The Decade’s Worst Summer Box Office Could Have Exclusion to Blame

Hollywood has some explaining to do.
By  · Published on September 19th, 2017

Hollywood has some explaining to do.

Earlier this month Variety posted a report on this year’s worst summer box office since 2006.  There could be many factors at play for this, including people choosing to stream movies instead of pay to see them in theaters. Franchise fatigue could be a real epidemic. One thing that hasn’t been considered until GLAAD posted their study on the summer movie season is that films released between June 1 and September 1 were nearly void of any LGBT characters. Only two films passed GLAAD’s own Vito Russo Test (similar to the Bechdel Test for queer characters): Rough Night and Do It Like an Hombre.

Sony’s raunchy comedy features Ilana Glazer and Zoë Kravitz’s characters reuniting since breaking up in college. I originally couldn’t see the depth of Rough Night before it was released, because the queer characters were never used in marketing. The film could have benefited from marketing on that fact because it could have shown there is more at work in the movie than just dirty jokes and a great ensemble cast. GLAAD praises the film in its report: “Rough Night demonstrated that humor and inclusion can co-exist without playing into the outdated and harmful stereotypes that so many comedy films continue to rely on.”

GLAAD’s study only focuses on the major studio releases of summer, instead of including independent films as well. This isn’t an entirely inaccurate look at the industry, though. Independent movies tend to have a better track record than studio films when it comes LGBT inclusion, but they still don’t have the power that major studio films do in the industry. Films released by studios reach more theaters across the country than indies. If the movies that dominate theaters don’t include characters that reflect a portion of potential audiences then that could be a reason people are not showing up in theaters.

There may be some apprehension towards queer stories because studios are afraid that they don’t appeal to everyone, but obviously, the films that they think are safe bets have flopped all summer long. The backlash against Josh Gad’s gay character in the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast may have gotten significant media coverage, but it certainly didn’t prevent it from making $1.263 billion at the box office. Even with conservative audiences holding out on films because of queer characters, the films can still be successful.

GLAAD suggests that studios take note of how well queer films have done in the past year: “If Hollywood wants to remain relevant and win those viewers back to the box office, they need to begin producing new stories, with diverse and complex characters that audiences can identify with. The critical and financial success of films like the Oscar-winning Moonlight, Get Out, The Handmaiden, Hidden Figures, and The Imitation Game (which was the highest-grossing indie film of the year it was released) should prove that outdated formulas and assumptions about what type of characters an audience will welcome are worth breaking.” If studios are going to take a bet on anything it should be for stories that accurately reflect those in the audience that have been overlooked by Hollywood for so long.

There’s not a viable excuse to exclude queer characters from summer releases. While Wonder Woman didn’t include any queer characters, comic books are chock full of queer material to work with instead of perhaps yet another rendition of Spider-man. There is certainly a demand for queer characters in superhero movies, as well. If television has found a way to represent the LGBT community without losing audiences then Hollywood can, too.

This report also comes at the brink of Oscar season, which has celebrated LGBT representation in the past. While it is certainly important to award outstanding films that include queer characters at the Oscars, that progressive diversity can only mean change if it extends to films released year round. LGBT audiences don’t just want the attention on queer stories when an Oscar is in view; they need them in the summer as well. Making sure there are more than two films released in the summer that include queer characters is the only way Hollywood can catch up to the progressiveness of television and streaming services.

You can read the full GLAAD summer studio release report here and their other studies of LGBT representation here.

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Emily Kubincanek is a Senior Contributor for Film School Rejects and resident classic Hollywood fan. When she's not writing about old films, she works as a librarian and film archivist. You can find her tweeting about Cary Grant and hockey here: @emilykub_