Could this be the worst summer of movies in recent history? Although critics ask the same question almost every year, audiences seem to registering their own relative dismay: Box office revenue for Memorial Day was the lowest in 17 years, and big budget offerings Shrek Forever After, Robin Hood, Prince of Persia and Sex and the City 2 have all underperformed. What's behind the attendance drop-off? (Watch a mashup of clips from trailers from the summer's big-budget films)

1.Too many sequels
"Every year it's the same and every year it's worse than ever," sighs A.O. Scott at The New York Times. Almost every movie coming out this summer has "those darn numerals trailing after them" — Iron Man 2, Shrek 4, Sex and the City 2, and Toy Story 3, to name just a few. As usual, the sequels amount to little but "elaborately flimsy tales" designed to pack audiences in rather than to tell a story. Maybe audiences are finally rebelling.

2. Too little originality
It's not just sequels, says Gary Susman at Too many of the other offerings have been "spinoffs" (Get Him To The Greek), "movies based on other properties" (such as MacGruber, an elaboration of an SNL skit, or Marmaduke, based on a comic strip); or "familiar stories retold" like Robin Hood, The A-Team and The Karate Kid. Audiences now demand "freshness, creativity and cleverness," as underlined by the success of Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon

3. Marked-up ticket prices
"Ticket prices are going up," reports James Eppler at Fox 34. According to the National Association of Theater Owners, ticket prices are 8 percent more expensive than they were last June. That's the biggest year-to-year increase since 2001 — and in the middle of a recession, too. So not only are the movies inferior, "you're paying more for them." Who can "blame audiences for staying home?"

4. Fewer movies to choose from
Average attendance figures may be down because there are fewer options on offer, notes Scott Bowles at USA Today. Roughly 50 fewer big-studio films are being released this year, "thanks to a weak economy and the Writers Guild strike of 2008."

5. It's a perception issue
When nearly every movie this summer has failed to meet analysts' expectations, says Richard Corliss in Time, perhaps analysts are being "overly optimistic." This is a recession, after all. "It's a bear market, and the savants keep seeing bulls." I predict those "manic-depressive" experts will start scaling their projections back "in the next few weeks." Prepare for films that have — surprise — "over-performed."