How painful was this summer for Hollywood?

Guardians of the Galaxy tops summer 2014 box office

Guardians of the Galaxy tops summer 2014 box office

With weak performances at the US box office over the course of the this summer, it’s not a surprise that the final box office total gross from May to August is only $4.1 billion. That is 15% down from summer 2013 ($4.75 billion) and the lowest total since 2006 ($3.37 billion). And if we adjust for higher ticket prices and estimate the number of tickets sold, we end up with the weakest summer since 1992, when we had 400 million admissions compared to this summer’s 500 million.

These grim figures have sent pundits scratching their heads this week, trying to figure out what went wrong, and some reaching  foreboding conclusions, predicting the end of the Hollywood as we know it and suggesting that kids are so preoccupied with video games and social networking in the comfort of their bedrooms that they have neither the time nor the energy to make the journey to cinema theatres. These gloomy predictions sound like a plot from a dark Hollywood movie, but do they match reality?

Numbers don’t lie, but let’s not forget that unlike last summer, when we witnessed the slaughter of gigantic blockbusters, such as White House Down, After Earth, Pacific Rim and The Lone Ranger, this summer was relatively bloodless. Bruised and wounded from last summer’s calamities, Hollywood studios have tightened their belts, eschewed originals and deluged the market with it box-office safe sequels. The strategy has paid off. There wasn’t one single tentpole flop this summer and all the sequels, except Expendables 3, which was a victim of piracy, made a profit. So where is the problem?

For a start, for the first time since 2001, none of these sequels grossed more than $300 million in the box office. Perhaps there is indeed a sequel fatigue, because audience flocked in droves to see an original blockbuster, The Guardian of The Galaxy, which topped the box office with $253 million and is predicted to pass the $300 million mark. Hence, it’s reasonable to suggest that had Pixar released its new originals, Inside Out or The Good Dinosaur, this summer, the box office would’ve fared better.

In fact, this summer didn’t offer any of Hollywood’s mega-franchises, with several studios pushing the release of their flagship movies to next year, such as Fast and the Furious 6, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic Park reboot and Fantastic Four. With titles like these, the box office is sure to rock and roll.

Of course, there could be other factors that kept the audiences away from theatres this summer. With football becoming popular in the US, millions of Americans were glued to their TV watching the World Cup in late June and early July, the hottest summer time for Hollywood movies. Furthermore, wars in the Middle East and Ukraine may also distracted moviegoers with the daily supplies of gruesome images that movies don’t dare show.

But the most pressing question is: Is the US box office still relevant with nearly 75% of the global box office intake coming from the international market? In fact, Hollywood is so reliant on overseas markets that it invest more in selling its movies there than in the US. Hence, a 15% fall in total gross is a small drop in a big ocean. With production cost down and expanding international market, Hollywood continues to be a profitable enterprise.

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Is Hollywood to blame for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose?

The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman from a drug overdose has shocked Hollywood and the world. Considered one of the finest actors of his generation, the Oscar winner was loved by his peers and revered by his fans. In his 20-year illustrious career, he performed in nearly 50 films, in addition to theatre plays and TV shows. Yet, in spite of a perpetual presence on the screen and his international fame, he was rarely featured in celebrity or gossip magazines. He eschewed the party circuit and shunned celebrity culture, dedicating his life to his craft and art and delivering some of the most compelling performances on screen and stage in the last two decades.

The troubling question is: How could such a noble artist fall for such an ignoble habit? And is there a merit for the accusations that Hollywood glorifies drugs and does nothing to discourage its stars from abusing it?

The truth is that Hoffman began abusing illicit drugs and alcohol in his early twenties when he graduated from Ticsh Drama School in New York in 1989, as he admitted at an interview with CBS’s 60 minutes show in 2006, saying that “I consumed everything I could lay my hands on. I loved it all.”

Hoffman was able to defeat his addiction and be sober for 23 years until May 2013, when he checked in for rehab. But it seems that was in vain. Unfortunately, he was unable to vanquish the hideous habit. While investigating his death, the police search unveiled 50 bags of Heroin.

Indeed, a number of stars lost their lives to drug overdoses such as Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Heath Ledger, and some went into rehab for drug addiction such as the infamous Lindsay Lohan, Zac Efron, Charlie Sheen, and others are still defiantly consuming drugs such as Justin Bieber, who was found intoxicated when he was recently arrested for driving under the influence.

Nonetheless, we shouldn’t forget that the news of a star’s death makes headlines around the world and evokes widespread emotional reactions on social networks and internet forums, while the daily passing of hundreds of regular addicts goes unnoticed. The fact is that the illicit drug-induced deaths are a tiny minority in Hollywood, and the dominant cause is actually the abuse of legally-prescribed drugs, as was the case in the deaths of the aforementioned stars.

Whitney Houston ingested a cocktail of cocaine and prescription drugs before her final breath. Most notably, the toxicology report revealed that 12 bottles of different prescription drugs, including anti-anxiety medication Xanax and the muscle relaxant Flexeril, were littered across her hotel room.

Heath Ledger gulped a mix of different sleeping pills before he sank into his last sleep, never to wake up again. While a higher dose of sedative drug, administered by a doctor, brought the end of Michael Jackson. Even Hoffman had blamed his latest bout of addiction to a misuse of prescription drugs.

Drug addiction is not merely a Hollywood problem but an American epidemic. And the source of the epidemic is not the consumption of illicit drugs like crack cocaine and ecstasy that were prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s but the prescribed ones that are easily obtainable and are used for non medical reasons. According to a report from the centre for Disease Control and Prevention, overdoses from prescription drug medication kills up to 15,000 addicts every year, more than the toll from cocaine and heroin combined. The number of infants born addicted to prescription drugs every year has also tripled in the past 10 years, to approximately 13,500, according to a report in the Journal of Medical Association.

In spite of these perplexing figures, American TV channels continue to broadcast commercials promoting medical drugs as if they were food products. Anyone could obtain these drugs simply by paying a visit to their doctor. Hence, it’s the pharmaceutical companies which are to blame for promoting these drugs and making them easily accessible, not Hollywood or its movies, as some have suggested.

Hollywood is one of layers of American society’s fabric. Whatever inflicts the American society is bound to affect Hollywood and vice versa. Recent studies show that, in 2010, one in every twenty Americans consumes prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. By and large, these drugs are potent painkillers that elicit euphoric effect, such as Hydrocodone, Methadone, and Oxymorphone. These drugs are addictive and could be fatal if taken without a doctor’s supervision.

Likewise, most of the drug users in Hollywood are predominantly young stars, who resort to drugs in order to fill the resulting void after achieving a quick fame and fortune. The majority check in for rehab and heal. But those who succumb to these poisonous substances, are jettisoned by Hollywood. They lose their career and their dreams, and often their lives.