STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Labor Day marked the unofficial end of summer, and Hollywood may be happy to see it go. It was a lousy summer at the box office - the worst in eight years. That's the case despite a few hits like Marvel and Disney's "Guardians Of The Galaxy." We asked Kim Masters what went wrong. She is editor-at-large for The Hollywood Reporter.
KIM MASTERS: There are many theories about what's gone wrong at the box office. Some people are hopeful that this is a cyclical business, that 2015 will have a whole other raft of comic book movies and sequels and those will be very strong. And some people are concerned that at least here in the U.S., maybe people are getting a teeny bit tired of superhero movies. And the exhibit A would be the "Spider-Man" movie which did not perform - you know, it performed reasonably well if you just look at the gross. But when you look at how much it cost and that kind of thing, it was considered a disappointment.
INSKEEP: Are people in the movie business worried about people just spending more time at home in front of their various screens?
MASTERS: That's a central question, Steve. Are they distracted by other things in a way that's really setting in, or is this a blip and next year will be better?
INSKEEP: Now, with that said, there were some movies that were big hits.
MASTERS: Absolutely. "Guardians Of The Galaxy" was a gigantic hit. This was a move by Marvel, which has brought you the "Iron Man" movies and "The Avengers," and been hugely successful. This was little bit of a step away from their wheelhouse, people say more space opera than a pure comic book movie. And let's listen to a little sound. This is Chris Pratt in "Guardians Of The Galaxy."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY")
DJIMON HOUNSOU: (As Korath) Drop your weapon, now.
CHRIS PRATT: (As Peter Quill) Yeah. Hey, cool, man. No problem, no problem at all.
HOUNSOU: (As Korath) Who are you?
PRATT: (As Peter Quill) Star-Lord.
HOUNSOU: (As Korath) Who?
PRATT: (As Peter Quill) I'm Star-Lord, man. Legendary outlaw?
MASTERS: You know what? The thing that Marvel does so well is it makes it seem a little bit funny and a little bit fresh. And people flocked to that movie - number one movie not only of the summer, but the year.
INSKEEP: Now, we mention the domestic market is down. What about the international market?
MASTERS: The international market - it's a little bit too early to kind of tally the final thing. But what's interesting is what you have is a situation where the studios really are chasing those foreign markets, particularly China. China is the studios' dream. And you'll see that even though "Guardians Of The Galaxy" was number one here, "Transformers: Age Of Extinction" was huge in China - $300 million plus. Now, Paramount, unfortunately - and this is the dilemma for the American studios - they get a lot less of that money from China than they would be getting from the U.S. market or even a lot of other foreign markets. But they're playing a longer game here - they want to get into China. It's not easy, but they want to get into China.
INSKEEP: I know you've also been paying attention to some of the big film festivals - the Venice film Festival, for example. What are you learning there?
MASTERS: Yeah, we have Telluride, Toronto and New York coming up. And this is where the awards movies start to roll out. There's one that people have their sites on; it's called "Imitation Game." It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the Enigma code-breaker Alan Turing, "Wild," which was the Cheryl Strayed book. Reese Witherspoon is starring in that one about a woman who hikes alone to find herself, and I'll mention "Boyhood." And that was a darling actually of this summer and an Oscar contender. I'll play you a little clip with Ethan Hawke and a young man named Ellar Coltrane and the director, Richard Linklater's daughter, Lorelei.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOYHOOD")
ELLAR COLTRANE: (As Mason Jr. ) Dad, these questions are kind of hard to answer.
ETHAN HAWKE: (As Mason Sr.) What is so hard to answer about what sculpture are you making?
COLTRANE: (As Mason Jr.) It's abstract.
HAWKE: (As Mason Sr.) OK, OK, that's good, see? That's - I didn't know that. I didn't know you were even interested in abstract art.
COLTRANE: (As Mason Jr.) I'm not. They make us do it.
LORELEI LINKLATER: (As Samantha) But dad, I mean, why is it all on us, though? You know, what about you? How was your week? You know, who do you hang out with? Do you have a girlfriend? What have you been up to?
INSKEEP: (Laughter) I've been in that conversation in the car.
INSKEEP: I'll just mention it.
MASTERS: There's the appeal of "Boyhood."
INSKEEP: What's appealing for the holidays coming up?
MASTERS: Well, in terms of big commercial films, there's Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar." You know, he's "The Dark Knight" director who also did "Inception." There is "Annie" with Quvenzhane Wallis, who you might remember from "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" and Jamie Foxx, and let's take a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANNIE")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Annie's never going to find her family. None of us are.
QUVENZHANE WALLIS: (As Annie) We all have family somewhere.
ROSE BYRNE: (As Grace) Just because you can run from it doesn't mean that you should.
JAMIE FOXX: (As Benjamin Stacks) This city needs me.
BYRNE: (As Grace) All right, take it easy, Batman.
INSKEEP: So does anybody in Hollywood think these movies are the ones that might turn around the hard knocks the industry has suffered lately?
MASTERS: Obviously, they are hoping they will. And they are very much looking to the summer of 2015 with their fingers crossed.
INSKEEP: Kim, good to talk with you.
MASTERS: Nice talking you, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's Kim Masters, host of KCRW's The Business. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.