About a week ago, Cracked Magazine published an article entitled “4 Ways Hollywood Is Completely Imploding”, giving commentary about the latest trends in the motion picture industry, reasons for the multitude of sequels, and why films seem a bit off at times lately.
While the article gave a few valid points, the majority of it felt a tad uneducated and angry, turning small examples into blanket statements. So, in order to keep the conversation going, I rebut each point the article’s author brings up in attempts to set the record straight a little.
#4. $50 MOVIE TICKET ALREADY EXIST (IN SELECT CITIES)
In case you hadn’t read the article provided above, allow me summarize: Paramount Pictures is trying something called a “Mega Ticket” with their film World War Z, which would give the consumer a 3D movie ticket to the film, a code for a free digital download of the film once it becomes available, a pair of exclusive custom 3D glasses, a movie poster, and a small popcorn to the venue.
The Cracked article mentions director Steven Spielberg predicting the idea of movie palaces returning, where going to movies would become akin to spending a night at the theater. What’s ironic about bringing up the Mega Ticket concept is that it has nothing to do with what Spielberg had speculated.
Back in 2006, a private investor had announced that he was developing a chain of theaters that would feel more like the movie palaces of old, where there would be a maximum of five theaters per venue, the seats would be plush, the rows would be spread apart, the movie treats would be vastly more elegant, and a server would actually bring you food and drinks directly to your seat. The tickets would obviously be more premium as well, ranging from $30 up to $60 per ticket. The venture would start out small, mostly in Europe and Australia to start. Seven years later, there are no theaters like this in the U.S. I think there’s a reason why.
Addressing the Mega Ticket directly, the $50 price tag seems a bit high considering the ridiculous swag that comes with it. But it was the fact that a small popcorn comes with it that stood out to me the most. Since the movie theater chains set their own prices for the concessions, clearly not all $50 goes directly to Paramount.
When the article says “in select cities”, the article fails to mention how selective the cities are — five cities. And two of them are in California! Houston, Philadelphia, and Atlanta are the other three, and there is only one theater per city participating in the deal. Seeing that there aren’t a significant amount of cities to try this out in, why would Paramount even bother?
In its opening weekend, World War Z grossed $66.4 million, including the late night Thursday showings. While this is much better than the initial predictions, this is still a far cry showing the film will be entirely profitable. As of yesterday (June 27), the Brad Pitt-starring zombie flick has grossed $93.9 million, but the film’s budget, before the cost of prints and advertising, is above $200 million. Considering that additional figures showed the movie would be a flop, Paramount clearly got creative to try and recoup all their costs surrounding the movie.
In the end, what’s so wrong with that? Movie companies have been enticing consumers to buy their movies on home video by making promotional deals with other companies like Orville Redenbacher and Duracel to provide coupons for those who purchase the films on DVD and Blu-Ray, and this is really no different in the end.
Judging by the grosses thus far, it doesn’t seem like the experiment is working, so why worry about this right now?
#3. INDEPENDENT FILMS ARE ALREADY LEAVING THEATERS (FOR STREAMING)
The point seems self-explanatory, right? The problem is that I’d love to know which of these so-called independent films are doing this.
Now, I live in Utah. While the occasional indie film comes here, since there are only two designated movie theaters that play such films, whenever one comes, it rarely stays for long, assuming these two theaters receive the film at all. So, I would love it if some of these indies that I wind up missing until they reach home video would stream online to start.
But this simply is not the case.
Now, occasionally an independent film will be available in both the theaters and on Amazon VOD, but the only the newer, smaller distributors like Annapurna Pictures will take advantage of this concept, and it’s only on films that were probably not going to make very much in the end — mainly because they did not have broad appeal. One such film was A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, starring Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray.
What I have noticed is that some independent films become available on streaming services like Netflix earlier after reaching home video than bigger studio films, which seems more like a way of ensuring these films are seen by a greater audience. The films that are bypassing theaters are the B- and C-grade films that were never intended for theaters to begin with — like the knockoff versions of Hollywood films, or “mockbusters” as they’re so lovingly called.
As a lover of all things cinema, I believe that all films — both Hollywood and independent — should be available to the masses upon their release dates. However, this is not the case unless you live in Los Angeles or New York City. In terms of what this article is suggesting, unless distributors like Fox Searchlight or Focus Features begin debuting their films through streaming methods instead of indie theaters on a regular basis, it’s certainly ridiculous to assume this the constant already.
#2. HOLLYWOOD IS PANDERING (BADLY) TO FOREIGN MARKETS
Now, admittedly, this point is reasonably valid.
With Iron Man 3 adding additional scenes involving actors Xueqi Wang and Bingbing Fan to appease the Chinese investors of the film, I could see that this could potentially be something that happens in the future with other action films.
At the same, though, let’s look at the numbers.
Iron Man 3, for instance, has made over $404 million on domestic shores, while its worldwide grosses are over $1.24 billion. Hell of a difference, isn’t it? But this isn’t the only case of the foreign grosses absolutely trumping the domestic figures. Take A Good Day to Die Hard for example. While the fifth installment in the franchise only grossed $67.3 million in our country, making the film look like a flop. However, the actioner made a staggering $237.3 million overseas, making the film a hit after all.
And this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to action film sequels that have their characters go overseas in the latest installment. Seth MacFarlane’s Ted grossed a very impressive $218.8 million last year in the U.S., but made a whopping $330.6 million overseas. No scenes shot in foreign territories, no prominent foreign actors.
With this evidence, why the hell wouldn’t Hollywood studios pander to foreign markets? Even when films have high grosses in America, the grosses are often quite higher overseas. They see our movies seemingly more often than we do, so, it’s clearly a business decision. Studio execs noticed this trend back in 2006 with the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and foreign markets keep shelling out money to see the latest Hollywood film.
Should Hollywood completely pander and change the movie for the markets? Well, no. It clearly doesn’t pay off in the long term.
Take last year’s remake of Red Dawn. Originally, the villains were going to be Chinese, but, in order to secure an international release, they were changed to North Koreans. The punchline? Red Dawn was never released overseas. So, the plot was slightly altered for virtually no reason at all. Perhaps it was to ensure future releases could be set with international releases, but to allow everything to hinge on one movie that barely anyone in America saw seems ridiculous.
While the gang in Fast and the Furious is driving around countries like London and Brazil, it’s unlikely we’re going to see Spider-Man swinging around outside the Kremlin. But, until foreign markets stop seeing Hollywood films in droves, don’t expect Hollywood execs to stop sucking up to where the money comes from.
Which leads us to…
#1. WITHOUT DVD SALES, HOLLYWOOD CAN’T AFFORD TO TAKE RISKS ANYMORE
What the hell are they talking about?
The problem of internet piracy has been prevalent long before now, starting out with the dreaded MP3 debate among artists and execs in the music industry, and movies quickly became the next target.
Since the recession started five years ago, people have been going to the movies more as a chance to escape reality. Ticket sales are skyrocketing as of late, and ticket inflation is only a tiny percentage of that. The movie companies are clearly making money off their films, even if someone pirates the movie online before its home video release. Clearly, it’s not affecting much.
But saying movie companies can’t project their profits without DVD sales is far from accurate.
First of all, a movie company will certainly be able to project a film’s profitability before it reaches theaters. Looking at a formula comprised of past box office performance (of genre, of actors, of directors, of producers, and so on), release date, word-of-mouth from social networking nowadays, and several other factors, a movie company will easily determine if the film will make a profit — especially if the film is locked into foreign distribution deals (see #2). In only a small percentage of cases are the film’s home video sales factored into profitability — most cases, the home video sales figures are merely the icing on the wedding cake. Seriously, do you think 20th Century Fox worried about the home video release of Avatar?
Secondly, though, video sales figures have often determined whether a film will get a sequel or not. The best example of this is Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. The first film in the series only grossed $18.5 million (not including the additional $5.7 million from overseas), and was generally looked upon as a flop. However, due to exceptional home video sales, two sequels were made. Another example of this is MGM’s Hot Tub Time Machine, which bowed in 2010, well into the age of the illegal download. Once again, Hot Tub made the majority of its money in home video and VOD sales, earning the absurd comedy another chance to shine.
Hollywood can’t afford to take risks anymore? Excuse me?
You mean Snakes on a Plane wasn’t a risk? Are you trying to tell me Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters was a perfectly well-thought-out plan? Can you seriously tell me without any sense of irony that both Pain & Gain and After Earth were the safe bets?
And don’t even start with me saying there isn’t room for passion projects in Hollywood anymore. In the early 90’s, Spielberg himself made a deal with Universal that he would direct Jurassic Park if he could make Schindler’s List the same year. Deals like this happen all the time, even today.
Don’t believe me? Look at Ben Affleck and George Clooney.
Both Affleck and Clooney have done their fair share of bad movies. Reindeer Games. The Peacemaker. Need I go on? But now, both are well-established directors who make films they want to make. Do you think anyone is forcing them to direct anything? No. And why? Because they, like everyone in Hollywood, make the safe film first so they can make the films they want later (didn’t anyone else see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back?).
Another great example of this is This Is The End. Allowing Seth Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg to direct a film where they and their friends play bad parodies of themselves while facing the apocalypse was risky. The risk became bigger when Sony chose to open it against Man of Steel. But guess what? It’s paying off! The End is proving fairly profitable against the odds, and will allow Rogen and Goldberg to make another film they want later on.
But the safe films must still come first. And, yes, safe film usually translates to sequel. Do you think people actually asked for a seventh Fast and Furious movie? No. But they’ll get one because they make money, and will allow Universal to fund a smaller film later on down the line (they do partially own independent distributor Focus Features, after all).
Think of it this way: how many sequels did Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have to do before they could do the deliciously underrated People Like Us or sleeper hit Now You See Me?
Sequels? Comic book movies? Horror films? That’s where the money truly lies. Not in home video.
Disagree with anything I’ve said here? Feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.