Freditorial: When Did Summer Movies Stop Feeling Like Summer Movies?

This is my 40th summer (39th actually since I was born in November). Somewhere in the last 20 or so summer movies stopped feeling like a big deal. Thinking back to summers two or three decades ago, I had much more anticipation for the summer movie season.

Right now it’s June and we’re right in between new Avengers and Star Wars and Jurassic World and Incredibles. When did summer start to feel just like the rest of the year. Is it just that I’m older? Perhaps, but I write Freditorials so of course I have a much more in-depth analysis of why I’ve lost my enthusiasm for summer movies.

Summer Movies Come Out Year-Round

Black Panther (2018) - Weekend Box OfficeThe most obvious reason we take summer movies for granted would be that we get tentpole movies every week now. If Black Panther can open in February, what makes Ant-Man and The Wasp any more of an event? Avengers: Infinity War isn’t that much bigger just because there are more characters in it. It’s just another one, one I enjoyed for sure but not one that signified the beginning of a new season to me. The Fast and the Furious movies distinguish each other the way each James Bond or Indiana Jones movies did. “This is the one where they…” That franchise shifts between spring and summer anyway so it’s not a regular demarcation.

Summer movies also used to start building buzz at Christmas. Remember the teaser for Independence Day? July 2 they arrive. July 3 they attack. July 4 is the day we fight back! You had to see that movie and you had six months to think about it. Now they can’t tease summer movies that early because they still have to sell spring movies.

There are still teasers but they’re approached more like obligatory reveals of movies people are already expecting. Teasing the inevitable Marvel movie isn’t the same as announcing something new. In fact, it’s gone the other way. The bigger tease was Netflix dropping the Cloverfield Paradox trailer and revealing oh yeah, it’s available today.

And it’s not just a franchise vs. originals. Sequels used to have amazing teasers. When the Terminator 2 teaser came out it was like oh my god they made another one! The Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade teaser was all behind the scenes footage just letting you know they were back to work. We also didn’t have the internet telling us what movies are in development, although the trades still did. A movie buff could still subscribe to Variety to find out what’s in the works for next year. I’m sure winter movies had awesome teasers too.

School’s Out Forever

It could just be that I work year-round now. Summer is no longer a time I take a break. I’m not sure that holds water. I worked at a movie theater from 1994-97 and summers were still exciting times, especially from the inside perspective.

Still, there’s a difference between a summer job and a career. When I was in school it limited my hours, so summers were when I could work a full 40 and overtime. And I still had to dread going back to high school, but then college wasn’t something I dreaded. Either way, there’s no major life shift impending come September.

Maybe if I hadn’t chosen a career in journalism I’d have more of a sense of different times of year. I don’t know, though. If I worked in an office I’d still be working through the summer. Unless I became a teacher, summer wouldn’t be a break.

And writing about film should make the unique seasons more apparent. Oscar season is unavoidable, and it’s gotten even earlier. So why do summer movies just feel like more of the same?

My Summer Milestones

One more theory: when we’re growing up, each year includes new milestones that can be associated with the summers of the time. The year we got our driver’s license, the year we got our first part-time job, the year of our first love…

Once we’re adults and established in our jobs the years are all pretty much the same, at least until we have our own kids to go through those milestones.

By this theory, the kids coming of age will remember the summers of Age of Ultron and Star Trek into Darkness as fondly as I remember the years of Forrest Gump/True Lies/Speed, the summer of Con Air/Face Off/Men in Black or the great disappointments of 1998.

1994 was the summer of my first job and my first girlfriend, so that’s huge (coinciding with an incredible year for movies). That’s True Lies, Gump and Speed but I’ll always remember the weekend I began: The Shadow, Blown Away and I Love Trouble.

1995 was my year between high school (a huge weight lifted) and college (huge anticipation) and yes, my first heartbreak. That’s Crimson Tide, Die Hard With a Vengeance, Clueless and Waterworld for you. In 1996 I became a projectionist so that was a huge step, along with Twister, Mission: Impossible, The Rock and Phenomenon.

1998 was my first time in L.A. before I moved here permanently, so The Truman Show, There’s Something About Mary and Lethal Weapon 4. 1999 was when I graduated college and my adult life began, along with The Summy, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and The Blair Witch Project.

For the years I didn’t mention specifically, every school year is unique and summers demarcate them. 6th grade is different from fifth grade, 7th from sixth, 9th is high school, etc. Even if the moments aren’t as major as the milestones I mentioned above, they’re still something relevant to your evolution so you may remember the seasons tied to them.

You’d think 2000 would be memorable for being my first summer as working press, but it’s not. I had to look it up and pretty much all the milestones were insignificant. Battlefield Earth was the big failure but it hasn’t been the definitive whipping boy that Gigli or Jupiter Ascending has. Gladiator ended up winning Best Picture but seemed like it was by default for the production value, not because it was so much better than the other movies that year.

X-Men started it all but the first one seems like practice. The Patriot was trying to be American Braveheart. Gone in 60 Seconds is probably the least memorable Nicolas Cage action movie. Mission: Impossible II was huge but also the least distinctive of the franchise despite having John Woo direct.

I doubt it’s the life moments theory. I don’t hear young movie fans express that kind of anticipation and identification we did in the post-Jaws blockbuster era. In fact, we’ve seen on social media how fleeting interest is.

Summer Movies, Had Me A Blast

Hollywood did this to themselves. They favored big openings instead of steady business. Movies like Speed, Forrest Gump, The Rock and Face/Off used to play all summer long. Word of mouth spread, people would come see it again. They were events people talked about. Have you seen this yet? It’s still playing, you should go.

I guess you can make the same money in a single weekend if you put it on five screens at the same theater. Then it’s gone. Even Avengers: Infinity War won’t be around by July 4. Hollywood trained audiences to flock to the theater opening weekend, but you can’t make them come back in a month when a whole new slate of movies is out.

I’m not sure there’s any incentive for studios to back off. Their primary concern is profit, not audience mood. As long as people are seeing the new offerings every week, the machine keeps running. As long as they make a billion dollars, it doesn’t matter if it took three months or three weeks.

Not a summer movie

 

I guess this is my Jerry Maguire moment of saying fewer movies, but give them time.
You’ve got to believe that cultural impact has lasting value.

Endless Summer Movies

Hey, it was cool for January.

Maybe I got my childhood wish. I never wanted summer to end and now summer movies are year round. In the ‘90s, movies like Freejack or Highlander sequels tided us over with minor spectacle until the big shows would come out. Even Stallone and Bruce Willis had generic offerings in between summer franchises.

Summer also used to be a wave. May and June were the rising tide with July being the tip of the wave. The biggest movie would vie for the July 4 weekend. Then August was a come down before the fall doldrums. Is it still? Studios have preyed on August and they drop biggies in the fall now.

'Spider-Man' (2002) - 15th AnniversaryI welcome folks under 30 share with me their memories of landmark summer’s post 2000, but I maintain a big change has been the lack of memorable high concept movies. Just seeing another Spider-man, X-men or Avengers doesn’t make a summer stand out the way the summers of Independence Day, Forrest Gump (based on a book but still landmark), Back to the Future, Gremlins or Ghostbusters did.

I think my summer 2000 reflection pinpoints a time when summer movies stopped being the big show. 2002 launched the Spider-Man, xXx, Scooby-Doo and Bourne franchises but things were already starting to shift out of the summer season. I mean, 2000’s Charlie’s Angels was November, and the sequel going for Summer turned out to be a mistake!

Looking back at the summers of my life definitely points out how summers like 1985, 1989 and those ‘90s summers I’ve mentioned bring up emotions in me that this century’s summers do now. At the very least, Summer of 2018 will be remembered as the one where I wrote this Freditorial.

Written by
Fred Topel also known as Franchise Fred has been an entertainment journalist since 1999 and specializes in writing about film, television and video games. Fred has written for several outlets including About.com, CraveOnline, and Rotten Tomatoes among others. His favorite films include Toy Story 2, The Rock, Face/Off, True Lies, Labyrinth, The Big Hit, Michael Moore's The Big One, and Casablanca. We are very lucky and excited to have Fred as part of the We Live Entertainment team. Follow him on Twitter @FranchiseFred and @FredTopel

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