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Hollywood’s Summer Slump: What Studios can Learn from ‘American Sniper’

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Hollywood is having a rough summer. In fact, it’s been a terrible year for many high-budget, big-profile, star-driven projects. Aside from comic book movies and family-friendly features, there have dozens of disappointments at the box office.

One of the most dramatic examples of this concerns the Divergent series, a dystopian book series that was adapted for the big screen. The cinematic series, which launched in 2014, stars Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller — three strong young actors. According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the original Divergentfilm earned 150 million at the box office and in the following year, the sequel Insurgentearned a respectable 130 million. But instead of simply adapting the last book of the book series into one final movie, the studio decided to split the final book into two parts — an idea that proved financially successful for both Harry Potter and the Hunger Games.

What happened to Allegiant, the first part of the two-part Divergent finale, was different. According to BoxOfficeMojo, it bombed — earning a mere 66 million. The studio was so jarred by this result that they are planning to make the final film into a TV movie and it’s unknown if the cast will return for this chapter.

Since that film, there have been a string of high-budget films that faltered at the box office including Matthew McConaughey’s historical biopic Free State of Jones, Steven Spielberg’s children’s fantasy The BFG and the action-packed sequel The Huntsman: Winter's War.

Additionally, sequels like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Now You See Me 2 and Independence Day: Resurgencefailed to inspire at the domestic box office but will likely be financially solvent because their solid international box office numbers.

According to Variety’s report on the 2016 box office, “Ticket sales are down roughly 10% this summer, but the slide is more precipitous than those numbers suggest… On a per-capita basis, the moviegoing audience is at its lowest levels in nearly a century.”

Sadly, it seems like Hollywood is relying too often on the familiarity of a franchise or tired ideas rather than crafting something unique that will bring audiences back to the theater.

That’s not to say that franchises can’t come back with a vengeance. In 2015, the two highest-grossing movies of the year were installments in long-dormant franchises. Star Wars: The Force Awakenswas the highest grossing movie of the year while Jurassic World came in the second spot. Both of those films were long-awaited sequels that paid tribute to earlier films while successfully re-energizing their franchises.

 It takes a lot of time and effort to craft such blockbusters and it oftentimes feels like Hollywood doesn’t support its properties — with stronger scripts and better concepts — as well as it should. Hollywood needs to cherish its franchises and not simply rely on them for financial stability.

In 2016, there have been a few exceptions to this. Finding Dory (which currently stands with the highest domestic gross of this year) and Captain America: Civil War were both sequels that stood apart from their predecessors and introduced new ideas and concepts.  

Also, one wishes that Hollywood would become more willing to embrace stories of heroism onscreen. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi may have faltered at the box office this year but that doesn’t mean that there’s not a market for films about true heroes. It’s worth remembering that the highest-grossing movie of 2014 wasn’t a sequel. Nor was it a comic book movie or a children’s film. It was Clint Eastwood’s riveting war drama American Sniper, which was embraced by many critics, audiences across the country and even Oscar voters, who gave the Clint Eastwood biopic six Oscar nominations.

Films like that (and others like the 2014 drama Unbroken and the 2013 war film Lone Survivor) defy box office predictions and it would be great to see Hollywood embrace such patriotic and original stories (one hopes that Eastwood’s next film Sully — about the pilot who overcame the odds and safely landed a disabled plane in the Hudson River — will fit the bill).

 One also hopes that the next few months at the box office will be better than the last few but at a time when so many other entertainment options are available, Hollywood needs to try better to serve its consumers.

Looking for something inspiring to watch in the meantime? Here’s a list of 10 great movies about American patriots.  

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