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Comedy Decline Not Very Funny

The movie industry is having trouble. Many franchises are struggling, movie-going is flat, and the awards ceremonies have become nothing short of political theater resulting in ever-falling ratings. But global sales in certain instances are shattering records, and so the money keeps on flowing for studios that seem to have more misses than they do hits. And while blockbuster hero movies continue to play well, things aren't so super for the traditional comedy.

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Last year's "Girls Trip" was the highest grossing comedy at a paltry $117 million in both the U.S. and Canada. The film still made money, but it is important to note that the last time a top comedy grossed so little was back in 1995 when tickets cost about half as much as they do now. But was this just a bad year?  Nope. The last several years have seen the average comedy drop to an average of about $85 million in 2017. Things do look rather grim. What's going on?

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In short, content is now everywhere, and content that isn't very good stands little chance of succeeding in this day and age. I have lamented the declining quality of films for many years in this column, citing poor writing, poor acting, and largely formulaic story lines as just a few of the problems. But with Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and so many others joining the bevvy of options for consumers, the competition is fierce.  With falling revenues, budgets have been slashed for comedies in particular with most now costing well under $50 million to make. And product quality, while largely subjective in nature, does seem to be at a nadir.

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Generally speaking, Hollywood is showing signs of weakness with many well-known movie franchises also struggling. Talent seems to be very thin at every level of the industry and there is far too much content on the market. Consumers have many choices these days, and most movies have failed to deliver for quite some time now. Comedies are just the latest area to lag, but hopes that "Crazy Rich Asians" will emerge later this year as a $100 million threshold-breaker. True. But judging from the title, I wouldn't bet on that.

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