It’s already summer in Hollywood

By Karsten Burgstahler

Journey to a time when MTV’s name was actually valid. To a time when Bill Clinton was still recovering from not having “relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” To a time when 3D was mostly reserved for theme-park attractions and not a $4 add-on at the area multiplex.

Welcome to 1998.

In the summer of 1998, Hollywood had two big name blockbusters: “Godzilla” and “Armageddon.” The studios put all of their money into marketing these movies and they were events. Blockbusters only hit the theater three or four times a year, and everyone had to see them. “Godzilla” didn’t end up being a huge success, but “Armageddon” certainly was. It was a crazy, ridiculous spectacle that sent untrained oil drillers to a giant asteroid to blow it up before it hit Earth. It was pure fun.


Flash forward 16 years. This summer looks scarily similar: there’s a new “Godzilla” movie and “Armageddon” director Michael Bay has a new “Transformers” flick in the pipe.

And even though we’re not at summer yet — the forecast for Monday in Carbondale is 47 degrees, and as of press time the city is under a winter-weather advisory —for Hollywood, the line between seasons has been blurred.

And it’s all Katniss Everdeen’s fault.

Two years ago, “The Hunger Games” debuted in a spring slot, March 23. The film was a massive success, grossing $155 million in its first three days and winning the third highest-grossing weekend of all time (at least, at that time. “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Iron Man 3” had yet to hit theaters). Execs were beside themselves: sure, they had seen “300” gross more than $70 million its first week five years earlier. But it was at that moment they realized audiences didn’t care if a blockbuster came out in the summer or in the spring; if they had a hit movie, they could put it anywhere in the calendar they wanted.

Because of this, summer movie season really began two weeks ago with “300: Rise of an Empire.” Every weekend between now and the middle of August has a movie hoping to emerge as a huge hit.

It was the villain Syndrome in “The Incredibles” who said, “When everybody’s super, no one is.” He was talking about superheroes, but the same can be said about these blockbuster movies pummeling theaters now. Event movies are a dime a dozen. While this does create a more diverse marketplace for film, the movies end up cannibalizing each other, making it harder to break out. Movies are starting to lose that communal experience of wonder they had when we only got two or three spectacles a year, back in 1998.

Some would argue it’s not such a bad thing this communal experience is dying out. When movie theaters begin discussing the possibility of texting zones in auditoriums, which they have, then we have lost sight of true moviegoing.


The truth is that the communal experience is dying out because we’ve allowed it to. Our attention spans are so short that one big blockbuster isn’t enough anymore. We have to have four superhero films a year instead of one. And they have to be in post-conversion 3D!

As Hollywood continues to push summer back into the snow, artsy films that could usually survive in these realms are losing their footing. Soon the only time we’ll get to see well-written, well-acted pieces will be the final four weeks of the year when Oscar campaigns kick into high gear. We’re dangerously close to this scenario now.

Usually the cold signals the approach of solid filmmaking. But when every movie is special, those that don’t have a huge marketing budget can’t be.