2017 summer movie season

At the beginning of the season, 2017’s summer movie prospects looked bleak. Though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 kicked things off in May with a strong start, it was followed by a string of generic tentpole movies — more symptoms of the bloated franchise-crazy studio system.

It seems like a distant memory now, but we were once inundated with another Transformers movie, another Pirates of the Caribbean, an unfunny Baywatch reboot, and Guy Ritchie’s misguided King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Just give us The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 2, Guy!). But then came Wonder Woman, and the tides shifted.

It took a few more clunkers for the rest of the movie season to catch up with Wonder Woman, but suddenly the theaters were filled with diverse, acclaimed films on both sides of the high and low-budget spectrum. How is this different than recent summer movie seasons, which had their share of one or two acclaimed movies? That’s just it — every summer for the past decade has had maybe one or two standout films that defined that summer, while the accompanying films received tepid reviews or audience response. Mad Max: Fury Road may have stolen the show in 2015, but I fail to remember more than two movies that summer half as good. 2017 is the first summer season we’ve had in years where there have been more than four or five quality movies in the theater at once — and that both critics and audiences flocked to.

The moment I realized this may be the best summer for movies we’ve had in decades was when I was headed to see Dunkirk at my local mall’s theater. On the posters gracing the wall next to Dunkirk were Wonder Woman (still holding strong), Baby Driver, War for the Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and The Big Sick, and sitting across the way from those posters was a giant cardboard cut-out of a bobbed and armed Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde. Behind that cut-out was a display for Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit.

Two weeks earlier, I was at the smaller “arthouse” theater which carried both indie and mainstream films. Walking out of my screening of The Beguiled, I saw a packed audience of The Big Sick milling out next to a nearly empty showing of the Transformers: The Last Knight. I nearly wept with joy.

But Hoai-Tran! Your personal experiences aren’t an indication of a shifting cinematic landscape! Stop projecting your wishes for variety in films onto Hollywood, Hoai-Tran! Well, I come with proof, my friends. If not proof that this has been the best summer movie season in decades, then at least proof that movies are just really good right now.

Baby Driver - Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Baby (Ansel Elgort)

The Mid-Budget Movie Isn’t Dead

When the Marvel Studios launched its cinematic universe in 2008 with Iron Man, it probably had no idea how much it would transform the movie landscape. Barely 10 years later, we’re facing an overload of cinematic universes and franchises, and a dearth of basically any other kind of movie. Namely, the mid-budget movie.

What is the mid-budget movie and why do we care about it? A mid-budget movie is loosely defined as costing between $5 million to $60 million to make, and can encompass anything from auteur-driven films like Do The Right Thing, to high-concept thrillers, or romantic comedies. And they’re disappearing.

Flavorwire wrote an eye-opening eulogy for the adult mid-budget movie in 2014, arguing that mid-budget auteurs like Steven Soderbergh, David Lynch, and Francis Ford Coppola were being driven out of jobs because of the studio’s fixation on reliably profitable blockbusters. With fewer mid-budget movies in the work, the variety in movies suddenly started to fall in favor of more sequels, blockbusters, and franchises. The article coined the term “multiplex monotony” to describe the state of modern movie offerings. It seems melodramatic at first, but the writer’s comparison between the 1997 movie slate replete with thrillers, romances, indie comedies, and dramas, and a 2010 box office that boasted five blockbusters, a comedy, and a horror sequel, speaks volumes.

But the mid-budget movie, in the wise words of Monty Python, is “not dead yet!”

Baby Driver and Girls Trip, both mid-budget movies made for less than $35 million and boasting rave reviews, beat The Mummy at the box office, the Tom Cruise vehicle intended to launch Universal’s embattled Dark Universe. Now Soderbergh, returned from retirement and the prestige TV realm to bring us the hillbilly heist thriller Logan Lucky this month. If those aren’t perfect examples of the mid-budget movie returning from the dead to destroy the thing that supposedly slayed them, I don’t know what is.

The Big Sick Alamo Drafthouse

The Festival Favorites Keep Going

The Big Sick, Baby Driver, and Atomic Blonde were critical hits at their respective film festivals that somehow maintained that momentum to mainstream success. Even Okja, which premiered to some controversy at the Cannes Film Festival, has found its legs on the Netflix streaming platform where it debuted.

My weepy anecdote about The Big Sick drawing in huge crowds aside, these three films were perhaps the biggest indicators of a shift in interest away from franchise films and sequels, toward original lower budget films. All three were water cooler fodder: The Big Sick spawned many a social media conversation about interracial relationships and Asian male leads in film, Baby Driver was lauded for its stylish soundtrack and homage to the heist genre, and Atomic Blonde was just plain cool. All three, were passion projects for their makers (Charlize Theron guided Atomic Blonde as a producer for years), pulling in big numbers in spite of a crowded theater full of superheroes and sequels.

The Beguiled — despite the conversations it sparked about race — cemented Sophia Coppola’s standing as one of cinema’s most compelling directors. A Ghost Story and It Comes At Night gave haunting and distressing musings on humanity. I missed plenty of others, like Landline and Brigsby Bear, because there were just too many good ones to see.

Perhaps it’s because audiences are expecting more from their entertainment. With the wealth of information and access to great pop culture at the tip of their fingers thanks to streaming platforms, people may just want a genuinely good movie when they spend $15 or more at the movie theater.

Continue Reading The 2017 Summer Movie Season is the Best One We’ve Seen in Decades

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