Can original movies find audiences during the summer film season?

As in so many years past, the 2016 summer film season is full of sequels, reboots, and remakes. Can a movie based on an original idea succeed during the crowded time at the multiplex?

Universal Pictures/AP
'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping' stars Andy Samberg (center).

The summer movie season is here and with it comes films that are labeled with Hollywood’s various terms for a continuation of a story – sequels, reboots, remakes.

Some of the most high-profile of this fare includes “Captain America: Civil War,” a new “Ghostbusters” film, an “Independence Day” sequel, and a new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie. 

But also on the scene are some films that are coming out in wide release and are based on original ideas. Unlike independent movies, which come out in limited release and are often based on original stories, these films come from new ideas but head to the multiplex to stand alongside such properties like the BFG as Tarzan. 

Some of these movies include “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” a comedy film starring Andy Samberg, which is now in theaters and the longevity of which at the box office remains to be seen; “Central Intelligence,” another comedy which stars Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson and which will be released on June 17; and “The Shallows,” a movie about a woman trying to escape a shark which stars Blake Lively. It will be released June 29.

Can movies that don’t come as part of a recognizable franchise or ongoing story find audiences during the high-pressure summer film season? 

Thomas Schatz, author and media professor at The University of Texas at Austin, says it’s a difficult environment. It can be done, however. One sequel that is arriving this summer is “Now You See Me 2,” which stars Mark Ruffalo, Lizzy Caplan, Jesse Eisenberg, and Daniel Radcliffe and is a continuation of the story first told in the original 2013 movie. The first movie, which came out in May of that year as part of the blockbuster season, was based on an original story, yet attracted enough moviegoers to become a hit. 

“Let's hope there's at least one quirky breakout movie [like that] in any capacity [this summer],” Professor Schatz says of “Now.” He notes that the horror movie “The Conjuring,” which came out the same summer as "Now" and was based only on the life story of its protagonists, also became a hit. “Conjuring” was then followed by a spin-off film, 2014’s “Annabelle,” and “The Conjuring 2” arrives this summer.

“That first ‘Conjuring’ movie was surprisingly successful and good,” he says. “And now it's just another franchise.”

Animation studio Pixar has become renowned for its output, with their films usually succeeding both at the box office and with critics. The studio has now added more sequels to its slate than it did in the past, however. While last summer saw Pixar release the original story “Inside Out,” this summer will see the release of the “Finding Nemo” sequel “Finding Dory.”

“Let's just say it's not surprising that … Pixar … ha[s] come around to the summer franchise mentality along with everybody else,” Schatz says. “There's simply no getting around it.”

Is summer the best time to try to release a big film that doesn’t come with some kind of recognition attached for potential moviegoers? 

Now any time of the year can be blockbuster time, says Schatz. “What used to be these dead zones between blockbuster seasons have pretty well gone away,” he says. Disney’s live-action take on “The Jungle Book” became a big hit after being released this past April, while the first “Hunger Games” film kicked off a franchise after succeeding at the box office in March. These used to be quieter months in the blockbuster movie industry. 

“I no longer think there are as many weeks where you can sneak a film in,” Schatz says. That comparatively quieter time of year, however, could be the key for these films. “At the same time, you know, clearly, the deck is not stacked so heavily in those offseasons as it is in the summer,” he says.

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