Movies - Box Office postsMonday November 23, 2009
The Lessons of a New Moon
So what lessons can we cull from the $140 million opening-weekend of “New Moon”—the third-highest opening ever, and the highest (by far) for a non-summer film? Hint: It's not about the vampires and werewolves.
The biggest lesson is this: Quit ignoring girls. If you make a movie aimed at the sensibilities of teenage girls as much as “Star Wars” is aimed at the sensibilities of teenage boys, they will flock.
Here's a second, similar lesson: Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. The Twilight series is trading on what made the most successful movies of all time (Gone with the Wind, The Sound of Music, Titanic) successful. Those movies gave us a girl, choosing between two guys, against a backdrop of historic tragedy. The Twilight series just leaves out the backdrop of historic tragedy, and, rather than, say, Ashley and Rhett, or Leo and the other guy, this girl is choosing between a vampire and a werewolf. OK, so some things do change.
Final lesson? Girls are just as dopey as boys. Maybe dopier.
(Psst: Transformers 2)
OK, not dopier.
The Biggest Movie of the 2000s Ranks Just Behind the Third-Biggest Movie of 1965
The good and bad of blogging is that there's always something to write about because there's always something online worth refuting. This is good because you always have a subject. This is bad because you always have a distraction from what you should be writing about.
Allow me to be distracted this morning.
I came across this HuffPost piece via IMDb.com, which, for some reason, thought it link-worthy. Danny Groner argues that the biggest hits of the decade are cartoonish, explosive granfalloons but the "Twilight" series is character-driven and appeals to both fortysomething parents and their tweens. Plus they're boffo box office. So Hollywood should take notice. Or already has:
Fourties [sic] these days skews younger, not older, and that's where Hollywood is seemingly heading in the next decade. Sure, new parents are bound to pop up to replace the young moms who have outgrown Dreamworks' animated films. Nevertheless, if this decade's enormous box office stats has taught us anything it's that people are willing to see twice as many movies as long as it keeps them feeling young and in touch with what's popular.
His point seems to be that Hollywood movies, driven by animation and explosions, are more popular than ever, but they can be even more popular if less attention is paid to kids, and the kids in all of us, than to tweens and the tween-parents in all of us. Or something.
Despite whatever argument that is, my disagreement with him comes earlier, when he talks about how popular movies have been in the 2000s:
It's evident that big blockbuster franchises reigned supreme in a way they never had before and nobody would have anticipated. And they did it bigger than any decade before. These so-called "kids' movies" pulled in huge numbers around the world.
So few words there, so much wrong.
- This decade, blockbusters continued to reign supreme in the way they have since the 1970s. It's nothing new.
- I believe this was anticipated.
- They did it bigger than any decade before only if you don't adjust for inflation. Once you adjust for inflation, it's a different, sadder story.
I'm sure someone, somewhere, has a spreadsheet of adjusted numbers for international box office, but inflation-adjusted domestic numbers are easily accessible online. And what do they tell us? That, at least it terms of individual films, the blockbusters of this decade blocked little and busted less.
Since the advent of sound, six of the eight decades are represented in the six highest-grossing (and inflation-adjusted) domestic films of all time:
- Gone with the Wind (1939): $1.4 billion
- Star Wars (1977): $1.2 billion
- The Sound of Music (1965): $1 billion
- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982): $1 billion
- The Ten Commandments (1956): $.9 billion
- Titanic (1997): $.9 billion
Which decades are missing? The 1940s and the 2000s. The 1940s don't show up until no. 20, "Fantasia" ($.6 billion) while the 2000s don't show up until no. 27, "The Dark Knight" ($.5 billion). And what ranks just ahead of the biggest hit of our decade? "Thunderball," which wasn't even the biggest box-office hit of its year. It wasn't even the second-biggest box-office hit of its year. It came out in 1965 and both "The Sound of Music" and "Dr Zhivago" did better at getting our asses in the seats.
So the biggest hit of this decade ranks just behind the third-biggest-hit of 1965...and movies are more popular than ever?
I'll admit that if you toss in DVD sales and rentals, TV, PPV, etc., movies may be more popular than ever. But not in terms of box office, which is Mr. Groner's sole measure.
I'll also admit that the way blockbusters reigned supreme did change a bit this decade. But that's a discussion for another day.
We push in line at the picture show
For cool air and a chance to see
A vision of ourselves portrayed as
Younger and braver and humble and free
—Joe Henry, “Our Song”
Summer's over. We've got autumn movie posters rotating to the left and autumn movies arriving in our theaters: the semi-serious, the longshot Oscar contenders, the Halloween horror pics. Summer movie season starts the first weekend of May and ends the first weekend of September, so most postmortems have been done already. Mine is in the above quote from Joe Henry—you don't have this song? Get it—and in the overused line of Yeats' from “The Second Coming”: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” The best lack all distribution while the worst show up in 4,000 theaters opening weekend.
No, it wasn't all bad news. Four of the top five grossers are either good-enough films (“Star Trek”: $257m; “Harry Potter”: $299m), good films (“Hangover”: $273m), or great films (“Up”: $291m)—but that last, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” is big enough and dumb enough that it gets its stink on everything else. $401 million. Michael Bay wants what's in your wallet! He knows there's not much in your mind.
Glad “Basterds” ($105m) has legs—and not just Diane Kruger's. Glad “Julia” is still cookin' it up ($86m). Too bad about the docs: “Food, Inc.” ($4m) and “The Cove” (less than $1m) deserved bigger audiences, but barely trickled into theaters; par for the course for docs. “Funny People” ($51m) deserved a bigger audience, too. “Hurt Locker” ($12m), sure, but I wasn't as ga-ga over it like some, and I get why people didn't go. But “Funny People” was funny and raunchy and it died, relatively speaking. Adam Sandler's “Big Daddy” made $163 million in 1999 ($231 million, adjusted), so where were the Sandler fans? Where were you idiots? At “Transformers,” probably. Or maybe you're all big daddies now.
How about you? What did you see this summer that you recommend? What did you see that left you shaking your head? What are you going to remember? What do you wish you could forget?
Here's the image I like to carry away...
Packed House for Basterds
Early estimates have Quentin Tarantino's “Inglourious Basterds” making $37 million over the weekend—$14.3, $12.9 and $10.3—but it'll be interesting to see if it's not higher. Patricia and I went last night, Sunday night, at 6:30, to one of the day's dozen shows at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle, and the place was packed. I haven't seen a theater that crowded in a while—let alone on a Sunday night when everyone was supposed to be home and getting ready for the workweek. They applauded at the end, too.
UPDATE: $38 million: $14.3, $13, $10.6. Not a big leap but a hop.
It’s not so much Brooks Barnes’ argument on the front page of The New York Times this morning (“Starring in Summer’s Big Hits, Virtually Nobody”), it’s how he defends his argument.
The argument itself is a no-brainer. Yes, not many stars are in the summer’s big hits. Yes, for the most part, characters-driven movies (Harry Potter, Optimus Prime), and concept movies (“Paul Blart,” “The Hangover”), trump star-driven movies.
But Barnes proves his point by comparing this summer to 2000 and 1990. Why not be mathematically correct and focus on 1999 and 1989?
Because then he’d highlight how little has changed. The big summer movie of 1989 was “Batman,” which, while it had Jack Nicholson in the Joker’s role, was, again, a characters-driven movie. People went more for Batman than Jack. A decade later, the big hit of 1999 was “Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” the fourth film in the series that, you could argue, marked the beginning of the end of the star-driven movie.
Barnes also overdoes his argument—which doesn’t need much overdoing—by lumping together, or having executives lump together, all of the star-driven movies that disappointed at the box office this summer, including Adam Sandler’s “Funny People” and Johnny Depp’s “Public Enemies.” The problem? Both were directors’ films rather than stars’ film. They were perceived that way and marketed that way. And they were serious films, and serious rarely does well in summer. And “Public Enemies” didn’t do that poorly—it’s near $100 million domestic—which, even adjusted for inflation, is the sixth-highest-grossing Johnny Depp film. As famous as he is, Depp is still more actor than star to me. If he’s playing a character people like—Captain Jack—sure, they come out in droves. Otherwise, it’s “Dead Man.”
This raises another point. Weren’t star-driven movies always characters-driven movies? Fans went to see Bogart being Bogart, Redford being Redford, Cruise being Cruise. When they deviated from those roles, box office dropped.
Something is happening, surely, with moviegoers and their loyalty to stars, but the discussion the topic deserves wasn’t on the front page of today’s New York Times.