What Writers Can Learn from 2017's Confusing Summer Box-Office
Originally published on TheScriptLab.com
This year’s summer selection of new movies at the theaters set a record — and not a good one. The 2017 summer box-office was the worst the industry has seen in over a decade.
Obviously, there is a huge gap between what audiences want to watch and what’s out there to be watched.
Crafty writers will use this time to slip into that gap, using lessons learned from this particularly disappointing but insightful summer at the movies.
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE
The overwhelming success “Wonder Woman,” as well as more surprising performances by “Girls Trip” and “The Beguiled” should scream one very important lesson: audiences are more than ready to see women at the helm.
As a writer, the next step is easy. When considering your characters, think about making them female. Obviously if the story calls for a male character, there’s no need to make a change that would negatively affect the story. But if the role would typically go to a male actor and you write it for a woman, female audiences everywhere will fully support you. If this summer proved one thing, it’s that the future of film needs to be female.
NEW TAKES ON OLD FORMATS
In a summer that saw the fifth Pirates movie, another Spiderman film, and quite possibly the worst Transformers movie yet, it was the stories that offered new takes on old formats that did best.
Take “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan’s WWII epic that would have been just another war movie if not for the innovative story structure. “Wonder Woman” was the first superhero movie with a female lead, and “Baby Driver” put a new, oddly specific spin on the heist genre. Even the rom-com game saw a new player in “The Big Sick.”
The takeaway? The genres will always stay the same, but our stories and the way in which we decide to tell them have the possibility to be innovative, fresh, and intriguing.
DON’T ALWAYS RELY ON THE ZEITGEIST
Ahem, we’re looking right at you, “The Emoji Movie.”
As much as we may love sending upside-down smiley faces and thumbs ups to our friends, shockingly (read: not shocking at all), no one wanted to see a movie about emojis. Seems like common sense to me since there’s no solid narrative about the animated figures in text messages, but with Hollywood these days, you never know.
If you’re going to attempt to tap into the zeitgeist for story material, look carefully for a storyline first. Good examples in recent years that have used the zeitgeist for inspiration include “The Big Short,” “Concussion,” “Inside Out,” “Spotlight,” “Straight Outta Compton,” and “Zootopia.”
SEQUELS STILL DO WELL ENOUGH … IF THE STORY IS GOOD
You only need to look at “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” to see this point proven, but this summer also saw “Despicable Me 3” and “Spider Man: Homecoming” do well, too. Audiences will flock to franchises again and again if the stories are good enough.
Otherwise, you could fall into the hole that swallowed “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth installment of the Johnny Depp-led series. Though it did well financially, in no way was the newest Pirates movie widely regarded or even buzzed about. Even worse, take “Baywatch,” or “The Mummy,” remakes that garnered little interest and even less clout at the box office.
The point is, if you’re going to do a sequel or remake, make sure it’s justified and the story is solid before you waste your time writing.
KNOW WHAT YOUR STORY IS
Oh, the things we can learn from “The Book of Henry.” Namely, know what your story is about. One of this summer’s flops was the Naomi Watts-starring family/medical/mystery/thriller/drama, which made it very clear that the writers had tried to smash three different storylines into one. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. The same lesson can be seen by looking at “Transformers: The Last Knight,” the trailer for which was a confusing few minutes that left me wanting to stay as far away as possible.
Of all the summer movies, “Baby Driver” knew what it was to a tee. It was a heist movie with great music. It didn’t try to be anything else — and that simple fact worked to its advantage.
If your story is a mystery, let it be a mystery. If it’s a medical drama, great. If it’s a family comedy, perfect. Just don’t try to make it every single kind of story in less than two hours.
THERE ARE NO MORE GUARANTEED SUMMER BOX-OFFICE SUCCESS STORIES
Finally, if there’s one thing this summer can teach writers, it’s that there is no typical success story for summer movies anymore. Blockbusters flop; animated movies do okay, but not amazing; indies become hits.
So take risks and write the story you want to see on the screen come July. Thankfully, the confusing, non-conclusive results from the 2017 summer box-office have blown the potential for next summer (and many summers to come) wide open. Take advantage of the gap while you can