Right now, a fourteen year-old boy, somewhere within the bowels of the imdb message boards is making the comment that filmmakers just aren’t delivering the goods anymore. Everything is contrived, rehashed, lifeless, and money-grabbing; there’s no longer any art to the entertainment. It’s all just blasé hodgepodge, thrown at a screen (probably in 3D and IMAX) to make the quickest buck.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a young man in his early twenties, who, as you would think by his demeanor, knows absolutely everything there is to know about cinema. He’s claiming that filmmakers can’t help the movies they make, because all audiences want now-a-days are gratuitous explosions, breasts, and mindless, circling action clichés.
On one hand, the argument presents itself that audiences are forced to watch whatever unoriginal, remade films that studios put out. The flip side is that studios assume that because audiences turn out for the bigger, “dumber” movies of the year, that they must want more of the same.
Is it because audiences are dumb, or filmmakers are dumb?
Before we begin, let’s look at the current roster of the top ten biggest movies of all time.
- The Avengers
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon
- The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
- The Dark Knight Rises
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
- Toy Story 3
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Now, of that list, seven of those features are sequels (4,5,6,7,8,9,10). Two are original productions (1,2), and one is the result of a combined cinematic universe (3), making it a newly genre-d sequel. One of the films are animated (9). Seven of the features are critically acclaimed (1,2,3,4,6,7,9) and seven of them are sci-fi/fantasy pictures (1,2,3,4,5,8,10). So, of those films, which can be called cash-grabs?
Personally, I’d throw both Pirates movies in that barrel, predominantly because the first movie easily stood alone as a full-feature. Transformers: Dark of the Moon would get thrown into the pile. And, even though it’s quite beloved, Toy Story 3 probably deserves to be included, seeing as though it’s not really the culmination of the previous films, but in fact just another chapter (without any source material). Put simply, they could make Toy Story 4, 5, and 6 if they so desired.
So, which argument do these examples fall under? Here’s what we need to understand:
Studios and audiences go hand-in-hand and support each other. Audiences control the success of specific movies and give the studios a means to know what direction they should take their major films. However, studios produce and market the films so as to control what the audience appeals to. If movies like Happy Feet make a killing at the box office, it’s not beyond them to produce either a sequel or for someone to come out with Rio; that’s how the business works. Audiences respond by participation, and studios use participation as a reasoning to give more.
Who is responsible for the success of the big, dumb movies? All of us. Consider this:
When Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was in theaters, it suffered from critical panning and its Cinemascore fell from the “A” that came from the first Transformers to a “B+.” However, the film gathered over $400,000,000 in a domestic run, and internationally totaled over $830,000,000. It, obviously, warranted a sequel. The sequel we got, however, was panned by critics, again, and this time received another “A” score. But what was different about this film? 55% of the movie’s audience was under the age of 25. Ultimately, the movies are about the same, with the exception of larger action pieces and the addition of a female lead (replacing that of Megan Fox). However, it wrapped in a much younger demographic (now older from the first two films’ viewings) and proved successful because of it.
Also, it’s important to understand movie seasons. Often times, you’ll find that the “less-than-great” horror or action flicks get released in the January-March season. It’s where small films go to either make a profit or whither and die. The summer season is where studios focus their big projects; and sometimes, the numbers that are made in that season (the season in which the family or young target audience has little to do but go to the movies) are explosive, and people tend to think that it diminishes the impact of the fall/winter season movies, which make about a third of the summer movies’ gross. Think of things in perspective. You can’t see the enormous success of movies like Transformers: Dark of the Moon as detrimental to movies like War Horse. Hollywood isn’t going to shut down and only produce carbon copies of Taken and Paranormal Activity for profit’s sake. There are thousands of filmmakers out there. Thousands. They’re not all drones interested in helming what someone else has already done.
Sometimes, it’s easy to blame the marketing team for the failure of certain films (John Carter, Dredd), and sometimes, that’s a well-directed complaint. However, I think it’s important to understand the confines of the films, themselves. The recent Dredd is an entertaining piece of work, and it stands well on its own terms. However, it is an “R” rated feature, coming from source material not immaculately well-known in the United States, and suffers from winning over the general audience who knew nothing more about the character than the Sylvester Stallone film from 1995. You can only blame marketing so much. It isn’t that the movie set itself up for failure, but without grabbing well-known leads, the film, no matter how good they could have made it, was somewhat destined not to be a box office smash. There are some obstacles greater than how “good” a film is for it to succeed.
People need to understand and realize that if we want films like the Resident Evil franchise to stop coming around every two years, it’s our participation that counts. They’ve not done much to rejuvenate that franchise, and ultimately, it’s becoming worse and worse. Critics don’t destroy a film, but audiences direct the future of a franchise. While we may not have a hand in where the story goes, we definitely have one in its subsequent continuation.
Oh, and don’t blame the studios for wanting to make money. If they didn’t, we most certainly couldn’t blame them, now could we?
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