Take a quick glance at the box-office returns for June, and you could draw an easy conclusion: Hollywood has a franchise problem. Films like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Transformers: The Last Knight, The Mummy, and Cars 3 have all underperformed, each making hundreds of millions less than their immediate forebears (or, in the case of The Mummy, a Brendan Fraser film that came out in 1999). But to think that, you’d have to ignore some of the biggest hits of the year: Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Fate of the Furious, and Logan, all new entries in long-running franchises.
As simple as it sounds, Hollywood has, instead, a bad-movie problem—one that’s exacerbated by how easily the industry serves up sequels to the increasingly important global market. The refrain is always the same: Who cares if the fifth Transformers is drawing little enthusiasm in the United States when it’s doing well in China? But that defense is becoming more specious, as international audiences are also seemingly growing tired of the endless assembly line of action films, while the biggest box-office story of 2017 is the success of smaller-budgeted original films.
Laying blame at the feet of Rotten Tomatoes, and its increasingly essential “Tomatometer” (which measures the number of good and bad reviews each new release receives), has become the excuse du jour for anonymous studio executives. Rotten Tomatoes is supposedly why The House, a comedy that wasn’t even screened for critics, flopped. A few weeks ago, sources complained to Deadline about the underperformance of Pirates 5 and Baywatch, both of which were critically drubbed, claiming that “once upon a time these types of films — a family adventure and a raunchy R-rated comedy — were critic-proof.”