I was reading a post yesterday by Nathan Bransford about how Storytelling is getting formulaic and it got me thinking about blockbusters. I’m not talking about blockbusters in the olden sense like Gone With the Wind. Those older films would release and would be massively consumed over a long period of time, then re-released and consumed some more. The way media is today, films don’t generally have that luxury. We live in an era of instant gratification and if a film doesn’t earn a satisfactory amount on its opening weekend, the film needs to hope to be good overseas or on the home market. Blockbusters are no longer designed for the slow trickle. it’s go big or go home.
With production companies realizing that they have a great potential to earn back on some films that may not earn out with their blockbusters, the films have become standard fare. Essentially, their plan to invest more on blockbusters that will pull in box office revenue is beginning to turn on them. Sure, there were always blockbuster flops. Sometimes a film that looks good on paper doesn’t turn out so well on screen. Some films that are even good, but don’t connect with the audience at the time of release can fall into this trap. But with the shift changing to numerous blockbusters, they are investing too much money in these large films. Oblivion, After Earth, The Lone Ranger, White House Down, Pacific Rim, R.I.P.D., Turbo and a few others had massive budgets but had mediocre to awful domestic box offices in comparison.
I remember when I was a kid, there were only a couple big blockbuster films that came out each summer, maybe another two around the holidays, and maybe one in spring. This summer rolled in a major blockbuster almost every weekend for three months straight. With the cost of movies going up, people need to pick and choose their films. Especially if they have families, going to the movies can be like a mini vacation. It is part of why timing these blockbusters is everything. Do you compete against another big movie, possibly splitting profits or come out with too similar a a movie week later, after people have spent their movie budget for a while. It results in conflict and clearly plenty of films are making poor bets combined with not being as appealing.
There are gems that emerge out of the slush. Some of these giant blockbusters, even if they aren’t the best films, know how to entertain and keep an audience. Fast and Furious 6 (Justin Lin 2013) is a great example of this. The film is filled with a lot of boom and outrageous stunts, but it is entertaining. It keeps you engaged. I suspect it has something to do a bit with the characters as well. True, they may not be the best characters in the world, but we’ve been given the chance to get to know them over time. You understand where they are coming from. Even if you don’t, the ride the film takes you on keeps tension up and makes you want to finish.
These blockbusters give you a true chance at escapism. You’re given the chance to see your wildest dream on screen. When films first came about at the turn of the century, the spectacle is what it was all about. Watching a train barrel toward you was thrilling. It was something you couldn’t normally see. It took you to places that most people couldn’t go. It was wonder. It was fantastic. Today’s blockbusters are doing exactly that. They are giving us true spectacle and otherworldly experiences. The goal is for them to maintain a level of quality in the storytelling that engages us viewers and makes us feel like the film is more than just its flash and glamour.
I think this summer’s series of failures when it came to massively budgeted and hugely marketed films will spur the production companies to take a different look at their recent approach. (FYI, The production budget of a film does not include the marketing budget.) Now, I don’t expect production companies to shift majorly because the opening weekend release is still important. However, I do expect in the coming years a lowering likelihood of a studio spending large amounts of money of films that are not established franchises.
Here are the the summer releases ranked by opening weekend gross.
- About Spectacle (soipondered.wordpress.com)
- Johnny Depp Blames Critics For Lone Ranger Debacle (ign.com)