6 Harsh Truths The Movie Business Needs To Face
Thanks to the wide array of viewing options, from 4D IMAX to VR to using your smartphone to dick off with Netflix under your bed sheets, it's never been a crazier and cooler time to be a movie fan ... and a more terrifying time to be a movie studio. Due to the oversaturation of blockbusters and audience unpredictability, every box office projection for 2015 wheezed to a halt faster than Immortan Joe on a stair stepper.
And so, in the interest of helping 2016 Hollywood thrive, it's time to learn from sifting through the wreckage of 2015's failures like they're the victims of a mediocre hurricane. So if any Hollywood big shots are reading this, then please take note.
'80s Nostalgia Is Officially Dead
The Jem And The Holograms movie (yep, there was a Jem And The Holograms movie last year) was a glittery turd. Just a big ol' bowl of sparkle-dung wafting in the hot sun like Satan's ice cream. The Poltergeist remake was the cinematic equivalent of fucking dirt, and Terminator Genisys was like spending Easter in an infirmary. Just the saddest of failures, like watching a baby deer drown in a lake.
I'm never hyperbolic; Jem was so bad that on its BEST weekend, it made $1.3 million on 2,500 screens. The weekend after, it averaged $160 per theater, or 16 people per viewing. All across America. It took two weeks to be pulled from the public eye by the studio. No one wanted to see that movie. But are we surprised? The original cartoon came out 30 goddamn years ago and vomited the '80s.
The original title/premise was Ziggy Stardust Bastard Child Attack Force.
And that's what I'm getting at here: '80s nostalgia is dead. It's official. I'm calling it right now. No, don't try to object, you old freak. It's dead. It's on the floor and it's blue in the face. Like a Smurf ... that's dead.
The effect can be seen in every '80s nostalgia film this year, from the successful to the terrible. Pixels did shit numbers that were sadly similar to Mad Max: Fury Road's box office draw. Both films were leaning on an era that the kids just don't give a shit about these days. After all, most of the audience for Fury Road was over 35 -- otherwise known as the people not going to a lot of movies.
So what did make a lot of money? Oh, right ...
Apparently that Phantom Menace sequel is doing pretty well, too.
It was that film series about dinosaurs from the '90s, along with Goosebumps, Straight Outta Compton, and the new Spongebob movie. It's almost as if the people who lived through the '90s are suddenly the ones living in the sweet spot for nostalgia. Like ... if I were a movie executive, I might think that it's time to shift the focus to be less on the '80s and more ...
Fine. Forget I said anything.
Celebrities Don't Mean Shit Anymore
Question: When was the last time you were excited for an Adam Sandler movie? And I don't mean a movie with Adam Sandler in it; I mean an "Adam Sandler movie," where the whole piece is crafted around the famously comedic talents of one man.
OK, maybe Sandler isn't the best example.
The correct answer was this, of course.
But what I'm getting at is that even if you're some twisted imbecile who enjoyed Grown Ups, Pixels, and/or The Ridiculous Six, those are all ensemble films, and not centered around one performance. On his own, Sandler hasn't made a successful comedy in ten years. To expand our search: Ask yourself the same questions about actors like Vin Diesel or Chris Pratt. Are they ever your deciding factor for seeing a new film?
I'm guessing not. I'm guessing that there wasn't a blockbuster this year that you saw because of a single celebrity in it -- because most blockbusters are now bigger than their stars. George Clooney might be an international hunk, but his Newman-esque musk can't mask the stank of Tomorrowland. Bill Murray is generally considered a walking God, but hasn't made a worthwhile non-Wes-Anderson film in a decade. This includes Rock The Kasbah, which has topped many lists of the biggest bombs of last year, despite also featuring recognizable faces like Bruce Willis and Zooey Deschanel.
The fact that you can see her full forehead for two seconds doomed the movie.
Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hugh Jackman, Sean Penn, Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts, Channing Tatum, and Johnny Depp all headlined horrific box office shitslides during 2015. And as The Washington Post points out, this has been a long time coming. Ridley Scott caught shit for hiring nothing but white A-listers as Egyptian characters to give Exodus more mainstream appeal, only to have that film bomb anyway. In 2014, Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meryl Streep, Aaron Eckhart, and Jeff Bridges each took one to the face and chest with star-studded flops. Meanwhile, the biggest hits that year were Transformers, Guardians Of The Galaxy, and The Hobbit -- films featuring ensemble casts, and are in no way reliant on a single star to carry them.
This would have caused riots in 1993, but it was "Eh, wait for Netflix" in 2013.
Look: Diesel, Pratt, and Murray are badass no matter how many of their films bomb. But when you're acting beside a 70-foot CGI water monster doing Shamu tricks, it doesn't really matter what your talent level is. After all, Jurassic World was destined to murder the box office before a single detail about it was released. Which is why ...
Modern Blockbusters Either Make All The Money Or Fail Spectacularly
Movie budgets have swelled so much over the years that $60 million, which once fully-funded a visually groundbreaking Steven Spielberg adaptation of Jurassic Park, is now barely sustaining Johnny Depp's mustachioed tomfuckery in Mortdecai. In fact, despite making close to the same bank, Jurassic World cost nearly three times as much as its way-better predecessor, thanks to the series gradually growing in budget. Not to mention how the average cost of marketing has gone from $4 million in the 1980s to a ball-sploding $200 million today. That's three Jurassic Parks -- or, according to his salary at the time, 200 million shirtless Jeff Goldblums.
He's partially covered because he charges a million per visible nipple.
This is why Pan ate shit like a drunk toddler in a pasture. Adding that marketing cost to a $150 million budget means that the film has to clear $350 million just to break even (which it did not). Compare that to another Peter Pan film: Hook, which back in the '90s cost only $70 million to make, despite having A-list stars and a top-notch director. It ended up making a "mere" $300 million -- which, while disappointing, isn't the tragic disaster of Pan. Because much like in America itself, the "middle class" of movies is slowly going away.
Or like Captain Hook, who will be a fetus in the next installment.
No, really. We're hitting Occupy Wall Street disparity when it comes to the box office, as 55 percent of the earnings from the top 15 films of 2015 were made by only five of those films. Everything else is either breaking even or bombing. This is because, while movie and marketing budgets might be getting larger, the average American still only sees about five movies per year ... and it's apparently the same five for everyone.
The result is a series of chart-topping gems sandwiched between slabs of record-shattering fart nuggets. If you look at the bottom six worst wide-openings of films in the last 30 years, three of them are from 2015 (and two of those are from the same damn weekend).
We've always said that Delgo was ahead of its time.
Movies like Jem And The Holograms and Victor Frankenstein made history for opening weekend losses. Films from this year topped multiple "worst box office performance" charts for wide releases which ranged from 2,500 to 3,000 theaters. Like the ultimate Hot Pocket, the colds are getting colder and the hots are getting hotter, with nothing in between. Also like Hot Pockets, movies are now a bummer to consume during a certain time of the year ...
Holidays Are No Longer Meaningful To A Film's Success
It used to be that a three-day weekend would all but guarantee some new money-gobbling epic about a day of alien independence or men who are also spiders. It was a simpler time. Now, pretty much every mainstream movie brands itself as the event of the summer before we even get to July.
In 2015, we saw Jupiter Ascending lead to Fifty Shades Of Grey lead to Cinderella lead to Chappie lead to Insurgent lead to Furious 7 before spring. By the time we got to July 4th weekend, we had all but exhausted ourselves with (*deep breathI) Ant-Man, Mad Max, Terminator Genisys, Jurassic World, San Andreas, Inside Out, Tomorrowland, and Age Of Ultron.
We tasted the apocalypse six times before our first barbecue.
The result was an all-time low turnout during what's been a gradually decreasing box office holiday. The Memorial Day before it was no different -- and in fact, it saw the worst box office sales since America learned to spell "al Qaeda."
In California, this is now the date on which you remember all the brave execs who've been sacked.
This was after another historic drop in 2014. What we're seeing is a gradual decline in the importance of dates which normally were associated with big-budget releases, since every major film is branded a big-dollar behemoth. By fall, we were continuing the trend of increasingly bad holidays, as Halloween ended with the lowest October in box office sales since 2000. When you take Jurassic World and Age Of Ultron out of the equation, even the summer got a terrible turnout. As I mentioned before, most of us paced ourselves for the few giant hits we actually wanted to see, while everything else sank to the bottom of the toilet.
And now that we're getting a giant Star Wars event every December, we've officially stretched blockbuster season to 12 whole months. The only way for the studios to prevent a rupture would be to theatrically release fewer movies per year. Which would actually be a good idea, considering that ...
Not All Movies Need Theatrical Releases Anymore
The film having been made on a budget of $6 million, Netflix put an additional $12 million into buying the rights to distribute Beasts Of No Nation -- a film that made only $90,000 in a limited theatrical release. On paper, that would make this movie a theatrical flop ... which was exactly what Netflix planned. Because Beasts was obviously designed to get a shitload of views on Netflix (which it did), and was only given a limited theatrical run to technically qualify the film for Oscars, such as Best Actor for Idris Elba in his role as the lovable anti-hero mentor who carries the team to the big game or whatever. I only skimmed the synopsis for this one.
He's like the grump Coach Buttermaker of the film, right?
In other words, this theatrical steamer was a secret success, thanks to the increasingly waning importance of a movie's performance at the multiplex. (About a zillion of you watched The Crapsack Half-Dozen.) The Beasts model is once more being copied for the Crouching Tiger sequel, which is being released on Netflix and in theaters on the same date -- a move that's causing theaters to actually boycott the film due to the competing business. And can you blame them? Netflix is slowly pulling the thread from the idea that a movie's success is dependent on how many people show up to see it in a giant room.
Plus, these days, certain films simply don't need to be seen on the big screen, and in fact might be hurt by such a viewing. You know what stupid-ass movie I actually enjoyed? Unfriended, a horror film taking place exclusively on the computer monitor of annoying teenagers being brutally murdered by household appliances.
It was cute.
It's also a movie that, by design, shouldn't be watched in a big theater, but rather on a laptop in the comfort of a Batman Snuggie and a whiskey haze. Same goes for those insufferable-yet-popular Paranormal Activity films -- the newest of which played with this model by being released on VOD a mere 40 days after its lukewarm theatrical run. In order to get away with this, the production company actually offered theater chains a cut of the digital revenues -- a deal that not all of the theaters are accepting, for fear of losing business. They're terrified, like a chubby kid getting fucked up by a ghost blender.
Seriously, watch this movie.
Only those giant IMAX 3D films aren't going away, giving the indie and arthouse movies a chance to gradually move over to the smaller screen. At least, if those still exist in the future ...
Adult-Oriented Films Might Be Going Extinct
Considering that it costs studios hundreds of millions of dollars in campaigning and doesn't in any way guarantee a film's box office success, winning an Academy Award is purely a vanity prize. It's a way for producers to hold their heads up, knowing that their empire isn't solely built on Jennifer Lawrence's angry face or charming Chris Pratt abs. More importantly, indie and Oscar-bait films are to artistic innovation what James Cameron and Peter Jackson are to the technical kind. Awards season is a time in which filmmakers can break abstract ground, like shooting a movie over the span of 12 years or making your story look like one continuous shot.
It's also a great time for pretentious green posters.
But this year, we're faced with a much different dilemma than arguing over which Oscar-bait films are overrated: trying to even name one. Go ahead, name an indie film from 2015 that really broke ground as a Best Picture contender, or surprisingly blew up at the box office. It doesn't exist, because 2015 was a terrible year for arthouse and indie films, too.
So what happened? For starters, indie theaters are dead. And so any cinemas playing small, independent films like Ex Machina are also playing competing studio films like Furious 7. Secondly, there was a huge influx in indie and adult-themed films this year. And when we combine these two factors, we get one of the worst Oscar seasons ever. It started in October -- a month in which this happened:
No, not for real, you dopes.
The Martian was a terrific Thanksgiving-bound film that was suddenly moved up two months before its release. While that was great for any space farming fans who died on Halloween, this sudden change put the film squarely in the most important month for potential Oscar nominees like Burnt, Truth, and other one-word titles you're hearing for the first time. Instead of seeing those films, audiences were delighted by Matt Damon's charming astronaut banter. But once again: Can you blame them? I can't. That Damon's one hot bowl of gnocchi -- and as I keep saying, the average moviegoer doesn't have time to see every goddamn film. We're all really, really busy. And so it would be nice for someone in Hollywood to cut the fat so that I don't have to spell it out for them. Considering how uneducated I am, it's getting embarrassing.
David is an associate of science with a certification in high-school-level academic skills, which he'll be happy to discuss on Twitter.
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