The Makings of a Summer Blockbuster

Friday, July 5, 2019

One of the best places to beat the summer heat is in the movie theater. Summer is one of the most popular times of the year for movie releases and the busiest time for moviegoers — just take a look at the box office numbers.

Past summer hits, such as The Fast and the Furious and Jurassic World, have raked in hundreds of millions — even billions — of dollars at the box office, especially overseas. These blockbusters become international household names, often developing into franchises that spark prequels, sequels, and even the occasional amusement park.

But what separates a good summer film from a blockbuster? Deron Albright, M.F.A., associate professor of film, helps explain.

“A blockbuster is the cinematic equivalent of a rollercoaster,” Albright says. “They’re supposed to be events. They’re big and they’re splashy.”

According to Albright, a blockbuster is all about the box office returns. Because summer blockbusters often have multi-million dollar budgets (the budget for Avengers: Endgame was over $350 million alone), studios can’t mess around when it comes to getting their money back.

However, Albright points out that a large budget doesn’t guarantee blockbuster success. “When you’re trying to make a lot of money back, the flop is much bigger,” Albright says.

The 2013 film, The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp is one example of a box office flop. The movie had a production budget of $215 million but only made $260 million at the box office — most of which was made overseas. “Internationally, the thirst for big-budget films is there,” Albright says. “There is less noise to compete with and advertising costs are much more reasonable.”

So, what is the key to a summer blockbuster? Albright says it’s all about the storytelling.

“There may have been a time when a blockbuster could have gotten away with a simpler story where characters were rather two dimensional,” he says, “but audiences are sophisticated. They’re looking for more out of movies than just bright lights and flashy things. Getting depth out of a character makes the blockbuster a more enjoyable experience.“

As for blockbusters to watch out for in Summer 2019, Albright thinks Avengers: Endgame might have been the big name of the year. Despite its April release date, the film brought in over $2.7 billion at the box office.

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