Those erstwhile young geeks at io9 have an interesting post today about a phenomenon which has vexed me occasionally over the years – revisionist no-nothing ninnies who tell you that a movie was a flop, when it really was nothing of the kind.
Exhibit A, the film illustrated above – Kevin Costner sci-fi adventure “Waterworld”. I guarantee you that if you spoke to the average person on the street and asked them about the movie, at least a few of them would eagerly recall that it was a terrible movie and a flop to boot.
The jury’s out on the film’s relative quality, and that’s a subjective argument anyway (for the record, I think it’s a lot of fun. Not brilliant, not terrible, scientifically all over the shop but a whole heap of good times. Two words: ‘Dennis’. ‘Hopper’), but one thing that you can take to the bank is that it wasn’t the financial sinkhole that Monday Morning box office analysts would have you think it is.
That film’s production cost was officially $175 million in 1995 – big figures, no doubt – and made $88 million in the US. Worldwide, the film made a further $175 million. Not “Avatar” grosses, I’ll be the first to admit, but hardly a case of the film opening and closing in a weekend and making $1.5 million.
Similarly, another title in io9‘s list, the Tim Burton ‘re-imagining’ of “Planet of the Apes” is perceived as a disappointment (no argument from me) but did great business – budget $100 million, worldwide gross $362 million. I suspect the poor critical reception that this film enjoyed is the reason why we’ve never seen a sequel or continuation of the Burton version of the mythology, as the numbers probably justify more films being made.
The only common thread in a lot of the movies on the io9 list is that they cost a stupid amount of money to make and were almost bound never to make to that initial financial outlay back unless they were blockbusters for the ages – and if we know anything about entertainment in the contemporary era, it’s that studios can’t manufacture a cultural phenomenon and they just focus on making half-decent films.
My point here, and I do have one, is that films don’t have to cost the earth to be enjoyable – and few audiences outside of Los Angeles give a two-penny toss for how much a film cost to make.
In a period where everybody’s feeling the financial pinch and prioritising what they spend, whose bright idea was it to make going to the cinema more expensive, less comfortable and not especially enjoyable? I read anecdotal evidence from families going to the cinema in the US which suggested that a typical movie night for two parents and two kids topped out at around $100 if you factor in food/snacks for everybody, especially if you’re shelling out for the ticket up-pricing which accompanies a 3D release.
Who can afford that kind of price? Admission prices (and the quality of films latterly) are the reason that I rent or buy Blu-Ray releases and watch them on my projector at home (no, we’re not rich – it was cheaper than a decent-sized HD tv set when we bought it). A lot of the experience of going to see a film with none of the hassle was the appeal to me and it has to be said that I can a lot of people going a similar way.
I can count the number of films that I have to see at the cinema on the fingers of both hands – my nerdy obsession with the “Underworld” series aside, I’ll probably be seeing “John Carter”, “The Avengers”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Skyfall”, “Prometheus” and “The Hobbit” at the cinema if a certain terrier’s health improves enough to allow her parents out of the house for a few hours.
Event pictures all and “Underworld” aside, films with the budgets to match. But 3D and deep financial coffers don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. I’d go and see anything if it looked interesting or fun and what I’m ultimately saying in this post is that it’s about time that studios really got back into the habit of making smaller films.
Not that small equals better, but surely it makes more sense to have a more diverse portfolio of stories than a couple of gigantically expensive epics which cost so much that they can’t easily go into profit without dominating the global box office. Not every movie can be an “Avatar” and not every movie should be – the differentiation is what makes cinema such an invigorating medium when it’s done right. Big pics, medium flicks and small gems – surely this isn’t that hard an idea for Hollywood to grasp?