Two high-profile movies hit theaters this weekend: Jason Bourne (find my review here) and Bad Moms. Both typify the scarifying and crippling malaise that has more than a few studio executives waking up in cold sweats. Jason Bourne is the fifth in the action franchise spy thriller series that has raked in $1.22 billion globally—and that’s just in theaters. So what’s to worry about?
Plenty, if the Matt Damon vehicle meets the fate of so many other recent sequels (Zoolander 2, Ice Age: Collision Course, Now You See Me 2, Alice Through the Looking Glass, etc., but that’s another column). Things have gotten so dicey for sequels that The Divergent Series: Ascendant, the fourth installment in the dystopian sci-fi survival saga, will go straight to TV.
“Sequels aren’t box-office shoo-ins anymore,” says a top studio boss who asked not to be identified—and whose studio has plenty of sequels in the pipeline. “Most of us have our lineup of superhero tentpole movies and animated family movies and those, with few exceptions, look solid. But beyond that? The crystal ball gets pretty murky in terms of what audiences will pay to see. Even the market for films from popular Young Adult novels has been Hunger Game-ed, Maze Runner-ed, and 5th Wave-ed out. So what do we green-light now?”
Many Hollywood eyes this weekend will also be trained on Bad Moms, the raunchy R-rated comedy brainchild of The Hangover writers, and starring Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn as burned-out suburban moms who go AWOL.
“It’s a very funny movie but there are flashing red lights,” says the exec. “Bad Moms is an original comedy, so no one knows what to expect from it. So there’s a question mark. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates didn’t break out at the box-office and even R-rated sequels like the last Hangover and even Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising struggled. Plus, Bad Moms stars are super talented and funny but haven’t yet been main attractions in blockbuster movies. So who knows how this one will shake down, or how upcoming things like Office Christmas Party with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston will do?”
If you ask us, Hollywood should be heeding lessons from TV. Audiences, especially younger ones, are hungry for something different, edgy, untamed. Says one of TV’s most successful, least conforming superstar writers, “TV is where so much of the writing, directing talent has drifted, out of necessity. TV, with so many streaming services and outlets, encourages out-of-the-box, jumped-up stuff like The Night Of, Mr. Robot, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Girlfriend Experience, Bojack Horseman. Movies got so expensive to make that the gig is about appealing to everyone when, in fact, it’s apparent that many of the so-called big movies are appealing to fewer and fewer people.”
A way forward? Smaller budgets, original concepts and bolder vision. Hey Hollywood: You have to nothing to regain but a big, fat paying audience.