Thursday, June 30, 2016

We Need to Talk About the Anthropomorphic Elephant in the Room

I've seen nine movies in the theater so far this year, and I can't help but notice the four best are all made by the same company.

Disney. I'm talking about Disney. Obviously.

Before you assume I'm only looking at this subjectively, three of the four Disney movies in question are also the top three highest grossing movies of 2016 so far (the fourth, Finding Dory, is almost certainly going to join them soon enough). Also, all of these movies have a Freshness rating at or above 90%.

Oh, and I'm not even considering The Force Awakens, which opened late in 2015 and made a ton of cash both years. That's at 92% Fresh, incidentally.

Disney's making more money faster than their competition, and they're doing it far more efficiently. Year-to-date, Disney's commanding 32% of the market share with nine movies. WB can't manage half that with 21 movies.

Okay, there are caveats and forces and side notes and all that... but those are ultimately excuses. The simple fact is that Disney's making vastly superior movies than the other studios, at least looking at high-budget, effects-heavy productions.

I think that's an important distinction - there are, I'm sure, numerous phenomenal low-budget, award worthy movies being made across the board. Hell, Disney might even be behind the curve on that. But I'm focusing on the blockbusters: things budgeted at and/or raking in hundreds of millions of dollars. The event films, love them or hate them, are what the movie industry exists to produce.

Disney's not just dominating this category: no one is seriously even challenging them. WB's closest attempt was the dull, pointless Batman v Superman. 27% of critics were generous enough to give it a pass, and it made what may be the bare minimum possible for a movie commanding that kind of IP. Enough for the executives to argue it's not a total failure; not enough to beat the worldwide haul of The Jungle Book.

Look back over the last few years and it becomes clear this isn't a new phenomenon. There's the occasional exception, like Fury Road, but for the most part, there's only one company that delivers movies that are both high grossing and well reviewed, and that's Disney. Sure, they've got their missteps (Age of Ultron had some serious issues), but they're the one company that seems to be on an upswing.

To their credit, I feel like Fox is at least staying in the game. But it's notable their highest grossing movie so far this year, Deadpool, is one they tried their damndest not to make. It only got greenlit when the test footage was leaked, and even then its budget was hilariously low.

In other words, even when they produced it, Fox bet against it. They were expecting to make a fortune on X-Men: Apocalypse and Independence Day: Resurgence. While both these movies were bailed out by Chinese audiences, neither performed up to expectations. That should be a massive red flag that the people at the top don't know what they're doing.

Meanwhile, with the exception of Alice Through the Looking Glass (which was also saved by China), Disney's having a flawless year. Every big-budget production they've released has been critically and commercially successful.

I find it remarkable that their rivals seem complacent in the face of all this. The industry's falling apart, and Warner Bros is producing movies like last year's Pan. That approach isn't going to fly anymore.

If other studios want to compete anywhere near Disney's level, they need to take a long, hard look at every step of their process. Otherwise, we're going to quickly reach a point where it won't matter what the movie is - audiences will learn to skip anything that's not from the House of Mouse.

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