The Depressing Nature of the Summer Hype Cycle

June 26, 2012 — 18 Comments

The modern movie age has become a cycle of hype more than an appreciation for film itself. I chalk it up to the mainstreaming of the nerd class and the ubiquity of the Internet. Film culture online is rarely about the films themselves, but the industry and hype surrounding them. I fall prey to it, as well. It disturbs me, though. For about half the year, all anybody cares about is how the films of the Summer will stack up. Once that’s over it’s just a big race to see which films get the most acclaim and awards. If any of these two seasons is better, it’s the awards one, mostly because the good films tend to stick around in the consciousness more, giving them more time to find an audience. The Summer season is altogether a different story. Almost the opposite, really. Months—sometimes years—of hype lead up to one short weekend, the discussion explodes for roughly a week, petering off through the next week, and nearly disappearing after that.

Take a look at this summer, for example, which arguably began early in the Spring with the release of The Hunger Games. In fact, we can start even earlier, with John Carter. Pretty much since that film’s release, the two or three-week cycle has played out like clockwork. It’s partly a sign of a year with many big releases, but it’s also an illustration of how Internet culture works. There are several stages, but essentially they come down to: The Hype, The Pre-Release Buzz, Release, Taking Sides.

So let’s look at John Carter. Remember that film? Years in development, a title change, wild reports of a ballooning budget and a director out of control. A marketing department that seemed to live to bury the film. Many, many months of online hype and debate over a film that hadn’t been released, based on a book series most people hadn’t heard of and a general public that had little-to-no knowledge of the movie at all. Then the early word started coming in. The first reviews were published online around March 1st and 2nd, with a generally mixed-to-positive reaction, and a few outright negative comments. Discussion of the buzz started to infect Twitter. More and more reviews came out. The early mixed buzz was ballooning, not unlike the budget of the film itself. Finally, the film was released on the 9th of March. Twitter and the blogosphere practically exploded, everyone trying to spell out their thoughts on the film. And very quickly it became a game of people taking sides. Terrible mess of a film, or flawed-but-grand sci-fi epic. Those were the sides. They argued intensely for about a week, and then the discussion began to die down. Why? Well, people had to make room in their Twitter feeds for The Hunger Games.

The same thing happened. Early reviews came out, pretty unanimously positive, some even effusive in praise, comparing the film to great works of popular science fiction. Talk started to heat up. The movie was released on the 23rd of March. The flurry of internet talk threatened to break servers across the globe. Then people started taking sides. Fantastic first entry in a great sci-fi series, or lazily written and directed film deserving of scorn? This, of course, relates not to the general public’s take on the film, or the box office necessarily, but the need for the Internet community of geeks to justify all those months of hype with a binary reaction of “thumbs up or down?”

But, of course, the hype cycle can really only last for so long, about three weeks in the case of The Hunger Games. Another movie would have to come out and take over all Internet discussion. Enter: The Cabin in the Woods. Once again, hype for years on a project that was sitting, finished and in the can just waiting to be released. Highly positive early reviews to stoke the fire. Released on April 13th. Again, explosion of discussion on Twitter and blogs. Then people taking sides. Brilliant satire of horror genre conventions, or unsuccessful horror movie masking lack of thrill with poor humour. Granted, this movie was practically created for Internet nerds, so the positive reaction had much greater support.

The Cabin in the Woods nerd-wank lasted almost three weeks as well, and then another Joss Whedon film came out. The Avengers was literally four years of hype, since the end credits scene in Iron Man. People were going nuts just to see if Marvel and Whedon could pull it together. Early word from press screenings and overseas releases started the ball rolling. May 4th was Judgement Day. After that the sides took shape. Blisteringly fun superhero romp, or oddly inconsequential actioner?

The Avengers had May all to itself, and so its cycle lasted longer than normal. Technically, about five weeks. But really, it was shorter than that. The hype cycle died down a bit more slowly than normal, but by the three-week marker, people were already having more general discussions about The Dictator, the failure of Battleship, and the indie charm of Moonrise Kingdom. Even though there was no flashpoint film to take over the hype cycle, the ADD nature of Internet talk could really only last for so long.

It all kicked back into high gear with Prometheus. Insane buzz, with seemingly millions of trailers and viral marketing clips, and uninformed talk of it being a new masterpiece in the making. The hype reached fever pitch, early word started coming out that was fairly mixed. The movie was released on June 8th and the Internet practically had a heart attack. Taking sides in this case was extreme. Visually impressive film with a disastrous script by a hack writer, or visually impressive film emboldened by a great story with ambitious ideas? For a solid week there it seemed like Prometheus was the most important film ever made.

Cut to: two weeks later, June 22nd, Pixar’s Brave is released, the hype cycle is in full effect, people are still in the midst of it, trying to figure out, is it a new Pixar classic, or a sad sign of a once-great studio in decline?

Prometheus only came a little over two weeks ago and already it feels like a lifetime. That’s how the hype cycle works. Tons of anticipation, an explosion of talk and side-taking, and then the life of the cycle dies. Prometheus feels like ages ago. The Avengers feels like a movie from my childhood. The Hunger Games and John Carter? I can’t even believe they came out this century. And it’s not over. Brave‘s cycle will die faster than normal to make way for The Amazing Spider-Man, and then we’ll get to the juggernaut, The Dark Knight Rises. The sad part is that lost in all of this is a true examination of these films as works of art. It’s not about trying to understand them or work through them, but to categorize them and decide whether they’re simply good or bad and what side to take. It’s all reaction and backlash and backlash-to-the-backlash. We aren’t letting the films sit and gestate. We hype them up, consume them, debate them and move on to the next film, rinse, repeat. We have become too enamoured by hype and expectations surrounding these films. If only we could find a way to break that cycle.


18 responses to The Depressing Nature of the Summer Hype Cycle


    Totally agree: this year-round cycle of hype/backlash makes it exhausting to follow the film world, with Twitter and news sites exacerbating the problem (even as they make our lives easier in other ways). I love discussing movies or reading others’ opinions, but sometimes it just feels like an ocean of hyperbolic chatter.

    One culprit, I think, is our collective “first!” obsession. A lot of moviegoers have this rabid desire to get their thoughts out there on opening weekend, or earlier if possible, so all argument gets front-loaded; by the time a few weeks or months have passed and there’s any chance of real perspective, no one wants to talk about it. And the cycle continues.


      You’re right. It’s exhausting. And I think you’re onto something with the “first!” obsession. I mean, I’m a part of that, though not necessarily with the level of hyperbole I see in others. I tend to see a lot of movies either opening weekend or even at early screenings. I get excited by new movies and so I naturally want to see them right away. Not even necessarily out of hype, but just cause it’s fun to see things as early as possible. But then what happens is you see it and formulate an opinion as quickly as possible so as to broadcast it on a blog or a forum or on Twitter. And you broadcast it loudly and definitively and that causes arguments and simplistic debates and the whole thing happens so big and so fast that it quickly becomes tiring. I was tired of talking about Prometheus within about 3 days. Like you said, it’s exhausting.

      The Awards season can be a bit similar, though held over a longer period of time, but at least at that time there’s also an element of championing. I saw A Separation at TIFF and kept trying to get people to see it for months. Same with Take Shelter and Margaret and The Skin I Live In. Hell, I even found myself a champion of War Horse due to the generally dismissive reaction it was getting, and that was a friggin Spielberg film. At that time of year, the movies are less about the marketing hype surrounding them, but the effort to get them recognized. Sure, they get that recognition in a literal way through pretty meaningless awards, but also by having people watch them. I adored War Horse, and I’ve gotten people to check it out who didn’t originally want to. Most at least liked it on some level, and a couple actually ended up loving it almost as much as me. That’s fun. The Summer season is no longer fun in that way. It just feels like a chore.

      All that being said, I’m fucking pumped for The Dark Knight Rises (already got my midnight IMAX tickets) and I’m ready to ride that hype train like there’s no tomorrow. I can’t help myself, I suppose.


    Excellent piece. As stated here, the constant jockeying for positions on films is one of the reasons I’ve hit the wall this year, which it comes to films and the industry. I almost hit it last summer, with the constant influx of Marvel products but this summer finally turned me off. Not so much by the films but everything around them.

    Tuning it out is hard, especially when you want to have a real conversation about any of the films.

    But, blogs like this one and Scott Mendelson’s have suddenly become a safe haven because actual, real conversations about the films and their merits seem to be the only taking place here.


      Thanks so much for the compliment, as well as mentioning me in the same breath as Scott Mendelson. I get caught up in the hype and exhaustion as much as anybody else, but I still find both cinema and the film industry fascinating. I try to find a balance between being topical and finding ways to make discussions a bit more broad. Good to know that comes across.


    The best advice I’ve heard for breaking this cycle comes from Kevin Murphy, who is best known as the voice/puppeteer behind Tom Servo on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In essence, he said we should stop going to opening weekend. When everyone goes bonkers on opening weekend, the lesson is learned–this is what people want. They want huge hype, and after a week or two, your money is made and move on to the next film.

    Nothing is given the time to release slowly anymore. Look, for example at A Fish Called Wanda. That film was released in July, 1988. It reached #1 in September. We’ll never see that sort of slow buzz again because any action you or I take will be overwhelmed in the crush of people running out to opening night. And, the people who tend to care about it the most (like movie bloggers and fans) are the ones most likely to keep going opening weekend.


      That’s so true. I wish I could manage that. Unfortunately I find myself too caught up on wanting to be in on the conversation, even if I often find the conversation dull. Plus, there are some cases where I really just can’t wait. If I could watch The Dark Knight Rises or Les Miserables right now, I’d drop everything and do that.


    I hadn’t really thought of it that way but you’re totally right. Summer movies ride a fine line of maximizing the potential audience but releasing during a crowded schedule of other movies. I really thought the Avengers train would still be chugging along and didn’t expect it to slow down until TDKR released but I don’t even see commercials for it anymore. I saw Cabin in the Woods opening week and I think it was out of theaters the next week (or at least it seemed that way).


      I know, right? After about two weeks it already feels like the movie’s been long gone from theatres and everyone has already seen it. Kind of crazy, especially in a pretty loaded summer like this one.


    And this is why I hate hype. The actual quality and craft of the film easily gets lost in the consumeristic drive of whether or not it fulfilled marketed anticipation, quickly shuffled away as the next hype train rolls into the station.

    Sometimes hype just kills a film for me. I was ready to see Prometheus, but all the hype around it just made me not want to see it, to wait until all the screaming voices were gone and I could just watch the thing without having a billion voices distracting me. I’m waiting for home video at this point.


      The only reason I’d implore you to see Prometheus in a theatre is for a big screen 3D experience. Find the biggest screen you can in 3D and even if the story falls flat for you, the visuals will be there in all their glory. Other than that, though, I do agree with the sentiment that in some ways waiting for home video, months later, and just kind of watching the movie on your own terms is probably the best mindset with which to consume a film. I’m just too into the big screen experience with a good audience.


    After reading this, I’m ready to boycott! I don’t know what, but something!

    But you’re right. It’s kind of bullshit. I couldn’t believe the hyperbole I was hearing right after Prometheus released. I read some people calling it the worst thing ever made, etc. I mean, it has a lot of problems, but give me a break.

    I don’t have a lot of money at the moment, so I can’t see every new release when it comes out. I have to rely on Blockbuster, Redbox, and the dollar theater to see most stuff. It sucks to not be able to read reviews or join in on the immediate conversations, and sometimes it feels like I shouldn’t bother to discuss something after a certain amount of time has passed. Sucks for me, I guess.


      Haha, glad I could stir you into a fury. What gets me is that I still go along with it. Even knowing it and seeing that it’s bad. It makes me feel like an awful person.


        Well, it’s fun to be part of the conversation for whatever’s hot at the moment, but real criticism/appreciation can only come about after having time to, you know, think about things.

        This kind of cycle is even worse in the video game industry. If you say you’re playing a game that came out a month ago, you’ll get a lot of crap like “late to the party,” “that was sooo last month,” etc.


    Great article. Ironically the song that I was playing was a Foo Fighters song as a I read, with the lyrics blasting “Done… done… on to the next one”

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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    […] Summer Hype Cycle is quickly shifting over from The Amazing Spider-Man to the true juggernaut of July, Christopher […]

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