21st Century Letdown

20th Century Fox isn’t the movie studio it used to be.  As a lifelong movie fan, every time I hear that infamous Fanfare music I have flashbacks of being taken away on a celluloid journey for a few hours.  Whether it was to a galaxy far, far away, watching a ten year old beat the crap out of two grown men who got the wrong idea to break into his home, a New York City cop out of his element with insurmountable odds facing him, a group of mutants fighting for their place in the world while others like them try to destroy it, a woman as tough as nails taking on an entire extraterrestrial nightmare more than once, and grown men who don’t have time to bleed just trying to get to the chopper and away from an unseen enemy.

20th Century Fox has provided countless memorable films of all genres for over 75 years.  As of late though, the studio that once backed these epics and blockbusters has been in a slump for a number of years.  The last summer I remember where Fox produced movies I thoroughly enjoyed was in 2007.  That summer’s blockbusters “Live Free or Die Hard,” “The Simpson’s Movie,” and begrudgingly even “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer” hit screens and were all hits.  Ever since then, Fox’s summer blockbusters have been anything but.

In 2008, the summer was filled with superheroes galore, raunchy comedies, and an adventurer from the past returning from a 19 year film sabbatical.  Fox’s big film were “The Happening” and “X-Files: I Want To Believe.”  Neither of which were critical or fan darlings.  The following summer the popular “X-Men” franchise spawned it’s first spin off “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”  Again another film met with mixed reviews and fanboy disdain as it looked too much like a generic Fox film.

What do I mean?  The creativity of the director is too suppressed by the studio to make the film stand out and have some meaning.  A lot of Fox’s film are very similar in style, cinematography, and mood.  Watch some of the films I mention if you don’t believe me.  They’re practically all the same.  Each studio makes films that you feel belong to that studio, but Fox just seems to produce the worst of the worst consistently.

While their summer films haven’t been stellar, the studio isn’t always immune to making money.  Despite my feelings toward “Avatar,” James Cameron’s epic was a throwback to the epic films Fox released throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.  Five days later they released “Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.”  While the audience chanted “oh boy, oh boy!” the studio wouldn’t for the next year as it would be the last film for Fox to make over $100 million at the box office according to the release date.

The problem: Fox undertook projects that looked like surefire hits, but performed terribly at the box office.  Although wildly popular children books,  “Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” failed to reach the $100 million mark.  As did “Date Night” a film starring TV juggernauts Tina Fey and Steve Carell.  Again failure to reach blockbuster status.  Their summer films were even worse.  “Knight and Day,” “The A-Team” and “Predators” would have all been blockbusters had they been released 10 to 15 years earlier, before we knew Tom Cruise was crazy, people enjoyed seeing movies made about old television shows and “Predator” movies were still well made.

The problem with Fox is their lack of promotion and marketing on their films.  Great films they released this year such as “Machete” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” suffered at the box office due to the lack of marketing.  As did “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”  After Disney dropped the franchise in 2008, the fate of the third film was up in the air.  Only months ago did moviegoers know that the third film was being released, but unbenounced to myself and friends that Fox was the distributor and it would be released around Christmas.  “Narnia” made over $100 million, but the original film made nearly three times as much.

Maybe it’s just me, but Fox should take a look at fellow studios to see where they continuously go wrong.  Warner Bros. have consistently produced hit films every year from “The Dark Knight” to “Inception” to the wildly popular “Harry Potter” series and the number one grossing rated R comedy of all time “The Hangover,” all of which wildly surpassed expectations on opening weekend.  Paramount is another studio that’s changed strategy over the years.  Instead of making movies with just Ashley Judd starring in them, they’ve acquired various franchises that have appealed to audiences.  Everything from “Iron Man,” “Transformers,” “Indiana Jones,” “Star Trek,” G.I. Joe,” and “Paranormal Activity” have all become or are reborn profitable franchises.

Of the previous two studios mentioned, they both have huge summer blockbusters are waiting in the wings.  Warner Bros. has three huge films on deck, “The Green Lantern,” “The Hangover Part 2,” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II” while Paramount has films that will appeal to fans, “Thor,” “The First Avenger: Captain America,” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” and those curious “Super 8.”  Fox only has one so far, “X-Men: First Class.”  While the initial first look looks great, poor marketing only just started to hype up a film that could have been initially promoted months ago.  We’ll all have to see how things go.

In closing I hate to see a studio that just celebrated 75 years, making such terrible film choices and poor marketing and promotion decisions.  The Fox Network certainly has ratings juggernauts such as “Glee,” “American Idol,” “House,” “Family Guy,” and “The Simpsons.”  It’s just a shame that the film division isn’t as successful.  They certainly aren’t anywhere near bankruptcy that they can’t acquire the rights to a major franchise to pull them out of this slump.

My advice, let directors express creativity and bend the rules of film making to make films like they once did instead of being over budget.  Based on the trends of the last year or two, stop producing films that won’t make your money back.  Save your money for films that have either have a built in audience or is brought to the table by a director or producer that is worth spending over $150 million on.  Then maybe the crowds will return and people like me will be taken away on another journey again.