erik lundegaard


Friday May 16, 2008

Why is the New York Times encouraging Hollywood's myopia?

When I began reading Michael Cieply’s article in yesterday’s New York Times, “For Movies, A Summer That’s Shy on Sequels,” this was my main thought: “What’s the point?”

A year ago, the headline would’ve read, “For Movies, A Summer That’s Full of Sequels,” which, it turns out, is exactly their point. Last summer, three sequels (Spider-Man, Shrek and Pirates) and one movie based on a toy/TV show (Transformers) each took in over $300 million at the domestic box office, leading to one of Hollywood’s best summers. This summer, insiders believe only Raiders can reach the $300 million mark. They’re bracing for an off-summer.

Even so: What’s the point? Or better: How is this news? It’s prognostication. It’s a kind of vague economic hand-wringing over something that hasn’t occurred. Cieply uses the conditional or tentative form of “could” five times in a pretty short article. He uses “may” five times. He writes:

  • “…that could be a problem for an industry that has done well lately by peddling the familiar.”
  • “‘Hancock’...could match [Will Smith’s] recent hit ‘I Am Legend,’ and still fall short of the $319 million in ticket sales for ‘Transformers’…”
  • “‘Kung Fu Panda,’ from DreamWorks Animation, could do as well as ‘Madagascar’…”
  • “[‘Sex and the City’] could become a hit on the order, of, say, ‘The Devil Wears Prada’…”
  • “With a little luck and a few crowd pleasers, the business could look good, by comparison, at year’s end.”

With all the rules the New York Times has in its style guide, you’d think they’d have some limits on conditionals or hypotheticals in a non-Op-Ed article.

Still, if you're going to write about this kind of non-news, at least be imaginative with your use of box office stats. Cieply isn't. He writes: “As hot as ‘Iron Man’ is, with domestic ticket sales of about $180 million in its first week and a half, it still trails last year’s summer season kick-off movie, ‘Spider Man 3,’ by about 25 percent in the same time.”

Well, of course. Spider-Man 3 set a box office record, grossing over $150 million in its opening weekend. But if you keep following the stats you’ll find that Spider-Man 3’s take the following weekend dropped by 61.5 percent while Iron Man’s dropped by only 48.1 percent. You’ll find that while no movie was faster than Spider-Man 3 to the $100 million mark, three movies were faster to the $200 million mark and five movies were faster to the $300 million mark. You’ll also find that of all the Spider-Man movies, the third grossed the least. Even with inflation.

Similarly, of the other two big sequels last summer — Shrek 3 and Pirates 3 — each grossed $100 million less than their previous sequel.

In other words, for all of their supposed success last summer, these films really weren’t that successful. It was summer, people went to see them, but... They didn’t keep returning. On, each film has the lowest user rating in its series. In the long run, they probably weren’t good for the business.

I know: “the long run.” Something Hollywood doesn’t pay much attention to. But why does the New York Times, the paper of record, have to share, even encourage, their myopia?

Posted at 07:59 AM on Friday May 16, 2008 in category Movies