Essays · Movies

How To Fix Summer Movies

By  · Published on August 25th, 2016

A Three-Point Plan.

Some people like the summer, and I’m not here to heatshame them. People like all kinds of strange things. (Many, if you’ll pardon me as I duck the oncoming thrown produce, like Stranger Things.) But one thing is abundantly clear, this year more than others: there’s something a bit off with summer movies. Box office statistics and aggregated RT/Metacritic gibberish may not bear this assessment out – box office is actually the highest it’s been in years and I have no idea what the fuck to make of RT and Metacritic because their numbers are meaningless in any real sense – but summer feels, subjectively and anecdotally, like a slog. And despite my own feelings that it’s too goddamn hot out and the sun needs to stop invading my personal space, I still feel a bit protective of the theoretical state of summer as a time of leisure, to be enjoyed.

Herewith, a series of prescriptions to fix summer movies:


Specifically, care about people coming to see the movie enjoying it. Despite all the cynical thoughts one might think about the movie business as a business, especially from the inside where it may seem as though the entire enterprise centers on separating people from their money and pocketing it, it’s actually better business to put out a good product than it is to set hundreds of millions of dollars on fire before ultimately tossing together some bullshit and releasing it (c.f. Suicide Squad).

There’s a reason Marvel Studios does so well, and it’s not the exasperating deluge of “scoops” on the internet. It’s because their movies have a consistent baseline of competence with minimal deviation, and there’s a clear vision driving them, by producers and filmmakers who understand their target audience, and make sufficient concessions to the next couple rings outward from the bullseye (which is to say, semi-pro and layman nerds) so as to maximize appeal.

A similar approach, in a slightly different kind of film, can be observed in the Mission Impossible series, which has settled into a particularly appealing groove wherein producer Tom Cruise knows that people like watching star Tom Cruise run a lot, and do dangerous things really well, and that if a choice needs to be made between “realistic” and “cool” then “realistic” needs to go sit in a corner and think about ways to loosen up.

The thing about suspension of disbelief: it’s a lot easier a request when hung from something solid, and ensuring that disbelief is strapped securely into its harness. Hanging it off a cliff with a shoelace to hang onto isn’t exactly a sign of good faith.

Be original

While basking in the attendant irony that “be more original” is not a very original complaint at this point, I would point out that it is still a good idea. I quite like many sequels and remakes, and see no need to stop making them, but every once in a while it’s nice to watch a movie with no idea of what’s going to happen. That is, without an idea beyond the vague traditions of popular entertainment, since this is the summer we’re talking about.

It feels like a disproportionately long time since Inception, and I would be quite happy if each summer had at least one massively expensive director-driven movie star picture like it. Inception was only possible because after The Dark Knight, Warners would have greenlit Phone Book: a film by Christopher Nolan, but it sure is nice that that picture exists. “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a bit bigger, darling” serves as apt advice to the motion picture industry in general, as far as making more non-franchise, non-sequel blockbusters.

Get serious, or weird, or seriously weird

The main reason for my fatigued summer movie torpor is that it’s nearing the end of the summer. One always convinces oneself of the greater greenness on the fence’s other side, and then about three weeks into Awards Movie Season the other thing starts happening, that “Not another goddamn fucking biopic/I swear if I see another straight actor ‘bravely’ playing gay I’ll scream/Wait, how have I never even heard of four of the five movies with Best Actress nominees”-itis. Where the occasional blockbuster saunters on out of summer and sets up shop in the fall or winter, seemingly every single “serious” film of the year comes out in a three month span, beginning at Labor Day and ending at please I’ll do anything you ask just make a car explode seriously if I have to see one more questionable hagiography of a dead rich person I will literally die.

The problem isn’t necessarily the quality of the movies, although a lot of awards aspirants are bad. It’s that they all come out right on top of each other, and that inevitably things get lost in the mix. Allegedly this whole problem exists because Oscar voters are like Guy Pearce in Memento but that’s no reason to take it out on us. Spread it out a little. Especially the stuff that’s too weird or transgressive (read: gay, violent, druggy, or any other kind of fun) to realistically win awards. Release Todd Haynes movies on the 4th of July with $60 million ad buys. Live a little.

Really, all I’m asking is a slightly greater willingness to take risks, change things up, and resist rigidity. The whole point of movies is that they be seen, and just because not all of them exist solely as entertainment doesn’t mean they have to be a chore to sit through, and just because not all of them have serious or even complex intent doesn’t mean they have to be stupid or haphazard. Care. Be original. Get weird.

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Columnist, Film School Rejects. Host, Minor Bowes podcast. Ce n’est pas grave, y’all