This post, referred via Boing Boing, natch, is a nice jumping-off point for a topic I’ve been meaning to deal with for awhile. All year I’ve been getting really sick of the box-office slump story, where every Monday we have to put up with reports of how the latest big movie made XX million dollars but somehow it wasn’t enough to singlehandedly pull the box office out of a slump. Well, no, after six straight months of no movies worth watching, one movie isn’t going to turn the tide. Honestly, can you name one movie that came out between January and June? I can. Sin City. I could try and think of a second one, but it would be a lot of work. Harder still would be something that came out, besides Sin City, that you actually wanted to see.
It breaks my heart that Fantastic Four, and not Batman Begins, was the movie that finally turned the tide and ended the Biggest Slump Ever, but life is unfair.
It’s hard not to feel like the crisis presented by the slump is exaggerated, or at least, the mystery of the slump is exaggerated. Last year would have been a bigger slump were it not for Passion of the Christ making every person who hates movies go to the movies. Passion money really shouldn’t even be counted as part of Hollywood box office totals. It’s like GM gauging their company’s health by adding up their own sales with Toyota’s.
A few topics that have been brought up elsewhere before:
The Current State of the Theatrical Experience
Everything associated with going to a movie in a theater is a trying ordeal. From the oft-lamented commercials to the ticket prices that seem a dollar higher every time you go to a theater, the theatrical experience seems calculated by scientists to be as miserable as possible. Yes, we have stadium seating now, but that’s the only good thing.
Now, I grew up with multiplexes, AMC 10, Galaxy 8, etc., so while I have affection for old movie houses, I don’t consider them the standard. But who had the bright idea to consolidate theaters into behemoth megaplex futureworld terrariums, so that no matter what movie you see, you can’t get in on a Friday or Saturday night without braving huge mobs and long lines? These theaters are never not crowded, because there are so many screens they become the only theater in town, so now everybody in a city converges on one big crowded theater instead of three reasonably-sized ones. See the awful Regal Cinema serving the entire Pleasanton/Dublin region. That one Emeryville theater by the fake street (or the entire city of Emeryville). The monstrous Irvine Clusterfuck and its sprawling Disneyland parking lot. Here’s a hint. If you need a tram to serve your goddamn shopping center, you’ve built a shopping center that’s too fucking big. But now I’ve gone off on a tangent. My point is their theater is bad, too. Basically, theaters are a victim of the American trend toward consuming any given product in as large and horrible a building as you possibly can.
And $10-12 movie tickets? For this awful, crowded, commercial-ridden experience? Can you think of any other industry where they ratchet up prices at a staggering rate while tearing down the quality of the product, and then dumbfucks wonder why the demand has fallen? Maybe because of the increased price and decreased quality? Maybe that is why you have fewer customers? Have you ever seen a chart? Any chart? In your life? Maybe when it costs the price of a DVD collection to take a family to the movies, you will not take the family to see any old piece of shit, and you will instead buy a DVD collection. Hmm. Interesting.
They say one problem is that a rising tide no longer lifts all boats; that one hit movie doesn’t drive sales of sucky movies the way it used to. Apparently people used to find shows sold out and say, “What the hell, let’s see a different movie, even if it is crappy.” I vaguely remember such a time. It is the reason I saw Angus. Turns out when movie tickets cost a bar of gold, people don’t do that as much. Go figure.
The average moviegoer may not be all that discerning, but every moviegoer like to believe that he or she is discerning. People gladly flock to stupid movies that flatter their shallow pop culture awareness (Scream), but eagerly pick on things that are obviously stupid/ridiculous (Sahara) in order to show off how perceptive they are. My point is that people like to have their intelligence flattered, and a successful movie usually has to be at least smart enough to pretend it’s smart. (I admit, this doesn’t explain Kangaroo Jack.)
This theory of mine has not much bearing on the awful releases of the first half of the year, except to say that neither fools nor cinastes are enticed by a movie whose greatest selling point is a pair of computer-animated flies farting in a coffee cup.
What it does have to do with is the flood of remakes and sequels. People do like remakes and sequels; that’s why they get made. But the suffocating predominance of them this summer is wearying. Even an undemanding moviegoer can’t avoid the feeling that there really is nothing original out there. There are so many remakes and sequels out now that everything is transparently a retread. Everyone feels like they can see right through these movies as the cynical marketing ploys they are. And mostly, they’re right.
Back to the non-remake/sequel “original” content: This stuff is always lackluster during the winter/early-spring period. Why only now does the industry suffer for it? Well, that’s when you have to move on to some of the other causes analysts throw around: Video Games, the Internet, DVDs and Home Theaters, etc. It’s not that these activities make people never want to see movies. But when you have other good choices, it’s only natural that movies will have to be that much better to lure you away from everything else. Why am I even saying this? It’s total common sense, yet Industry Analysts struggle to grasp it like blind men identifying the proverbial elephant.
So DVD sales are declining too, threatening the industry’s shiny new safety net. More common sense. Who would have imagined that DVD sales overall would mirror the arc of an average person’s DVD buying habits? An initial excitement with the format sets off a huge wave of DVD purchases, until a person realizes he/she has more DVDs than his/her shelves can hold, with a total running time greater than his/her remaining lifespan, and his/her purchases slow to a sensible trickle. DVD sales held up for so long because of the flow of people adopting the format, but now everyone with a TV has a DVD player, and there is no new ground to cover. Thus, we have the upcoming High-Definition changeover to kickstart sales, which will be a huge fiasco since:
a) HDTVs are still too expensive and therefore no one can tell the difference between a regular vs. HD picture
b) Sony and Toshiba have not settled the confusing Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD format war, so no one will know which one to buy, so they won’t buy either
c) Buying and owning prerecorded visual media (that is, TV and movies) for home viewing on a grand scale was unprecedented before DVD. Not many people bought movies on VHS. The convenience and value offered by DVD spurred people to buy movies like never before. Conversely, people who already owned movies on VHS resented having to replace their whole collections. Now that way more people have big expensive DVD collections, they will be even more reluctant to buy their library all over again. Especially since the relatively short life of the DVD format will only convince them that forcing a repurchase is a blatant grab for their money, and the cycle of future formats will be even shorter. After all, ridiculous numbers of DVD re-releases and “special editions” have burned people before, to the point that one might resist buying a DVD for fear that a better one is on the way soon—and that’s without a format change. The huge wave of DVD buying will not be repeated by anyone but the most devoted A/V geeks.
In conclusion, there are tons of reasons for the box-office slump and they are all completely obvious to non-retards. I don’t know why I even wrote this.