There’s no business like show business…
In 2017, Americans spent over 11 billion dollars at the movies. When Jesus preached “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he probably wasn’t thinking about popcorn flicks, superhero blockbusters, and Sci-Fi epics! Regardless, I think the Hollywood box office can provide several insights into the trends, desires, and mindset of Americans. First, here’s the chart:
Top 10 Domestic Gross: (*note*: the specific order might change slightly, because the money earned in 2018 still counts toward their 2017 total).
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- Beauty and the Beast (2017)
- Wonder Woman
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
- Despicable Me 3
- Justice League
Now, here are 5 quick observations of what it means:
1. Americans Are Actually Going to the Movies Less Than They Used To.
That might sound crazy. After all, 2017 was only the 3rd year in cinematic history that the box office revenue surpassed 11 billion. However, tracking box office only by dollar figures is tricky and misleading because of the steep inflation of ticket prices (the average ticket price in 2017 was $8.93, the highest in history). A more accurate gauge of attendance is actual tickets sold, which was 1.2 billion – the lowest total since 1992 when Disney’s Aladdin topped the charts! There has actually been a clear downward trend in tickets sold ever since sales peaked in 2002. Interestingly, the decrease in ticket sales comes despite a whopping 724 films released in theaters (the 2nd highest total in film history, behind only 2016’s 736). In other words, despite having more options than ever to choose from, Americans are frequenting movie theaters less and less.
What does it mean? “The times they are a changin!” Entertainment habits are changing as a result of the current technology and media boom. In 1992, there was no Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, or video game consoles to compete with. Also, the gap between theatrical release and home video release (Blu-ray, DVD, on-demand) has shrunk from an average of 9-10 months to 3 months or less, making it easier to “just wait till it hits Redbox.” All of these factors contribute to the movies becoming an increasingly private experience. The social aspect of the theater is being replaced by solitary “binging” from the comfort and privacy of home.
2. Women Are Making Their Mark (Kind Of…).
Statistically, 53% of movie-goers are female. While this ratio has not always been reflected on screen, 2017 saw some significant progress. Female-fronted movies (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast, and Women Woman) finished 1-2-3 in the box office for the first time since 1958, an astonishing 59 years ago. Wonder Woman also became the highest earning female-directed movie of all time. Yet, despite these achievements, the narrative changes drastically when the sample-size is expanded from the top 10 to the top 100. Of the top 100 films in 2017, only 8 were directed by a woman (and only 4.3% since 2007), despite nearly 50% of film school graduates being female. Similarly, although the top 3 films were led by female characters, only around 30% of all speaking roles in the top 100 films were played by women.
What does this mean? The movement toward gender equality and representation in Hollywood is starting to make its mark, but a sizable gap remains to be crossed. Still, the landscape is clearly changing. Also, keep in mind, that most big-budget films take around 3 years to go from pre-production to theatrical release, so the real impact and full extent of these changes will take time to see.
3. A Lack of Originality.
Some people say Hollywood is out of ideas…and they might be right! None of the top 10 films were “original stories.” There were 7 sequels or entries in a larger franchisee (ie. The Marvel Cinematic Universe), 2 reboots/remakes, and 1 live-action adaptation of an earlier animated film. The highest grossing “original” story was Pixar’s animated film Coco, down at #13. Additionally, a Star Wars movie finished #1 for a 3rd consecutive year. Amazingly, at least 1 Star Wars film has finished #1 in the yearly box office in each of the last 5 decades! The Force remains strong as ever!
What does this mean? Perhaps, in a time of discord and unease, Americans desire familiar escapism and nostalgic storytelling more than ever. I think is also speaks to the power of fandom and a yearning for long-form storytelling. Movies are no longer a one-off experience. Their influence now extends year-round though the speculation, discussion, and celebration of growing fan communities.
4. Superheroes Remain Super.
Reports of “superhero fatigue” have apparently been greatly exaggerated. The boom of the Superhero genre has not only endured, but is thriving more than ever. In fact, 5 of the top 10 films were superhero/comic book movies – the most successful year ever for the genre. Indeed, 2017 was a very good year to wear a cape.
What does this mean? Americans really love watching spandex-clad men and women beat up bad guys. It also reflects an increased desire for heroism and virtue. The previous 5-6 years had been largely defined by a shift toward “anti-heroes,” suggesting that many Americans had become disenchanted with the traditional “perfect” heroes and “clear-cut” good guys. That the emphasis has begun to shift back toward more traditional “superheroes” is interesting, and might say something about a reinvigorated hunger for hope and optimism going into 2018.
5. What About the Kids?
An oddity, given previous years, is the lack of animated family films. Despicable Me 3 was the only animated film to crack the top 10 (the unstoppable power of minions!). This is the 1st time in 6 years that only 1 animated movie cracked the top 10.
What does this mean? Impossible to say. Does this indicate that parents are no longer taking their children to the theater like they used to? Or, is it merely a blip on the radar and a reflection of the poor quality of animated family films last year? Only time will tell, but it’s worth keeping an eye on!
There you have it! These are my 5 observations on what the 2017 Hollywood Box Office and what it might tell us about America going into 2018.
What about you? Did you notice any significant trends last year? What was your personal experience with movies in 2017? How many of the 10 ten did you see? Let me know below!
*Reminder: Disagreement is a welcome and healthy part of dialogue. Being a jerk is not.*