Know what I like about watching Major League Baseball maybe even more than the games themselves? The infinite statistics that can be generated by year, player, team, position, age, batting average, height, weather – it just goes on and on and on. Just when you think there can’t possibly be a way to break down a play into a statistic, someone like Vin Scully, with his lovely, sonorous voice informs us that so-and-so is the “youngest player to bunt the ball with a man on second base on a sunny day, in Houston, while having just also been married recently and broken his nose at a playoff game two weeks ago. While standing on one leg.” Baseball (and all major league sports, honestly) are like turducken – a statistic stuffed in a season wrapped in a game, with an inning drizzled on top for good measure.
The movie business is much the same. Box office statistics can be broken down in an almost infinite number of ways. Worldwide gross, opening weekend, number of theaters, male actors over 60, action movies, action movies with Tom Cruise, action movies with Chris Tucker, action movies under X budget, action movies over X budget – it’s rather fascinating, honestly.
Here are some statistics for you:
- A list of the 2011 grosses. Interesting note: On Stranger Tides comes in at the number three top grossing film of the year but is also listed as one of the top ten worst films of the year. Go figure. No, actually don’t. You’ll just get annoyed and confused.
Here’s a statistic that I don’t think anyone in Hollywood is having too much fun examining:
Why is this? What pattern can we find here? Well, opinions vary from ideas that audiences are more comfortable and satisfied in the privacy of their own homes watching a film on their home entertainment systems to that audiences simply can’t stand the rude, discourteous viewers around them coughing, texting and talking, to, according to Roger Ebert, that studios just aren’t making movies that audiences want to see. This is not a novel thought. But I believe Ebert to be correct.
In fact, I am not alone in observing that the number of truly good (not even great) films that Hollywood produces has dropped precipitously in favor of 3D/sequel/comicbook/superhero/board game dross. And why is this? Well, as the old axiom goes, “If anyone in Hollywood knew what made a hit – every movie would be a hit.” Nobody knows nothing.
The other evening, I was delighted to join a dear friend over cocktails to discuss exactly what is going on. My friend, let’s call her Ruby, works at The Cimmaron Entertainment Group. Her job is to not only analyze box office results but to do exhaustive research on what audiences want and why. Though Cimmaron is a top drawer company with a slew of experts in marketing research, SEO and branding, they have thrown their all into as many box office winners as box office losers. Ruby recently wrote an article with a co-worker that will be appearing in Deadline Hollywood next week about just why the box office is slipping so consistently.
Discourteous audiences, access to home theaters and online streaming via a plethora of devices, convenience, ticket prices and concession gouging all came up. But according to the soon to be published article, the overarching reason is s a t u r a t i o n. Movies are coming out too quickly, with too much sameness to them, with too much marketing.
Audiences, it would seem, are becoming overwhelmed if not numbed by the sheer tidal wave of video game spinoffs, merchandise, sequels, prequels, apps, keychains and Big Gulps associated with a new film. It’s all becoming a blur, in other words. Movies are no longer anything special. Why make a big deal out of seeing MI:4 if you can just buy the app and amuse yourself with that for awhile?(Admission: it is pretty amusing). The Green Lantern the Batman XXVII, the Superbowl, the Emmys, the Grammy’s, the American Music Video Movie Short Film Nickelodeon Indy Whatever Awards. Overexposure has left us gasping among a sea of merchandise, branding and excess.
If you are of a certain age, you remember the time when movies were real events. When I was a kid The Wizard of Oz, Frosty the Snowman, Oliver, A Charlie Brown Christmas – these were movies that were on once a year. You couldn’t miss the movie. It was a very big deal. My two college age kids, however, grew up watching movies over and over again, on demand. They are intimately familiar with details that I am not. But they also do not value their old favorites the way I continue to. It’s hard to be sentimental about the Rugrats Movie when you’ve seen it 28 times and half of those times you were dribbling your sippy cup on the carpet and sticking raisins up your nose. Pause. Go potty. Back again. Where were we? Who cares.
I am actually happy about the sobering 2011 box office statistic. Because it means that maybe – just maybe – Hollywood is finally going to get off the fear train and go back to making movies that matter, not movies that might do well if audiences who are also fans of the Prince of Persia video game also buy the Prince of Persia Lego set and subsequently visit sponsor LegoLand.
I have oft decried the state of movie releases today. 21 Jump Street? Really?! For me, this current state of affairs is particularly offensive because I work with hundreds of writers who have written compelling, original and visionary scripts of every genre. And yet doors are very hard to open for these writers. In other words, it’s not that there aren’t totally unique, meaningful, entertaining scripts out there – they arrive in Hollywood by the truckload each day. No, they just don’t get made.For me, the inclusion of established writers like Quentin Tarantino on the Black List make the Black List suddenly and completely useless as an avenue for new writers to gain attention.
Does Hollywood make movies that audiences indicate they want to see? Or do audiences watch what they are given? In Ebert’s article, he writes:
“The myth that small-town moviegoers don’t like “art movies” is undercut by Netflix’s viewing results; the third most popular movie on Dec. 28 on Netflix was “Certified Copy,” by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. You’ve heard of him? In fourth place–French director Alain Corneau’s “Love Crime.” In fifth, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”–but the subtitled Swedish version.”
The economic collapse, as awful as it is, has also given us new perspective and certainly new hope. New, green blades are sprouting in the charred fields. It’s as if the flame of collapse has burnt away all excess, foolishness and vanity. We must put our energy toward what is truly important to ourselves and our families and friends.
So it is with the movie business. This recent box office statistic is a slap across the face to Hollywood and a whole lot of smelling salts to boot. On Stranger Tides indeed. Not only has online streaming completely changed the face of theatrical distribution, we come back, once again to the clarion call and the most fundamental of truths: we deserve better movies. No, we need better movies.
It is my opinion that the future of (good) film lies in independent film. Which can take more chances and try new writers, new actors and new material. Which isn’t weighted with fear and a 90 million dollar budget and tired celebrities we’ve seen in three films this year already.
Come on, Hollywood. We can do better. How about giving new writers a crack at it? How about taking some chances? Surely, it seems as if we can afford to take a gamble at this point?