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Can ‘Toy Story 4’ Defeat Streaming and Rescue Theaters From a Summer Slump?

It hasn’t been a great start for Hollywood’s summer. After last weekend, the box office haul for 2019’s vacation season was less than 1% above last year’s take at this point, raking in $1.59 billion this month. A big part of that is due to Avengers: Endgame—despite its April release—still earning $350 million. Meanwhile, Dark Phoenix, Men in Black: International, and Godzilla: King of Monsters all underperformed, thanks to bad reviews and a lack of moviegoer enthusiasm.

But now Woody, Buzz, and the gang are here to help, as Toy Story 4 is projected to make $260 million in its opening weekend, according to Deadline. The Pixar sequel already has a 98% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and looks poised to replicate the success of its $1-billion-earning predecessor. And its release will be followed by Spider-Man: Far From Home, which picks up after Endgame, then the highly anticipated all-star Lion King remake and the critic-proof Fast & Furious sequel Hobbs & Shaw with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham.

It’d be shocking if any of those movies underperformed, but even if they’re huge successes, it could still leave many in Tinseltown wary about the future viability of people actually seeing movies in theaters. As The Hollywood Reporter recently explored, this season’s comedies like Booksmart and Late Night failed to deliver financially, in spite of great reviews. Two dozen filmmakers, actors, and producers told the New York Times that streaming especially is killing the audience’s desire to go out and see anything that isn’t an effects-laden blockbuster.

Just look at Adam Sandler’s new Netflix movie, Murder Mystery. In its first weekend, the comedy got over 30 million streams worldwide, which would’ve equaled more than $270 million in theaters had that same number of viewers actually bought tickets to see it. That was in spite of its getting only a 45% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So will Toy Story 4 and other movies that play better on big screens quell Hollywood’s dread over its declining numbers? Yes—but only for a little while. Without a surprise hit, all the biggest movies this summer, including the aforementioned flops, are sequels or remakes, so don’t expect a huge change next year. Even Joe Russo, who directed Endgame with his brother Anthony, lamented to the Times that they had a much tougher time getting support for their next movie, Cherry, a darker drama starring Tom Holland, in spite of the billions they’d made for Disney.

Several high-profile studio executives also noted in the Times piece that they’re thinking more and more about what will work on the big screen. “We have to be even more selective, because if the audience perceives that it’s something similar to what they have seen on a streaming service or a cable service, it may not rise to the level of theatricality for them,” said Nancy Utley, cochairman of Fox Searchlight.

Still, it’s premature to write off the theatergoing experience. So far, theaters are keeping pace with last year’s haul, when Hollywood brought in $11.85 billion. And for all the panic at the box office, 2018’s take was a new record—and one that still could be topped this year.

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