Some interesting analysis from GQ and the L.A. Times: one heralding the resurrection of adult films (not pornographic, but R rated tales aimed at adults instead of their children) and the other asserting its demise.
In the L.A. Times piece titled “Quality Films Prove Profitable,” Patrick Goldstein points out that in contrast to previous Oscar nominated films that performed abysmally at the box office (The Hurt Locker won best picture yet only made $17 million), five of the ten Best Picture nominees have made over $85 million:
“The King’s Speech,” “The Social Network,” “The Fighter,” “True Grit” and “Black Swan” have all made more than $85 million at the U.S. box office, with three of the five having passed or on track to pass $100 million.Talk about unprecedented. Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com says there have never been five best picture nominees that all made that much money in any Oscar season.
Goldstein goes on to explain some possible reasons for this trend, including quality storytelling and a lack of competition from big budget holiday films (Tron Legacy performed lower than expected, making more than its production budget only when it went abroad). Overall, the article implies that these Oscar-caliber money-makers could prove a shift toward quality storytelling.
In contrast to Goldstein’s optimism, Mark Harris in the GQ essay hyperbolically titled, “The Day the Movies Died,” opines the death of storytelling films in favor of brands:
Hollywood has become an institution that is more interested in launching the next rubberized action figure than in making the next interesting movie.
Harris provides a noteworthy historical context of the “Summer Blockbuster Season” in its initial forms, explaining that Alien, The Shining, or An Officer and a Gentleman could be summer films because, “Sex was okay—so was an R rating. Adults were treated as adults rather than as overgrown children hell-bent on enshrining their own arrested development.”
Harris then utilizes Top Gun as an example of the high concept summer blockbuster, where the poster tagline sold the film more than the story and marketing the product became more important than the product itself. His commentary on branding might be the most relevant to the present Hollywood formula: Actors used to be the “brand” that would ensure a film’s success, but that’s now shifted to actual brands (comic books, board games, Disney rides, books). Armageddon was about Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and a bunch of other moderately known actors bringing butts to the seats. Now they’re hoping the toys of your childhood will provoke enough familiarity that you’ll buy a ticket (there are films being made based on Magic 8 Ball, Monopoly, and Stretch Arm Strong).
Harris points out that a film like Inception proves that you don’t need these brands to make a film. It has made over $800 million worldwide, yet according to Harris, studios are ignoring the success and sticking to their tired gameplan.
Both pieces are good reads and I think both Goldstein and Harris make good points. Successful Oscar nominees can’t be a bad thing – it just remains to be seen whether studios will decide to acknowledge their triumphs and become more willing to spend $50 million on quality films that can be R-rated and not based on a comic book/board game/toy.