It's not only the tragic passing of Robin Williams that has leached the humor out of Hollywood recently. Like many of the celebrated actor's late-career moves, the big-time film industry has been stepping away from comedy.
It wasn't so long ago that comedies were an important staple of any major studio's release diet. No more. These days, moviegoers would be hard-pressed to find one at their local multiplex.
Of 2013's top 10 grossing movies, none was a pure comedy, according to boxofficemojo.com. According to data compiled by the Nomura Research Institute, 2014 is set to witness the lowest level of major-studio comedies in at least five years.
For 21st Century Fox's (FOXA) near-eponymous 20th Century Fox, comedies are anticipated to make up 8 percent of 2014 releases. That compares unfavorably to 27 percent in 2012 and 2013 and particularly to the 40-plus percent figures of 2010 and 2011.
Disney (DIS), although it's more inclined toward animated fare and other genres, typically throws a comedy or several into its schedule. But this year it isn't planning on releasing any pure comedies.
Lost In Translation
This decline in the funny is due largely to a shift in the global movie going audience. International markets have become increasingly more important, with non-North American audiences comprising 70 percent of box office take in 2013, according to data compiled by the Motion Picture Association of America.
The $25 billion in ticket sales to those markets last year represented an increase of 33 percent from 2009. Meanwhile, the growth in North American box office across the same stretch was a mere 3 percent.
So international audiences matter more. The problem with comedies is that the humor often comes from the dialogue, even in films that feature heavy doses of sight gags and slapstick. (Think of the many verbal jokes among the physical humor of the 1980 classic "Airplane!" for example.) As a result, Hollywood comedies often don't work as well when dubbed or subtitled.
The Great Wall
Consider the size of the movie-going audience in Asia. China in particular is a white-hot market, with ticket sales rising a powerful 27 percent year-over-year in 2013 to $3.6 billion.
Unfortunately, to boost its domestic film industry, the Chinese government strictly limits Hollywood imports. At the moment, only 34 releases from the major American studios are allowed a year. As a result, they're only shipping over movies that translate easily. The top two American efforts of 2013 -- "Iron Man 3" produced by Disney and "Pacific Rim" from Time Warner's (TWX) Warner Bros. -- were big-budget fantasy action films.
That trend looks set to continue. So far in 2014, Hollywood holds the top box office spot in China. The winning movie? "Transformers: Age of Extinction," another expensive science fiction smash-'em-up, this one from Viacom's (VIA) Paramount.
Although the amount of comedy in the multiplex is dropping precipitously, it's finding a niche in other media. In their respective bids to be key destinations for original programming, both Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon.com (AMZN) have filled their rosters out with several notable comedic efforts.
Netflix revived off-the-wall sitcom "Arrested Development" and is filming season three of "Orange Is the New Black," a dramedy set in a women's prison. And next year, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda will team up to star in a new sitcom, "Grace and Frankie."
Meanwhile, out of the five original series on Amazon's Prime streaming service, two ("Alpha House" and "Betas") are laughers.
Is this the wave of the future? Perhaps the comedy genre is more suited to the intimate confines of a tablet or a TV, rather than the massive screen of the movie theater. After all, on that medium at the moment, there only seems to be room for Transformers and superheroes.
Motley Fool contributor Eric Volkman owns shares of Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Netflix, and Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Netflix, and Disney. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.
9 Brands Made in America for Summertime Fun
Why Hollywood Isn't Funny Anymore - but TV Is
Founded in 2011, Shinola has exemplified the rebound of Detroit. Shinola's employees consist of lifelong locals and craftsmen from as far away as Romania. The manufacturer hold their in high esteem. "Shinola represents America on some level, I believe," President Jacques Panis notes in discussing its bicycles. "It represents the notion that anything is possible."
When you are biking, always remember to be safe by using a helmet. But some children and adults feel they look foolish looking wearing what Bandbox co-founder Dr. Cheryl Allen-Munley calls "a plastic mushroom strapped to my head." Looks aside, the numbers don't lie. According to a 2012 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, cyclist triple their chance of death by head injury without a helmet. Thanks to Bandbox, of Lebanon, New Jersey, riders of all ages can look they way they want while staying safe. Bandbox offer covers for its helmets that can make a rider look like a skater, a '20s era flapper or an equestrian.
Waterproof blankets probably aren't the first item you think of when it comes to summer, but they come in handy for trips to the beach, camping and other outdoor events. "Ever since I was young I have always loved the outdoors, sunshine, nature, and mountains," says Jennifer Lock, founder of Zip-n-go in Hayden, Idaho. "... But [I] never loved the grass, dirt, wet ground, and bugs that came along with it."
Some of the best summer memories get created with family and friends around the grill. Little Rock, Arkansas' Paul James couldn't agree more. That's why he resurrected PK Grills, the brand he loved growing up, which had ceased production in the '70s. Avery Allen, a PK employee of almost nine years, speaks on his love for his own durable PK Grill with a deep fondness. "I'm sure if I don't put mine in the will, my kids will fight for it."
Nothing says summer much more than being in the water. Los Angeles, California's Channel Islands Surfboards (CI) Surfboards has been "dedicated to performance and quality through hard work, innovation and originality" since 1969. Head Al Merrick takes pride in the company's transformation from a grassroots operation to cutting edge with the belief that it will shape the industry with innovative designs and attention to quality.
Simms Fishing of Bozeman, Montana, is the last American wader company around. Employing a team of avid anglers, the company strives to give anglers the best day on the water with waders, bags, socks and other items. The company has a deep commitment to fishing. In fact, Simms encourages "Fishing Fridays" for all their employees to take a half-day to go fishing. Not only is it a great way to start the weekend, it has also led to some of Simms' product breakthroughs. "I think manufacturing in America is still very viable," says K.C. Simms, president of Simms. "I love seeing this move to bring more products back to the United States."
7. American Optical eyewear Since 1826, AO Eyewear has been making eyewear in America. Based in Southbridge, Massachusetts, it has quite a few distinctions, but no accolade gets held higher by the company than the "original pilot sunglasses." That's because in 1957, AO and the U.S. Air Force brought out the original pair of spec for pilots, the FG58 aviator sunglasses. Now, can you imagine "Top Gun" without AO's contributions?
Hopefully your summer will consist of at least some kind of getaway. The Lodge in Springtown, Pennsylvania, specializes in accessories, gear and grooming for men, but its travel section could work for anyone wanting to look stylish when going on vacation this summer. The company has only been around since 2013, but it carries an ideology that can resonate with a large section of Americans. As its website says, "We're folks who love America. We like style. And we like the good things in life." No arguments there.
Launched in 2012 by Jim Ford and Cliff Walker in Franklin, Tennessee, Orca Coolers has been selling skilled American-crafted coolers (and several other products) to avid anglers, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts at competitive prices. Any day out in the sweltering summer sun needs cool drinks and snacks. Even if you aren't an avid outdoorsperson, you can enjoy an Orca at any outdoor event you attend this season. A portion of each purchase goes towards conservation groups, wounded warrior programs, breast cancer research and women's outdoor groups.