The economics of Hollywood misery

The critics are blaming the films for the poor box office this year so far. While they have a point (we could always do with better films) I think they are missing the main cause- the ticket prices. At my local Cineworld, the cheapest price for my wife and I to see a film, during the afternoon, is £18. It gets rather more expensive in the evening, and then there are the usual premiums for 3D and 4D, Imax etc*. The ticket-prices can get pretty eye-watering. In some cases it could be £40+ for us both to go see a film. Which is just plain crazy. I know that it’s an evening out and alternatives can be equally or indeed more expensive, and I know Cineworld and other chains have loyalty programmes that reduces prices a little if you subscribe/spend more/go more often (it’s frankly bizarre to see cinemas getting away with doing the same direct debit/rental schtick that tv providers on cable and satellite have managed rather than just, er, stick to lower ticket prices for everybody). But really -most of the blockbusters are rubbish and hardly worth £5 a ticket. And other arthouse/indie films hardly get a look-in even at the multiplex: they’d rather have the same film doing a four-screen rotation.

£30+ for two of us to go see a movie in the evening, putting up with noisy audiences who need to chat through the film or text on their phones or check facebook/twitter or whatever the hell they are doing glued to their brightly distracting magic little screens in the dark, and those who demonstrate lousy bladder control by getting up and going to the loo during the best bits of a bloody film.

Or:  £15 to buy the film on disc and watch as many times as I like in the comfort of my own home without the moronic distractions. Or much less to just rent the thing via streaming (Life was £1.99 on Amazon Prime, which probably had something to do with me quite liking it.) Do the math Hollywood. I don’t think simply making better films is the answer. Is it a case of audiences voting with their wallets because the films are lousy or simply that it is just getting too expensive?

*(Of course, if you’re expecting audiences to cough up £9 – £21 a ticket to watch a two-hour movie, they want plenty of bang for their buck, which is no doubt why so many big loud stupid blockbusters do the rounds these days. And why even critics darling Dunkirk feels it is necessary to spray water in people’s faces and throw them around in their seats in 4D showings.)

 

 

 

Bigger, Louder, Dumber, Safer: Iron Man 3 Reaches the All-Time Top Five.

iron3Well, there’s no accounting for taste.

According to Box Office Mojo, the online tracker of film box-office takings, summer super-hero film  Iron Man 3 has become the fifth top-grossing film of all time,  having now made $1.14 billion worldwide, surpassing the takings of previous fifth place movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Well, its certainly true that one shouldn’t confuse financial success with quality, as that Transformers film’s success proves, but I must confess I was frankly gob-smacked at this news regards Iron Man 3.  I thought it was an ‘okay’ movie but in no way did I ever suspect it would prove to be the hit it apparently is.

I guess if nothing else it should make Robert Downey Jr’s negotiations regards Iron Man 4 something of a headache for the notoriously level-headed and cost-concious Marvel Studios executives.

But what is it about Iron Man? I remember feeling rather ‘meh’ several years ago when the first film was announced, as I had thought the character rather low-tier/ second-rate Marvel, but I was proven wrong back then and look to be continually so-proven today. The public sure loves the metal hero, or at least Robert Downey Jr’s charismatic, stylish performance (really, though, considering his other movie performances, is Downey ever playing a character or just himself? Is his Tony Stark a great leap from his Sherlock Holmes?). To what then do we account for the huge success of the film, and indeed the character/Downey’s presence towards the success of the Avengers movie, which is even higher up in third place on the all-time list?

The public certainly doesn’t seem to be tiring of super-hero movies, which no doubt has Warner Bros drooling at the prospects of its imminent Man of Steel movie. Personally while I enjoy the movies I’m beginning to think Marvel Studios is becoming some kind of monster devouring critics and box-office records in its path. Where will it all end?

This does bring to mind something I saw on BBC News a few weeks ago. It was an item raising the perceived low-importance of female characters in current films, poor roles for actresses and the perhaps continuing male-dominance of the film industry, particularly in America.  One of the women interviewed was a UK producer, I forget her name but she did state that it all may be symptomatic of the way Hollywood makes movies now, particularly its blockbusters. Her point was that as Hollywood is aiming its films at an ever-more international market (I believe the Chinese print of Iron Man 3 actually has a few scenes/shots unique to that territory), its easier to ‘sell/translate’ these films to foreign markets by minimising dialogue and simplifying plot-lines, and emphasising the visuals. An action sequence translates into any language and can be understood by anybody on the planet, as opposed to a dialogue-heavy, twisting plot that might be culturally unique or have elements at odds with certain beliefs/cultures. So women play a minor role in blockbuster films which instead of characterisation extol action and visual spectacle.  Likewise we get stupid films like Star Trek Into Darkness (currently $258 million worldwide after about two weeks) that is littered with crowd-pleasing vacuous ‘wow’ moments that sell just as easily to a kid in California as to a kid in Shanghai or Sydney.  Let’s have a shot of the Enterprise-in-hiding raising itself out of the ocean in a huge fx shot to wow the cinema-goers who won’t think about how more secret and low-key it would have been just to keep the damn ship out of sight in orbit.

I guess what this means is that I’m going to be even more annoyed by crass stupidity in script-writing in future, as the box-office takings of these films seem to prove it actually works. Hollywood is more about making money than making great films after-all (its nice when both happen together but that seems to be a rarity). Films apparently don’t have to really make sense as much as they need to be making money. Nothing new I know, but as bigger budgets infer bigger financial risk, studios will increasingly play it safe in a need to sell their product to ever-more international markets. Which is a bit of an ominous prospect for me at least, because that seems to translate as Bigger, Louder, Dumber, Safer.