April 14, 2024

All due respect to Godzilla, but the first quarter of this year was a bust for Hollywood. There’s no getting around it. The news read like an April Fool’s joke without a punchline.

Disney gave up its fight with Florida, better to face its battle with investor Nelson Peltz (which reminds the ancient among us of the last century’s fight with investor Saul Steinberg, whose failed takeover bid inadvertently created the Walt Disney Company as we know it).

Paramount Global’s debt is down to junk, and Paramount+ is weirdly removing some of its hotter kids’ titles from the streaming mix.

AMC is scratching for cash and peddling stock. The Alamo Drafthouse chain is for sale.

At the box office, Q1’s big hit was Part Two of a re-imagining of a science fiction novel that ran hot when I was in the eighth grade—in other words, a long time ago. Through the weekend, Dune: Part Two had about $252 million in domestic ticket sales, which helped drag the overall box-office total to around $1.6 billion, with a boost from the strong last-minute performance by Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. The total is only down about 6.4 percent from last year’s first quarter; but it’s still off 45 percent from glory years like 2017 and 2018.

For the record, Dune: Part Two would have placed fourth in 2016, behind Deadpool, Star Wars: Episode VIII, and Zootopia in the Q1 standings as tallied by BoxOfficeMojo.com. Thus have expectations fallen. The first quarter box-office, in fact, roughly matches what it was in 2000, and that’s without adjusting for inflation.

All this, and Lou Gossett is dead.

Keen observers, of course, saw the current movie slump coming, as the number of planned releases fell in the wake of last year’s Hollywood strikes. So there are no surprises, other than the occasional sad obit. And the only real question is what can be done about it?

Maybe some answers will actually surface next week in Las Vegas, when theater owners meet for their annual CinemaCon convention. Granted, Caesars Palace isn’t normally where you’d turn for deep soul-searching and strategic vision. But the Great Industry Reboot has to start somewhere, and a gathering of exhibitors—those who actually meet the audience, face-to-face—is as good a place as any.

AMC, after all, had the good sense to step out and create a hit of its own with the Taylor Swift Eras Tour film. More like that wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Or maybe something will come of CinemaCon’s Monday session, about finding “Strength in the Middle,” by backing modestly budgeted movies. You could do worse than The Holdovers or M3GAN, pictures that are held up as examples in the program notes.

Or, given that Sony is sitting out, it might be worth listening to the Angel Studios presentation on Wednesday, April 10. The people who brought you Sound of Freedom might patch some holes in the schedule, or have a useful thought about the alternative audience.

That certainly beats counting on Hollywood’s corporate types, who have bigger problems than the movies right now, or looking toward the stars, many of whom would rather talk politics than promote films, or waiting for Despicable Me 4, which might or might not jump-start things come the middle of Q2.

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