All the World’s a Screen: The post-summer box office slump is worse than ever

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” was the last high point in the 2019 movie box office, grossing $41 million in its opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. The film starred Leonardo DiCaprio (left) and Brad Pitt (right). (Photo from IMDb)

Loving someone (or something) means showing it. 

You know the classic rom-com trope — the guy does some bold, sacrificial thing that shows the girl how much he loves her and they live happily ever until the screen goes dark. Thus we are meant to learn one of the simplest, toughest, noblest principles of love: If you love someone, prove it. 

I love movies, and I prove it by paying good money to see them. But, lately, it’s been a bit complicated: I haven’t been to the movies in about a month, haven’t really talked about them and haven’t written about them. If this were a relationship with a person, I’d probably call it. Still, I’m compelled to stop, consider and reflect on this trouble. Whose fault is it? Mine or the movies’?

If I wind the clock back just past a month, I come to a happy time in our relationship, a blissful memory that even reads like a fairy tale: “Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood.”

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film revived that old passion I have for movies and not because I’m a Tarantino diehard who accepts everything he touches as gold. The movie was just that good. I saw it twice, once at the New Beverly Cinema, a cozy-cool cinema Tarantino manages. It was quite the peak for the me and the movies.

But all things must pass. A week later I was watching “Ready or Not,” the horror (?), dark satire that I didn’t quite get. Fun times were had, but I ultimately threw up my hands in nonchalance; I kept wanting more, and the film failed me. Now I’m almost a month removed from that lackluster experience. Yet, the meh taste remains — I’ve had nothing to reset my palate, nothing to quicken my heart to drive to a theater and slam down a wad of cash at the box office to see a good movie.

Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I’m too picky. A lot of people loved “Ready or Not.” Yes, it was quite ambitious and unpredictable, but I personally got nothing out of it. Maybe I’m requiring too much from my movies. But then again, they require time and money, and who isn’t picky with their darlings? 

OK, so maybe the movies are to blame. This summer’s box office was hellish. Journalists questioned if we really should be scared or if a box-office decline is the new normal. Undeniably, this is a new era for the young art of film. Box office numbers will never reach the altitude they once did — even “Avengers: Endgame” had to be re-released to barely surpass the record “Titanic” set. “The Graduate” was the highest-grossing movie of 1967, a dramedy success that feels likely to never happen again for non-superhero/franchise films. 

Add to all this the amount of product being spouted out all around us. I don’t need to go into detail; we all live in the same world where every streaming site is an inexhaustible geyser of documentaries, true crime, bloated rom-coms and one-season (or 15 seasons for no reason; looking at you “Grey’s”) TV shows. According to Variety, Netflix had around 700 original TV shows and 80 original films in 2018. I don’t even watch 80 movies in theaters a year, so, theoretically, I could not go to the theater for a whole year and get my fill of entertainment at home on my couch. But, that wouldn’t be very good for our relationship. Yeah I can take a date to hundreds of outings, but if they’re all to EVK ‘cause I have extra meal swipes, I’ll start to look pretty bad really fast.

The reality is that movie theaters will die a very slow death. People still like going to the movies, just not every weekend — money’s tight and tickets are expensive (now multiply that by 10 for an undergrad). Why not just stay at home? We’ll go to the movies some other time.

If you’re most people, that “other time” will be when the next Avengers film premieres, or for the next Star Wars installment (although that’s not even a guarantee anymore); movies nowadays have to be bigger, not necessarily better — anything to get our posteriors out the door. 

Maybe I’m overthinking (as is normal for any relationship, right?). Maybe we’re just in a post-summer Sahara of good movies. Maybe everything will be fine come December, when the good bunch usually shows itself. I certainly hope so, because I don’t think I can go another month without catching a movie.

Isa Uggetti is a junior  writing about film. He is also the Arts & Entertainment  editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “All the World’s a Screen,” runs every other Monday.