The failure of ‘Lightyear’ points to a problem for the industry much bigger than the crisis of Pixar

The (nothing serious, but significant) ‘Lightyear’ stumble at the box office international last weekend may be due to multiple reasons. For many guardians of the moral essences that enter into combustion, possibly the reason does not have nothing to do with the controversial kiss that has led to the film being banned in a dozen countries, but rather with the ominous presence of Disney+ guaranteeing an imminent domestic release, and with the more limited interest the film has aroused after bets like ‘Red’ or ‘ Luca’ (which did not reach theaters).

Companions from the past. What is clear is that ‘Lightyear’ has been third in the international box office (second in the US) behind two very specific films, two sequels to classic blockbusters from decades ago: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and ‘Jurassic World: Dominion‘. The first has raised more than 887 million, it is the second highest grossing film of 2022 and the most successful of Tom Cruise’s career. The second has already raised 625 million dollars.

It is obvious what they both have in common: they are sequels to hits from long ago, and also both have a high nostalgic component. ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ picks up a movie that hadn’t had a sequel since its premiere in 1986, something unusual for Tom Cruise, who usually doesn’t need to use these hooks to get blockbusters (for when a sequel to ‘Risky Business’ ?). And from ‘Jurassic Park’ we have had many sequels, but none with a nod to the past as explicit as that of Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum reunited for the first time since Spielberg’s film.

Paramount queen. Do not underestimate the combined power of these two blockbusters: they have not only left ‘Lightyear’ behind. Together, ‘Maverick’ and ‘Dominion’ have made Paramount the highest-grossing production company of the year, a podium where Sony and Disney reigned thanks to their sequels to ‘spider-man‘ Y ‘Doctor Strange‘, all this until the premiere of ‘Top Gun’. At this time, the production company has 800 million dollars raised in the United States alone, 300 more than Sony and Disney, which are more evenly matched.

But it is not the only success for Paramount this year, which has also released films in the first six months of 2022 that have worked very well for it, such as ‘Scream’, ‘Jackass Forever’ and ‘Sonic the Hedgehog 2’. The keys to all of them? Indeed: nostalgia, nostalgia and more nostalgia. In this case, beyond the eighties, demonstrating that there is no single decade to remember as long as there are recoverable pop classics from different eras.

Marvel is not the danger… A few months ago the controversy jumped, one that has not finished dissipating (and possibly will not while Disney continues chaining superhero blockbusters), about whether superhero movies had devoured all other movies. We were talking about a phenomenon that is still there but that could soon show signs of exhaustion, or at least not be permanently seated on the throne of infallibility. ‘Eternals‘ either ‘Morbius‘ could be examples of that hypothetical exhaustion.

However, the supposed tiredness of the superhero genre is nuanced by taking into account the collections of the aforementioned successful films by Sony and Disney this year: the invention still has a wick left. Which is true, it has imposed very rigid schemes for the exploitation of fiction both from a creative and industrial point of view, which has given way to another form of exploitation of franchises: the abuse of nostalgic tics. Sometimes even simultaneously, as can be seen in the recent ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ and its highly celebrated reunion of the most popular arachnid heroes (or in the use of Sam Raimi as a commercial hook for the sequel to ‘Doctor Strange’ ).

… the lack of originality could be. We were talking today, taking advantage of the premiere of the last episode of the first season of ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ of how nostalgia has gone from being a genuine tone vector or a more or less sympathetic commercial hook, as it happens in ‘stranger things‘, to an excuse for creative laziness. ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ believes that he can work just by taking Darth Vader out for a walk, and it’s obvious, given the results, that it doesn’t work that way.

So why do ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ and ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ work? In the case of the first, the film has not been very well received by critics, which certainly does not amount to a box office failure, but it does point in a direction that can then be transmitted to the public. ‘Maverick’ is something else: it has known how to use nostalgia as an indisputable hook, but its action sequences could perfectly belong to a non-franchised proposal.

For now, the invention works: recalling the past to revitalize marketing strategies and passing off the old for the new, however, it is a risky activity. The universe of superheroes is wide and versatile enough to be exploited with different tones, styles and proposals, and not merged (the last example: ‘Ms Marvel‘, with a point of view unpublished until now in Marvel). The recycling of old franchises is more of a one-trick horse: ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ is a first notice. And we will see more.

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The failure of ‘Lightyear’ points to a problem for the industry much bigger than the crisis of Pixar