Giant Lumbering Beasts
June 18, 2015 7:28 AM   Subscribe

Since April three of the biggest movies in history have opened: Furious 7 (with a worldwide gross of 1.5 billion dollars), Age of Ultron (with a worldwide gross of 1.3 billion dollars) and Jurassic World (with a worldwide gross of half a billion after just one weekend, and heading towards a likely record). With Star Wars down the pike in December, we're looking at a record setting year for the box office, largely on the backs of franchise action/adventure films. Mark Harris writes about the new franchise film economy in Park Effects, and relatedly, Alex Pappademas considers the efforts to create a farm league of indie directors for these new billion dollar movies in Mr. DNA.
posted by codacorolla (63 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Of course each new batch of films will out-earn the previous decades': that's simply of function of inflation and related rising ticket prices. A better metric of a film's popularity would be total number of tickets sold, rather than dollar amount earned.
posted by easily confused at 7:32 AM on June 18, 2015 [7 favorites]


Well, wouldn't that just be a measure of rising population?
posted by sexyrobot at 7:36 AM on June 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


People who write breathlessly about ticket sales aren't interested in a better metric.
posted by phooky at 7:37 AM on June 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


I guessed Star Wars, but it's Gone With the Wind.
posted by notyou at 7:39 AM on June 18, 2015


What I find interesting, regardless of economic details, adjustments, etc., is that, in a sense, this is what humans on average seem to like: quickly moving images, wide panoramic views, jump scares, machines doing stunts and getting destroyed, simple one-line jokes. This, plus sugar water and porn, of course.
posted by signal at 7:39 AM on June 18, 2015 [9 favorites]


Gah. That's domestic only. So dumb. And it looks like BO Mojo doesn't offer the same adjusted data for International. Sorry.
posted by notyou at 7:41 AM on June 18, 2015


notyou: “I guessed Star Wars, but it's Gone With the Wind.”

Well, that's what you get when a movie is re-released in theaters every four or five years for half a century, really.
posted by koeselitz at 7:44 AM on June 18, 2015


The international box office has opened up so much more since the days of Gone With the Wind. That's partially why these movies are notable, and why checking against the adjusted against inflation lists doesn't really make sense.
posted by codacorolla at 7:46 AM on June 18, 2015


What I find interesting, regardless of economic details, adjustments, etc., is that, in a sense, this is what humans on average seem to like: quickly moving images, wide panoramic views, jump scares, machines doing stunts and getting destroyed, simple one-line jokes.

Yes, it's totally weird that people want to see things they don't see often when they're viewing fantasy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:46 AM on June 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think it's significant that one of the reasons Jurassic World was such a huge hit was that no one else was willing to take the risk of opening a movie against them. In a lot of markets, it was literally the only new film available last week. This didn't used to be the case. Star Wars opened opposite Smokey And The Bandit, for example.
posted by vibrotronica at 7:52 AM on June 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


The international box office has opened up so much more since the days of Gone With the Wind. That's partially why these movies are notable, and why checking against the adjusted against inflation lists doesn't really make sense.

My wrong link uses estimated ticket sales * current average ticket price to do its adjustment, rather than a straight adjustment based on historic inflation as economists would do. Were it available for international, it would capture, in it's ham-fisted way, exactly what's happened with the international film market the past couple of decades.
posted by notyou at 7:56 AM on June 18, 2015


Possibly relevant: Jaws will be back in theaters this Sunday for its 40th anniversary.
posted by Ian A.T. at 7:59 AM on June 18, 2015


In a lot of markets, it was literally the only new film available last week.

I think the strength of this effect is an interesting question. On the one hand, yeah, if there's nothing else competing with you you're going to do well. However, on the other hand, that at least partially assumes that there are a lot of people going to the movies regardless of what's playing.

I may be an anomaly, but I personally only go to the movies when there's something playing I'm interested in, and if there isn't something interesting I'm staying home. I can't remember the last time I just went to the movie theater and figured out what I was watching when I got there. So, my having gone to see Jurassic World was a function of being interested in seeing it, not a function of it "winning" my business compared to other films -- and if there were two interesting films, I'd end up choosing one and coming back for the second maybe next week.

But, again, maybe that's not normal.
posted by tocts at 8:01 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm just sad that the genetically modified dinosaurs in the new Jurassic World movie aren't humanoids. That would have been scary.
posted by Nevin at 8:21 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


seem to like: quickly moving images, wide panoramic views, jump scares, machines doing stunts and getting destroyed, simple one-line jokes. This, plus sugar water and porn, of course.

It's worth noting that if you want to show a film internationally, elements that don't need much translation are an economic benefit, and things that don't translate well tend to get pushed out.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:25 AM on June 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yes, it's totally weird that people want to see things they don't see often when they're viewing fantasy.
Brandon Blatcher

The plebs need to understand that the only valid films are glacially-paced navel-gazing meditations on Life or quirky studies of sad eccentric people.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:26 AM on June 18, 2015 [10 favorites]


I have long since decided that there are too many factors to try and control for to get a reasonable comparison between Gone with the Wind and recent releases, so I just let Hollywood have their thing.

Plus, this way when someone tries to tell me bittorrent is killing Hollywood I can just say "What are you talking about? They just made a new box office record!"
posted by ckape at 8:29 AM on June 18, 2015


Ian A.T.: "Possibly relevant: Jaws will be back in theaters this Sunday for its 40th anniversary."

I saw it in a theater earlier in the year and was blown away all over again. I'd forgotten how good a blockbuster movie could be.
posted by octothorpe at 8:31 AM on June 18, 2015


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: " It's worth noting that if you want to show a film internationally, elements that don't need much translation are an economic benefit, and things that don't translate well tend to get pushed out."

Yeah, I get that, but why these things that translate well? Why not puppies, and fat men falling into bath-tubs and people dancing?
My point is: why is the dominant movie genre action/adventure/fantasy? I don't think it's a given that people have to like this. It could be literally anything else, so why this?
posted by signal at 8:35 AM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


After adjusting for inflation, international box office, re-releases, rentals, and streaming, the highest-grossing film of all time remains 1946's Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (17.6 billion and counting), followed closely by Hondo and Ladyhawke.
posted by Iridic at 8:37 AM on June 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


Here are some figures for US feature films, but only from 1995-2015. Even in this short period of time, you can see that while there has been some relatively minor fluctuation in tickets sold (lowest: 1.22 billion in 1995; highest: 1.58 billion in 2002), the revenue has doubled, from a low of $5.29 billion in 1995, to $11.07 billion in 2012 for 1.39 billion tickets sold, with 2013 and 2014 dipping down to $10.90 b for 1.34 b tickets and $10.37 b for 1.27 b tickets, respectively.

Also of notes: India produces around 900 to 1,000 feature-length films every year, five times as many as the US produces, though Indian films only have 4-5% of the global market share, compared to 85% for US films.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:43 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Great post.

I wonder how Pitch Perfect II fits into all of this - though not action/adventure, it's a franchise that also had a massive opening this year. Elizabeth Banks should really be included on any lists of up and coming directors, but the only upcoming directing credit listed for her on IMDB is a tv movie.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 8:51 AM on June 18, 2015


Yeah, I get that, but why these things that translate well? Why not puppies, and fat men falling into bath-tubs...

Please, I had someone tell me here once that no one likes slapstick or pratfalls because it's making fun of someone being hurt and it will soon disappear. No. It won't. Ever. 99% of the world loves fighting and violence and explosions and brawny men and hot women and eye candy. Most people in the world like stuff that people here don't. Hate it if you want, just like you hate the most popular tv shows or comedians, but to deny it is ridiculous. This place is not the norm. Not judging it; just saying it.
posted by umberto at 8:56 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


This franchise model that is developing at the studios is really interesting to me. On the one hand, I get that they look like a regular, predictable revenue stream. On the other, it appears to be running the risk of stifling other projects because all your resources are tied up into the franchise; and I can foresee a time when the viewing audience walks away from some franchises. What then? Do you have any slack in the system to allow for a failure of your multi-billion dollar franchise?

Given that the Marvel franchise plan extends 10 years and is not just feature films, but also TV and Netflix, are you able to have enough creative flexibility for each individual product to have room to breathe and be unique, or will the rigidity needed for ensuring the levels of continuity in the shared world-building exercise stifle the individual components to the point where they are lifeless? Certainly AoS has suffered a bit from this in both seasons, where major plot developments had to be held off or tread water until the film that relates to them opens. And do the viewers have to try to keep tabs on everything? It's really the same problem the comic book franchises have had for years, I guess, but now the level of investment is to the point that I wonder if a failure point along the way is going to be an irreparable breakdown, as opposed to a film that didn't do well.

And if you aren't doing much besides the franchise projects, where is the next franchise going to come from? It can't all be ETEWAF; sometimes you have to break new ground or let the old ground lie fallow for a time.
posted by nubs at 8:58 AM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


From the linked article by Harris: Or is it more appropriate to mourn the fact that what used to be the backbone of Hollywood moviemaking, namely self-contained, non-repeatable scripts, now threatens to become an anomaly, a charity act, a niche, a tithe to awards season, or a skippable option?

I really hate this lazy, unsubstantiated, alarmist bullshit that is so common in this type of writing. Is there any evidence at all that the growth in big budget franchise box office returns is crowding out smaller, more thoughtful, more modestly budget films? Can any of these writers be bothered to do the math and look up how many new feature films are being released with budgets < $100M, <$60M, <$30M?

What is actually happening is that the entire market for films is growing, led by growth in international markets and Video-On-Demand viewing. Sure the big blockbusters are getting bigger and metastasizing whole sprawling franchises of shared-universe films. So what? So, too, are the more modest, self-contained, non-repeatable script films. The arty and auteur films. The foreign films. Even the films made by and about women and nonwhite people (although not as much as we'd like, it's still a growing market). There are more of them and it is easier than ever for them to get made and find an audience and turn a profit. And there is every reason to assume that they will continue to be made and the market for them will continue to grow.

So then what is the point of playing to reactionary fears about how popular culture is going to be the end of art as we knew it?
posted by jonpaul at 9:03 AM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it's significant that one of the reasons Jurassic World was such a huge hit was that no one else was willing to take the risk of opening a movie against them. In a lot of markets, it was literally the only new film available last week. This didn't used to be the case. Star Wars opened opposite Smokey And The Bandit, for example.

For certain definitions of "opened opposite," sure. In 1977, Burt Reynolds was probably about the biggest star in the world, and Sally Fields was not exactly obscure, either. Meanwhile, Star Wars was a long-shot gamble that opened on all of 40 screens that week. Star Wars opened opposite Smokey and the Bandit about the same way that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl opened opposite Jurassic World last weekend.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:18 AM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's hard to compare opening weekends from 1977 and now because the whole structure of releases has changed since then. Star Wars opened in a hand-full of theaters in large cities during the first weekend and didn't expand out to neighborhood/suburban theaters until a few weeks after that. There was no such thing as opening in 4,000 theaters at once back then, they couldn't even make prints that fast and the marketing campaigns relied on word of mouth and expected a film to grow over weeks or even months.
posted by octothorpe at 9:26 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


So then what is the point of playing to reactionary fears about how popular culture is going to be the end of art as we knew it?

I agree somewhat, despite having posted the original article. I think that despite the growing franchise behemoth model, this is probably a better time to be an independent director simply because of all of the distribution channels that you have for your film. Film is much less beholden to the studio model of production.

On the other hand, they do have some good points between both articles about how this redirects resources within the mainstream: production budgets, tolerance for risk, and young talent that is contracted into 10 years worth of franchise properties.
posted by codacorolla at 9:31 AM on June 18, 2015


> I can foresee a time when the viewing audience walks away from some franchises.

I don't really have strong opinions about the Marvel films one way or the other, but the biggest fan couple I know were grousing a bit about being fatigued with the whole Endless Marvel Franchise after seeing Age of Ultron (which they weren't crazy about), and I thought "If these two are getting tired of it..."
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:40 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


So then what is the point of playing to reactionary fears about how popular culture is going to be the end of art as we knew it?

What about mindshare? I mean, there are more resources, more directors, and more movies but we still only have 24 hours a day to watch a movie. So when it comes down to it, most of us (including me) are going to make the decision to go see what's convenient, familiar, easy, and popular instead of the rare, strange, challenging, and obscure.
posted by FJT at 9:44 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


> There was no such thing as opening in 4,000 theaters at once back then, they couldn't even make prints that fast and the marketing campaigns relied on word of mouth and expected a film to grow over weeks or even months.

If you're old enough (like me), you probably remember seeing ads in the newspaper like this: "E.T. : Now In It's 12th Great Week!"
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:46 AM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't have a lawn in this fight but these all seem like kids' movies to me.
posted by Jode at 9:51 AM on June 18, 2015


My point is: why is the dominant movie genre action/adventure/fantasy? I don't think it's a given that people have to like this
signal

It is a given, though. All people everywhere have always liked action/adventure/fantasy tales, literally from the very beginnings of civilization. The oldest tales from around the world are action/adventure/fantasy stories. People like fighting and danger and spectacle. Always have, always will.

You don't have to like it but it does seem to be a given.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:57 AM on June 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's hard to compare opening weekends from 1977 and now because the whole structure of releases has changed since then.

Oh, I know. I was just responding to the implication that it was some gutsy counter-programming move. People's memories of the success and the success of its sequels has coloured their recollections. I know not a few people who fondly recall their excitement at joining the massive lines on May 25, 1977, when the movie did not even open in their (our) city until late June.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:10 AM on June 18, 2015


I get the impression nobody around here has seen Furious 7. Someone's got to take the hit, see the movie, and report back to metafilter thinkologists. (Don't look at me.)
posted by uraniumwilly at 10:10 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I get the impression nobody around here has seen Furious 7. Someone's got to take the hit, see the movie, and report back to metafilter thinkologists. (Don't look at me.)"

I saw it and I LOVED it. It was a big dumb silly nice funny action movie with a bunch of pretty, charismatic actors who seemed to all be having a really good time. I REGRET NOTHING.
posted by joelhunt at 10:17 AM on June 18, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you're old enough (like me), you probably remember seeing ads in the newspaper like this: "E.T. : Now In It's 12th Great Week!"

Yeah, I used to figure that the pattern of theatrical runs getting shorter and shorter started in my childhood (when things like Jaws or Star Wars or E.T would play for a year) and had dwindled consistently since then (I decided a few weeks ago I might like to take in an action flick, and learned that Furious 7 was long gone from theatres, seven or eight weeks after it opened). Then I looked at a book on local movie houses and saw that a photo taken of such-and-such a cinema in 1942 had Gunga Din on the marquee, when it had been released in 1939.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:18 AM on June 18, 2015


"E.T. : Now In It's 12th Great Week!"

This just seems so foreign and amazing to me. I read Mark Harris' Pictures at a Revolution, about the 1967 Oscar race, a few years ago and that was the first time I'd heard of movies being in theatres for so long, or classic movies being shown in theatres years after their initial release. It makes sense, especially before VCRs became widely available, but I'd love to read more about the changes in time-in-theatres over the past few decades.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 10:21 AM on June 18, 2015


I had to take the train into Manhattan to see Empire Strikes Back on opening weekend in 1980 because it wasn't playing in North Jersey until a few weeks later.
posted by octothorpe at 10:25 AM on June 18, 2015


Star Wars played at one theater in my hometown in Maine for 39 consecutive weeks.

I can also remember when they announced that there would be sequels to Star Wars, that most knowledgeable people said they would be flops, because sequels were historically ALWAYS flops.
posted by briank at 10:30 AM on June 18, 2015


I get the impression nobody around here has seen Furious 7. Someone's got to take the hit, see the movie, and report back to metafilter thinkologists. (Don't look at me.)

Self-link to my review.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:32 AM on June 18, 2015


I remember seeing Star Wars and ET when they were brought back for additional runs, well before the rise of home video or rereleases of films that had also been re-edited.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:33 AM on June 18, 2015


For certain definitions of "opened opposite," sure. In 1977, Burt Reynolds was probably about the biggest star in the world, and Sally Fields was not exactly obscure, either. Meanwhile, Star Wars was a long-shot gamble that opened on all of 40 screens that week. Star Wars opened opposite Smokey and the Bandit about the same way that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl opened opposite Jurassic World last weekend.

I agree my example was a bad one. But my initial comment was inspired by a recent interview I did with the biggest film buyer in my city's market. He was the one who pointed out that studios were shuffling their opening dates around to avoid competing with each other's the "Giant lumbering beasts". And he was not happy about it.

And Me and Earl And The Dying Girl doesn't open here until next week. They wouldn't even open that one opposite Inside Out.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2015


Seems like not long ago I was hearing a lot of noise about summer being dead... I guess not.
posted by Artw at 10:41 AM on June 18, 2015


As I get older and grumpier, it takes a lot to get me to a theater, which is about 3 times a year. I can only stomach so many "oh my god!"s from the guy behind me during Mad Max. The genius who figures out how to shut these fuckers up will get half my yearly take home in sold movie tickets.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:49 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of this is due to digital distribution -- the sheer expense and logistics of making umteen zillion copies, getting them to the theaters, reclaiming and redistributing them was surely a big restraint on huge opening weekends, whereas today they make one master copy and send it off electronically.
posted by Blackanvil at 11:01 AM on June 18, 2015


Brocktoon: "the guy behind me during Mad Max. The genius who figures out how to shut these fuckers up "

Simple: sit in the last row. Voila, no fuckers of any kind behind you.
posted by signal at 11:02 AM on June 18, 2015


sit in the last row. Voila, no fuckers of any kind

Now I am the fucker!
posted by ian1977 at 12:33 PM on June 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


WITNESS ME!
posted by Artw at 12:55 PM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fast and Furious Fanfare Club - we'll be up to 7 soon enough.
posted by Artw at 1:01 PM on June 18, 2015


How to avoid the damn fool that's talking/texting/calling on his phone/whatever: I go no earlier than the second week a movie has been out, on a weekday (Tuesdays are best, but anything other than Saturday & Sunday will do), at whatever show starts around noon. Empty theater = peace and quiet!
posted by easily confused at 1:16 PM on June 18, 2015


I really hate this lazy, unsubstantiated, alarmist bullshit that is so common in this type of writing. Is there any evidence at all that the growth in big budget franchise box office returns is crowding out smaller, more thoughtful, more modestly budget films? Can any of these writers be bothered to do the math and look up how many new feature films are being released with budgets < $100M, < $60M, < $30M?

The Death of Mid-Budget Cinema.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 1:34 PM on June 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


For what it's worth, I absolutely love the Fast / Furious franchise, the most recent one especially. It was an extremely well calibrated series of spectacles interspersed with soft-core pornography.

These may seem like pretty small time goals, but that was the kind of movie it wanted to be, and it was absolutely great at it. That scene in the Etihad Towers and that scene where the Rock takes off his shirt were both astounding and breathtaking.

I suppose it's worth noting that I traditionally watch these movies on opening weekend, with a bunch of like-minded friends, while smuggling a thermos of Sidecars into the theater. So, pretty nearly optimal viewing experiences--you mileage may vary if you see it at home while sober, but it's still pretty fantastic.

I mean, it's no Speed Racer, but few movies are.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 1:58 PM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


uraniumwilly: "I get the impression nobody around here has seen Furious 7. Someone's got to take the hit, see the movie, and report back to metafilter thinkologists. (Don't look at me.)"

The Rock literally removed a plaster cast from his arm by flexing. If you like that and jumping a car between multiple skyscrapers you will be very satisfied. It's no Fury Road though.
posted by stet at 2:39 PM on June 18, 2015


In the Fast and Furious franchise The Rock essentially plays the role of Colonel Decker in The A-Team, if that assists with anyone's viewing decision.
posted by Artw at 3:11 PM on June 18, 2015


My point is: why is the dominant movie genre action/adventure/fantasy?

For me, I don't get to the cinema nearly as often as I used to because I have young kids. I might make an effort to see an action movie I'm interested on the big screen, but for "non-spectacle" type movies I'm happy to watch at home when they make it to DVD.
posted by markr at 4:26 PM on June 18, 2015


I really hate this lazy, unsubstantiated, alarmist bullshit that is so common in this type of writing. Is there any evidence at all that the growth in big budget franchise box office returns is crowding out smaller, more thoughtful, more modestly budget films? Can any of these writers be bothered to do the math and look up how many new feature films are being released with budgets < $100M, < $60M, < $30M?

In addition to the excellent article that Ben Trismegistus posted, there's this talk by Steven Soderbergh that cites some pretty scary statistics.

This isn't alarmism, and it's not just some thing that a bunch of individual crotchety people are imagining or fabricating. It is a very distinct trend.

And this is what it looks like in practice when the movie industry puts all their eggs in one basket:

Highest grossing films of 1974

Highest grossing films of 2014

It looks like multiplexes full of big budget, PG rated science fiction/fantasy with a romance or token costume drama thrown in here and there.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:02 PM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


most of us (including me) are going to make the decision to go see what's convenient, familiar, easy, and popular instead of the rare, strange, challenging, and obscure.

You need to come with us to the Midnight Movie at the local art house cinema!
posted by alex_skazat at 8:48 PM on June 18, 2015


Yeah, but

From the "Death of Mid-Budget Cinema" link which quotes Soderbergh:

"In 2003, 455 films were released. 275 of those were independent, 180 were studio films. Last year 677 films were released. So you’re not imagining things, there are a lot of movies that open every weekend. 549 of those were independent, 128 were studio films. So, a 100% increase in independent films, and a 28% drop in studio films, and yet, ten years ago: Studio market share 69%, last year 76%. You’ve got fewer studio movies now taking up a bigger piece of the pie and you’ve got twice as many independent films scrambling for a smaller piece of the pie."

The obvious fact he skips over is that the pie is growing. The (now twice as many) indie films are fighting over a 7% smaller percentage of a much bigger market. And he's also probably defining that market solely as the US box office, which means he's not counting international box office, VOD, and all the other ways films can make money.

But just read what he's saying and ask yourself if it makes sense:
- We went from 455 films released in 2003 to 677 films in 2013
- We went from 275 "independent" films to 549
- It's the death of mid-budget cinema!!!!11!!

Now, there may be a lot of franchise blockbusters these days. But there aren't 222 new franchise blockbusters compared to a decade ago. The mid-budget movies are right there, right in front of you. There are twice as many as there were 10 years ago and they are easier to make and distribute and they aren't going away just because a bad Jurassic sequel made half a billion dollars and the top of the box office is full of franchises.

And "independent" in this context doesn't mean Kevin Smith shooting on a camcorder for $50K. It means mid-budget films with major stars and big name directors working for well-financed production companies outside of the studio system. It means most of the better, award-winning, adult-oriented movies you enjoy.

People who make movies for a living, especially the really smart creative auteurs of the world who rely on money managers signing off on their funding, are going to complain about the hassles of financing a new project. Orson Wells did back in his day. Soderbergh and John Waters and Spike Lee do it now. Of course they do, and I sympathize. But don't buy the alarmist hype that mid-budget adult-oriented movies will be crowded out by blockbusters. There's plenty of room & plenty of audience for both.


Can you make a list of the best 50 movies that were released every year (according to your subjective tastes)? If you can't it's not because there aren't 50 good movies worth watching , it's because you don't watch enough movies. Either way, what's the problem? Why would you rather complain (falsely) about the death of mid-range cinema than celebrate the unprecedented amount of great art that we have (way more than we have time to enjoy, plus all the great tv and books we don't have time for)? Is it just because it's easier to complain than to enjoy?
posted by jonpaul at 6:36 AM on June 19, 2015


I'm not talking about my subjective tastes, and I didn't say anything about them. It's irrelevant whether I could come up with some list of movies I like.

I'm talking about homogeneity. The top box office movies from 1974 aren't all great or anything. Some of them look pretty terrible, in fact, but they represent different types of movies for different audiences. In 2014, there's very little diversity at all. They're all the same type of movie, generally, for the same type of audience, generally.

Studios have always had control over the films they finance, but with the increasing size of movie budgets (including the mandatory marketing budget), they are not taking chances and they're not going after niche audiences. The bigger a budget a movie has, the more it's going to be targeted toward the largest possible demographic. That's why the PG-13 rating, that's why the franchises, that's why the focus on special effects. That's why movie studios buy some existing property and then hire the director to do it, rather than having directors come to them with ideas and then fighting about implementation. And if the director they hire puts up too much resistance, they fire them and hire a more compliant one.

Mid-budget movies do still get made, but only a handful get major screenings, and if a movie doesn't get screened much in theaters, the filmmakers probably don't get to quit their day jobs. And people who can't quit their day jobs can't keep making the movies they want to make.

It's bad enough that a director like David Lynch, who is talented, proven, widely respected, and really famous, can't reliably get his projects funded.

But there are also young David Lynches out there right now. And maybe they'll make their student films, then their Eraserheads that get them discovered and funded, and maybe if they're lucky, they'll be able to do a couple of mid budget auteur or at least auteurish movies, but if they want to live comfortably and do some woodworking and stuff, their best outcome is that they get hired to direct some superhero franchise or some other sort of formula movie under strict orders from a committee that is interested only in maximizing profits. And Mulholland Drive doesn't get made, and nobody is ever the wiser.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


That just isn't true or accurate at all.

Yes, if you look at the very top of the box office grossers you see a cluster of homogeneous movies that all look the same and belong to blockbuster studio franchises with 10-year mutli-phase development plans preconceived in board rooms long before anyone who could be called "creative" gets attached to the project. True. Those are the $200M movies aiming for Billion dollar grosses.

But we aren't talking about those movies. That's never been where you are going to find the next Mulholland Drive. If you want to shake your head and complain about massively popular homogeneous culture go ahead and exhaust yourself. But don't try to tell me that it is keeping good, interesting, challenging, thought-provoking art from being made.

The point of making a list of 50 movies you liked from last year is that if you do it you suddenly realize how foolish and false the death-of-mid-budget-cinema argument is. There's no shortage of good filmmakers or good films and they aren't relegated to the margins and festivals. There are tons of them, from small and arty and foreign to massive-budget blockbusters that are actually interesting and original, and every mid-way point in-between. Denying that means buying into a myth made of elitism and persecution. Negative feelings that come easy but mask reality in favor of pessimism of your own making.


Here you go, in no particular order and not necessarily complete, a list of 50 really good movies from last year worth checking out. Now, convince me that we still have a problem getting interesting films made.

Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Under The Skin
Calvary
Whiplash
Only Lovers Left Alive
Life Itself
Nightcrawler
Snowpiercer
Birdman
Obvious Child
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Listen Up Philip
American Hustle
The Babadook
Frank
Starred Up
Locke
Blue Ruin
Two Days, One Night
Force Majeure
Selma
Interstellar
Her
What We Do in the Shadows
Edge of Tomorrow
Citizenfour
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Love is Strange
We Are the Best!
Ida
John Wick
The Drop
Zero Theorem
Lucy
Dear White People
The One I Love
Top Five
Le Week-End
Thou Wast Mild and Lovely
The Raid 2
Still Alice
A Most Wanted Man
Enemy
Gone Girl
Two Days, One Night
Why Don't You Play In Hell?
God Help The Girl
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
posted by jonpaul at 11:49 AM on June 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


You are rebutting a point that I know I didn't make, and I don't think anyone else did either.

You're just weirdly hostile to the basic premise that there has been a notable and quantifiable change in the film industry that merits some critical attention. You claimed there was no evidence of the phenomenon, then you saw the evidence and started arguing conclusions.

Which is fine, but you're clearly not interested in actually discussing that.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:51 PM on June 19, 2015


I have no problem acknowledging and discussing what is going on at the very top of the box office food chain. I agree it deserves critical attention. I've never been hostile to that.

What I object to is the repeated efforts, both in the linked article and subsequent discussion, to claim that it is having some negative squeezing out effect on smaller, more thoughtful or complex or original film making.


"what used to be the backbone of Hollywood moviemaking, namely self-contained, non-repeatable scripts, now threatens to become an anomaly, a charity act, a niche, a tithe to awards season, or a skippable option" - (Mark Harris)

"Something happened that nobody can make a movie between $500,000 and $80 million. " (Matthew Weiner)

"Mid-budget movies do still get made, but only a handful get major screenings, and if a movie doesn't get screened much in theaters, the filmmakers probably don't get to quit their day jobs. And people who can't quit their day jobs can't keep making the movies they want to make." ( ernielundquist)

If you want to talk about what it takes to make a $200M movie and the homogenization thereof, fine. But if you want to pretend that what is happening at the top of the box office is having negative effects on the market for mid-budget movies you need to provide some support for that (which is going to be difficult, because the market for mid-budget movies is growing)
posted by jonpaul at 1:24 PM on June 19, 2015


« Older nothing between the body and the earth   |   There's no fake hair in T-ball Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments