01 March 2009

Now In Theaters: finally what people want?

While reading a New York Times article dated Feb. 28, 20089 proclaiming "In Downturn, Americans Flock to Movies" reporting that movie attendance is up almost 16%, I was struck by the following two statements:

Helping feed the surge is the mix of movies, which have been more audience-friendly in recent months as the studios have tried to adjust after the lackluster sales of more somber and serious films.
Over the last year or two, studios have released movies that are happier, scarier or just less depressing than what came before. After poor results for a spate of serious dramas built around the Middle East (“The Kingdom,” “Lions for Lambs,” “Rendition”), Hollywood got back to comedies like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” a review-proof lark about an overstuffed security guard.
The question I would like to put to the powers that be in Hollywood is why? What's the motivation? Is it butts in seats and dollars in pockets? Are you just giving the people what they want? Is it that we cannot afford a vacation, but can still afford a movie ticket and overpriced popcorn in lieu of someplace sunny with fruity drinks? Are you just filling a need?

And to the collective "us," what do we want? Do we only want "fluffy" escapes from reality? If the hard and depressing tales that have been taking home Oscars as of recent years disappeared, would we miss them? Which do we value more?

When I review the nominees and winners for this year's Oscars, I don't see many "audience friendly" movies that are supposedly now in theaters, the list is primarily composed of the "spate of serious dramas" and other movies that offered "poor results" attendance and therefore dollar-wise. However, I somehow doubt "Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience" or "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" will earning a gold statue next year. However, six weeks later, "Paul Blart" is still in the top ten, according to MovieTickets.com, with weekend box offices tallying $6,821,377. Plus, "Jonas Brothers" are bound to do well because they have a legion of fans who may not be able to make it to a concert, but in all likelihood can swing for tickets to their local movie theater.

Now, I by no means consider myself to be a film buff, as nearly twelve years later, I still have yet to see "Titanic," and at this point, refuse to based on principle, or perhaps stubbornness, and thanks to Netflix only feel the need to see three or four movies in theaters a year, but when I do see a movie I'd rather walk out two hours later, squinting into the sunlight after a matinee, pleasantly stuffed with popcorn (extra butter, please), and entertained. Personally, of all the movies currently in theaters, I'd be most likely to go see "Coraline" rather than "Paul Blart" or "Jonas Brothers" used as examples above, but even though these two films aren't to my taste, I see a place for them, and perhaps even a demand.

Many of the recent Oscar winner's have been bleak, dealing with hard topics, telling difficult stories. Add to that, the fact that the current state of affairs is enough to make even optimists take another look at the glass and consider if it really is half-full, we all could use an escape. Something light for a change. As Martin Kaplan of the Norman Lear Center for the study of entertainment and society points out in the article, “It’s not rocket science,” he said. “People want to forget their troubles, and they want to be with other people.” Besides, as one woman interviewed states, it's cheaper than Disneyland.

This is not a new trend. Looking at the highest grossing films of all time, we do see some critically acclaimed and award winning films, but many are summer blockbusters. And though they may not be Oscar winners, they often receive other more popular-culture friendly awards, such as the MTV movie awards or People's/Teens/Kids Choice Awards. For example, Spiderman (number 8 on the list at a mere $403,706,375) was nominated for an Oscar in two categories, sound and visual effects, but golden spacemen went home with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in the category of "Best Kiss" at the MTV movie awards, and took top honors as "Favorite Motion Picture" in the People's Choice Awards. "Spiderman" and other blockbusters may not be critically acclaimed, but they are entertaining. And the dollars and attendance show, they are what the people want.

Academy Award
People's Choice

Slumdog Millionaire
The Dark Knight

No Country for Old Men
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World End

The Departed
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Million Dollar Baby
Fahrenheit 9/11

1 comment:

  1. You know, I recently rented "The Thin Man" after reading the novel. The movie was made in 1934, and the original theatrical trailer was included in the DVD. That got me wondering: What movies were popular during the Great Depression? Busby Berkeley big musical numbers, Charlie Chaplin, King Kong crime thrillers, screwball comedies. Escapist, a lot of it. But you also had Gone With the Wind, Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington...escapist, but still Really Good Movies. Maybe we'll see some of that coming our way in the next few years!

    (And, FWIW, my nieces--ages 4 and 6--report VERY favorably on the Jonas Brothers movie.)