than we recognized. The cast could not have done more work in aggressively promoting ‘Baywatch.’ Dwayne gave this 150%,” she told the publication.
Both films were, in fact, wrecked in their reviews. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” was slapped with a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates film critics’s reviews, and “Baywatch” was burdened with an 18% rating.
But blaming critics for the poor performance of films can be a double-edged sword. Hollywood is often quick to say in the same breath that reviews don’t matter when a film is a success. Just look at Time Warner Inc.-owned TWX, +0.20% Warner Bros.’s “Batman v. Superman,” or “Suicide Squad” from last year. Both films, despite being discarded by critics, earned more than $300 million domestically at the box office.
If there’s any case for a film not being impacted by critics’s opinions it would be for popular big-budget superhero films, but even that’s not a surefire recipe, as evidenced by the $56 million gross from 2015’s “Fantastic Four,” or “Green Lantern,” which pulled in $116 million domestically in 2011.
“I still don’t think that exists,” Fandango managing editor Erik Davis said of the critic-proof film.
“Hollywood is funny because they’re quick to blame critics when a movie doesn’t do well, but they’ll promote it like crazy when a movie’s reviews are good,” he said. “Poor reviews aren’t going to help, but the success of a movie has a number of factors.”
A film’s release date can be a detriment, pitting it against stiff competition in a crowded weekend. The marketing and promotion can miss the mark. Davis said it’s possible viewers saw the “Baywatch” trailer and thought: “I’ve seen this movie before.”
And there are also factors outside of the studios’s control, such as scandals or, in the case of “Pirates” leading man Johnny Depp, celebrity turmoil.
But the opposite may also be true and critics could be more important now, Davis said. There are so many options for people nowadays and they’re often looking to make quick decisions. If someone is on the fence, or torn between two movies or an option that doesn’t involve sitting through an OK movie, then a review could push them one way or another.
The overall box office is up 2% year-to-date compared with last year. But the summer is a major period for Hollywood both in terms of box-office revenue and overall industry sentiment. Analysts are hoping upcoming June releases, such as Warner Bros.’s “Wonder Woman” and animated flicks “Cars 3” from Disney and “Despicable Me 3” from Comcast Corp.-owned CMCSA, -0.22% Universal Pictures can help right the ship.
Comcast shares have gained 21% in 2017, while Time Warner has gained 3%. The S&P 500 SPX, +0.67% has gained about 8%.