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The Accidental Turitz: It’s a Bummer There Aren’t Enough Movies This Summer Due to Hollywood’s Lack of Counterprogramming

May 25, 2022 04:32 | By
Top Gun: Maverick

Image via Paramount Pictures

I’m seeing Top Gun: Maverick for a second and third time over the next few days because I loved the movie so much the first time, and while I’m excited to see it again (and again), I’m just as excited to go back to the theater at all, given how few opportunities there seem to be this summer.

Last week, I wrote about the embarrassment of riches we’re enjoying (or being overwhelmed by, depending on one’s perspective) on the small screen, while all-too-briefly lamenting the few options we seem to have on the big one. Thus, it made sense to me to spend this week’s column delving a bit deeper into the latter issue, which threatens the industry as a whole, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Now, I’m not the kind of guy who longs for the good old days, or the way things used to be, or any other such claptrap. I believe my record is pretty staunch in this regard, as I fairly regularly call for things to be improved or updated, or to otherwise evolve. And the movie release calendar ultimately had to evolve because, at one point, Hollywood was making too many movies, leading to some costly flops, especially as more and more eyeballs migrated to streaming services and mobile devices. However, these days, there aren’t enough movies, largely because studios are taking fewer risks in favor of sure bets — the kinds of IP-driven franchise titles that put butts in seats, though they’re typically the same butts in the same seats.

The fact is that franchise titles take up the majority of screens at many multiplexes, driving indie titles aimed at discerning audiences to streamers, which do little to promote those titles. Hollywood has largely abandoned the mid-budget movies that made audiences fall in love with the form in the first place, and while streamers have picked up the slack with regards to those projects, they emulating studios and chasing spectacle as well, from Netflix’s $200 million spy movie The Gray Man to Amazon’s $500 million investment in a Lord of the Rings series.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Image via A24

As I’ve said countless times before, the industry needs to change if it wants to survive, and originality is at a premium. That may be why I loved films like Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and The Northman. Of course, The Northman didn’t perform terribly well for Focus Features and Massive Talent never broke out in the way that Lionsgate hoped, but Everything Everywhere has become A24’s highest-grossing domestic release of all time. That’s why they call them risks, folks. You win some, you lose some. That’s just the nature of this business. But at least those three studios tried something different.

Look at the calendar this year and its relatively slim pickings. Three years ago — the last full Summer Movie Season before the pandemic started — there were three or four notable movies coming out every weekend, with a rare exception or two (in which there might only be two wide releases). Movie theaters were filled with options, and while plenty of them were lousy — one weekend in June gave us Late Night, The Dead Don’t Die, Men in Black: International, and Shaft, which is one giant wheelbarrow full of garbage — the point is that there was a lot from which to choose, and these films appealed to very different demos as opposed to just 18-34-year-old men.

This year? It’s one notable movie each weekend, two if we’re lucky, and some of those are day-and-date releases like Firestarter, which you can just as easily watch at home (not that I’d recommend it, as I’ll never get those 90 minutes of my life back). This week brings Top Gun: Maverick, and I understand why no distributor would want to go up against that film, but next weekend, there are no major releases either. Not one. The latest Jurassic World nonsense stomps into theaters the weekend after that, but the following frame brings only Pixar’s Lightyear. So like Top Gun, Jurassic World is getting two weeks of respect from its live-action competitors. And sure, Joseph Kosinski’Top Gun follow-up, Spiderhead, debuts the same weekend as Lightyear, but that’s a Netflix movie so it doesn’t quite count, though I imagine Chris Hemsworth will still manage to convince some people to stay at home that weekend.

Downton Abbey: A New Era

Image via Focus Features

Clearly, the idea of counterprogramming has gone out the window, especially with older audiences seemingly reluctant to return to theaters. Then again, why would they come if there aren’t any movies being released for them, the new Downton Abbey movie notwithstanding? Sure, I recognize that some folks are still skittish about Covid and that’s what is keeping them away from theaters, but if you want people to leave their homes, you have to give them a reason to do so, and Hollywood has given up trying to reach those reluctant audience members. Not everyone is like me — for which I think we can all be thankful — but I’ll go to the movies sometimes just to go to the movies and have that experience rather than see anything in particular.

I sometimes think the studios — both the few remaining major ones churning out IP-branded titles and the smaller ones making the kinds of noble indie movies that populate arthouse theaters — still operate under the assumption that there are a lot of frequent moviegoers out there like me, when in fact, we’re a dying breed. I have a genuine fear that when we disappear, so will the movie industry since it can no longer rely on casual moviegoers, who have too many options beyond the silver screen.

Now, having said all that, there are movies coming out of the Hollywood Entertainment Complex that can get people into theaters simply by virtue of being awesome, and thus remind people why they fell in love with “The Movies” in the first place. Top Gun: Maverick is a shining example of this. It’s a triumph, one of the best films and best performances of Tom Cruise’s career. It’s exactly the kind of movie that so many of us grew up watching, and while yes, it’s a sequel and thus part of a franchise, it arrives nearly four decades after the first film, so it doesn’t rest on the first film’s laurels or assume that Top Gun fans will give it the benefit of the doubt. It has earned its ecstatic reviews by surpassing its predecessor in every conceivable way and offering the kind of unforgettable theatrical experience that will drive people back to theaters to chase that next cinematic high.

The entertainment industry is not in nearly as much trouble as the film industry itself is, but movies aren’t a lost cause just yet. Hollywood simply has to remember what kinds of movies made it so great in the first place, and then make more of those. That doesn’t seem so hard, does it?


Neil TuritzNeil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.

You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.