Summer movie lessons

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The blockbusters of this past summer movie season were a garbage fire of epic proportions. Film’s image, undeservedly so, has suffered because of them, and if the trend continues the studios are eventually going to ruin everything. Too many of the big budget films were either terrible or lost a lot of money. There were a few good eggs, but when the number of failures triple or quadruple the successes, the casual movie-going audience will not stay happy. It’s a mess, and the rancid smell is blinding everyone from the phenomenal work of the independents.

I don’t blame anyone for never having heard of “Swiss Army Man,” “Hell or High Water” or “Indignation.” Their marketing is nearly non-existent and the complete erasure of middle-budget films — an effect of the studio system — leave these indies with such miniscule budgets that invisibility is inevitable. Their quality, however, might change some people’s minds about the state of movies.

So let’s talk a look at the landscape: the movies that wreak of the studio disease, the blockbusters that surprisingly got it right and the small gems that nobody noticed. To judge, we’ll see how they were received on Rotten Tomatoes by the critics and the fans as well as take a look at an estimation — I stress estimation because these calculations are ballpark numbers and not factual — of each film’s box office profit, calculated by taking the production budget, the marketing budget, the worldwide box office and the movie theaters’ take into consideration.

Garbage fire

When a film makes $100 million in its opening weekend, it’s hard for studios to resist from wanting to make another, and another and another. Their first goal is to make money, and when there’s an opportunity that evident they’re going to take it. But that process often shuns the necessary moments of creative thinking and artistic development. Scripts are executed like another piece of the machine and the final decisions are made by producers distanced from the project. From superhero films that don’t have a great track record to superhero films that actually do to unnecessary remakes of classic films to unnecessary sequels and reboots of established properties, a lot went wrong. A lot.

“X-Men: Apocalypse”

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 48%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 70%
  • Box office profit estimation: $15 million

Suicide Squad

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 26%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 67%
  • Box office profit estimation: $120 million

“Ben Hur”

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 26%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 65%
  • Box office profit estimation: -$125 million

The Legend of Tarzan

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 36%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 64%
  • Box office profit estimation: -$100 million

Alice Through the Looking Glass

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 30%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 53%
  • Box office profit estimation: -$120 million

The good eggs

By pure chance, the machine of the studio will get it right every now and then. Those are the rare good eggs. The consistent ones are executed by caveats in the system. Marvel Studios works because it operates under a different level of creative control. Even though producers have more control on the final product than directors, a guy like Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige is more hands on and involved than most producers will be, meaning his control is more valuable. Directors are allowed to exercise their stylistic flares and while scripts are a part of the machine, they’re written by trusted writers. Studios like that who bring back filmmakers with a vision — James Wan’s “Conjuring” franchise is more Wan’s baby than it is Warner Bros’ — and studios that go even further in terms of allowing creativity to flourish and develop on its own — Pixar exemplifies that mold — will succeed.

Captain America: Civil War

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 90%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 90%
  • Box office profit estimation: $250 million

“The Conjuring 2”

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 80%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 83%
  • Box office profit estimation: $90 million

Finding Dory

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 94%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 87%
  • Box office profit estimation: $225 million

Hidden gems

Independent films represent the best that filmmaking can offer. Studio interference is incredibly rare and directors will almost always have final cut, which means certain people get to decide when the movie is finished (producers have that control on most studio films). Scripts aren’t parts of a machine but are rather intricate and delicate works of art that are allowed as much time to develop and breathe as needed. Actors sign on to these films based on the material instead of being locked to a film because of a contract, resulting in more passion. But despite every single one of those facts, independent films either make chump change or lose money, sometimes even losing big money. Directors who have made beloved films failed this year, innovative stories weren’t given chances and some of the best critical reception didn’t really matter.

“The Nice Guys”

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 92%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 80%
  • Box office profit estimation: -$25 million

Swiss Army Man

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 66%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 82%
  • Box office profit estimation: -$1 million

“Hell Or High Water”

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 98%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 90%
  • Box office profit estimation: $6 million

Southside With You

  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 92%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 80%
  • Box office profit estimation: $1.6 million


  • Rotten Tomatoes critics: 81%
  • Rotten Tomatoes fans: 89%
  • Box office profit estimation: -$0.5 million

This past summer was a dark time, there’s no denying that. But it’s unquestionable that there were some phenomenal independent films. Luckily, fall season is here and more of these independent gems are coming in the form of potential Oscar films. Some will succeed financially because of their status and buzz, but even then, there are some that won’t. So keep your eye out. Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” a story about a gay Black man navigating through life, will fly under most people’s radars despite it already being lauded as the best film of the year. “Manchester by the Sea” — a film critics have been endlessly raving about since its premiere at Sundance in January — will likely make chump change because of its tiny marketing push. Jeff Nichols’ “Loving,” the story of an interracial couple who had to fight to be together, will be drowned out by Marvel’s “Doctor Strange,” which opens on the same day. Keep these movies on your mind and keep an eye out for The Daily Californian’s “Oscar Watch” notice, something that will be attached to film reviews we think worthy.

If you really want films to be good, actually notice the films that are. The indie world needs your help to keep original and pure storytelling alive.

Kyle Kizu covers film. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @kyle_kizu.