As the season has started earlier and earlier, it has also lasted longer; it now stretches all the way to Labor Day. (August used to be reserved for cruddy horror movies, but has since become prime superhero territory.) The massive summer-movie season is the perfect example of how reliant Hollywood has become on the big-budget franchise picture, with studios devoting ever more resources and advertising dollars to these extremely costly enterprises. Not too many years ago, many producers would have balked at spending close to $200 million (excluding advertising) on yet another King Kong movie, given the huge financial return needed to make a profit.
But now, a film’s worldwide take matters more to a studio’s bottom line than money made in the United States, and expensive epics that are heavy on action tend to play better abroad than comedies or romances. The less talking, the better things translate around the globe, or so the thinking goes. Logan, starring the internationally well-known Hugh Jackman as his most popular character Wolverine, has already cleared $400 million worldwide two weeks after its release. Kong: Skull Island, a Vietnam-era take on Hollywood’s most famous giant ape, features a cast geared to appeal in foreign markets (including the Chinese star Jing Tian and the Japanese musician Miyavi) and took $150 million worldwide in its first three days.
Kong: Skull Island is also the start of another franchise: It’s tied vaguely to 2014’s hit Godzilla and sets up a planned 2020 sequel in which both monsters will do battle. Even the big children’s animated film of the season, The Lego Batman Movie, slots into a broad universe of Lego movies, with many more editions planned. For now, the money is still pouring in, and audiences have largely responded to this new super-long summer season with enthusiasm.
But on the other side of the coin is Get Out, Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed horror film, which was made for a paltry $4.5 million (approximately 2.5 percent of Kong’s budget) and has earned $111 million in three weeks at the U.S. box office. It’s going to be the biggest hit in the history of Blumhouse, the tiny-budget production company that banks on word-of-mouth success and has scored huge profits with films like Paranormal Activity and The Purge. It’s also the second such success for the company in two months, after the runaway smash hit that was M. Night Shyamalan’s Split.
Both of those films were distributed by Universal, one of the few big studios that seems to understand there’s just as much money to be made in smaller-budgeted, well-made genre exercises. They won’t get the kind of worldwide rollout that a Logan or Kong: Skull Island receives, and maybe won’t move the stock-market needle for the giant conglomerates that own every major movie studio (Get Out has yet to debut outside of North America). But they can still stand out on the fringes of blockbuster season. Get Out has seen remarkably low box-office drops in each of its three weeks of release, losing only 25 percent of its audience a week (typically, horror movies lose more like 60 percent).