As I’ve done my best to continue the box office column without fucking things up, a few interesting things have become clear to me. Among them, one trend every weekend is looking at box office numbers that are close or even bigger than numbers for previous franchise entries or similar, earlier films… and yet always with the caveat that there were less tickets sold. Ticket price inflation –which has been well out-pacing general inflation for some time now– and premiums like 3D mean that movies seen by less people are capable of making more money. Ultimately it’s dollars in the bank that empower Hollywood, but the idea that fewer and fewer people are heading to the theater is distressing, no?
Adding to that is the undeniable fact that Hollywood is simply making more movies than ever, shrinking the size of the individual pieces of pie each weekend. Take a look at this ruthless summer, where virtually every weekend brought at least two new releases, sometimes even four. It’s a constantly beat drum that the release window has shrunk and movies have no time to play or build legs anymore, but it increasingly seems like they don’t even get the luxury of an opening weekend these days.
Speaking at SIGGRAPH, a Disney Animation exec discussed the recent viewership trends and home video numbers, ultimately laying out the conclusion that studios that want to make big money, have to make big movies. As Variety sums it up: “Bottom line: The average number of viewers per release is falling, and studios need to fight that trend with tentpoles.”
Unfortunately, that message also came with an unapologetic moment of said exec characterizing the idea of story being paramount as “bullshit.” He didn’t so much throw story under the bus so much as wrestle with it on top of the bus, and then pushed its head into an oncoming, low hanging sign– sending it off to play ping-poing with Dennis Hopper. He cites his own studio’s terribly shitty Alice In Wonderland as an example of spectacle being king. Utter bullshit. Audience flocked to that film for the aesthetic not the spectacle, for Depp, not a CGI dragon. It perfectly tapped a crossover family/teen market, and is well-countered by any ole Green Lantern-style spectacle-filled flop (it didn’t look to me like Mars Needs Moms was short on spectacle). It’s even further countered when a story-focused and character driven spectacle film does pull in the audience, for a third of the price!
Regardless, it seems like that message isn’t anything new to those in charge, at least if today’s tsunami of announced tentpole release dates (mixed with some previous announcements) is any indication. Take a look at what’s coming (via Deadline, THR, BOM)…
The Darkest Hour (alien flick) – Dec 25th, 2011
John Carter IN IMAX – March 9th, 2012
The Odd Life of Timothy Green (Disney flick) – August 15th, 2012
Iron Man 3 – May 3rd, 2013
Thor 2 – July 26th, 2013
Untitled Henry Selick (Coraline director) Film – October 4th, 2013
Catching Fire (Hunger Games Sequel) – November 22nd, 2013
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – May 2nd, 2014
Unannounced MARVEL Film – May 16th, 2014
Untitled PIXAR Film – May 30th, 2014
Unannounced MARVEL Film – June 27th, 2014
Give me some feedback on that Disney asshole’s statements, and what you think these more nebulous “untitled” films might be. I’d love to hear from you on twitter, or by keeping up with the comments, or by throwing in on the boards…