In the wake of the 87th Academy Awards, I realized that Hollywood is at a crossroads - a pretty important one at that. Coming off of a HUGE 16% ratings drop from last year's telecast, the Oscars have been accused of being overlong and boring, and suffer from the reality that, quite frankly, not many people had seen the films. We often hear "why wasn't this nominated?" or "I don't think that film should've won" or "the right films are never nominated." I think this year specifically, a lot of very deserving films got the nominations and recognition they all deserved- it's just too bad a majority of the audience watching the telecast had never heard of any of the films not named American Sniper. That's a huge problem.
Now, I have been a huge cinephile for years and am an aspiring filmmaker, so I've always made it my business to keep up to date with the films and watch them all. However, I've noticed that these films are getting harder and harder to catch in a theater because of the super limited releases and the short theater run- the window just keeps shrinking and shrinking to watch these films and it's a shame. Popular to contrary belief, and I realize I may be in the minority on this, but I don't think these films have gone unseen because people think they are "bad", I think they've gone unseen because of a lack of exposure and an oversaturation of studio and first run films that take up about 85% of screens at any local theater. I think that Hollywood is underestimating how well these smaller, independent films can do if they were given a chance. Below I will get into what I think some of the reasons for this perceived disconnect between Hollywood and its viewers and how it's brought Hollywood to quite a difficult crossroads- to find a balance, or not to find a balance?
Every few years there is a new fad that overtakes Hollywood films. It was zombie films for a while in the early 2000s, then it was vampires (thanks, Twilight), and now we have superheroes. Unlike zombies and vampires, however, superhero films aren't going anywhere any time soon and there are a few reasons why.
The first and the most obvious reason is that the films make money. Simple as that. Comic book films have accounted for over two billion dollars in box office receipts, globally and domestically, making them a very valuable and highly sought property. What makes comic book films so unique and different from other literary properties is that they not only churn out new content regularly, but they, in most cases, have loads of older material that can lead to what seems like an endless stream of films. I'm not necessarily talking about well known properties like Batman, Superman, The Avengers and Spider-Man either. Marvel and Disney took, from what I understand, a very obscure comic in The Guardians of the Galaxy, and made it a blockbuster and one of the best films of the year- it grossed over $330 million. So what does all of this translate to? Buckets and buckets of money for the studios. Money makes the world go round, especially in Hollywood.
Piggybacking off of my previous point, these films make money because they have a huge built in audience. As I mentioned, Guardians of the Galaxy was a blockbuster in 2014. As a matter of fact, it was the second highest grossing film of the year behind The Hunger Games: Mockinjay Part 1, $333,176,600 to $336,410,376 respectively. Listen, I'm no comic book expert nor will I ever pretend to be, but a good majority of my friends are avid comic readers and from all that they've told me, The Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the more obscure and quirky comic book where only hardcore comic fans have even heard of it. So a film made out of an obscure comic book with a quirky cast of characters that boast a giant, walking, talking tree, and a genetically engineered talking raccoon went on to be a critically acclaimed box office juggernaut. Even a novice and occasional comic reader like me saw, and for that matter LOVED, the film and drove it to the top of the box office. That's saying something for the long term forecast of comic book film adaptations, which I'm fine with. I enjoy this exposure to comic book characters that I otherwise would not pay attention to.
As I mentioned earlier, I am a cinephile. I love movies, all kinds of them. I can watch movies all day (which I have), and still feel like I didn't watch enough. As an aspiring filmmaker myself, I tend to sway towards smaller, independent films that tell stories Hollywood studios won't touch. So I am all for these films getting recognition and when they do, like a lot of worthy films did at this year’s Academy Awards, I get excited. Whether they win or not is a non-issue, I'm just happy to see smaller films that casual film goers would otherwise never have heard of, be on film's biggest stage- the problem is watching them.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, and American Sniper all opened in limited release at a poultry 4 theaters, while Whiplash opened in 6. What do all of these films have in common? They were all nominated for Best Picture and each went home with at least one Oscar. Guardians of the Galaxy opened in 4,080 theaters, The Hunger Games: Mockinjay Part 1 in 4,151, Captain America: Winter Soldier in 3,938, and the LEGO Movie in 3,890. What do all of those films have in common? They round out the top-5 highest grossing films of 2014. You know what else they have in common? Neither were nominated for Best Picture or won an Academy Award. The fifth film to round out that list? American Sniper, which just became the highest grossing war film of all time. So films that were only exposed to a very small percent of the population were honored on Hollywood's biggest night, yet only one of the top-5 grossing films of the year were almost non-exsitant- Guardians and Captain America named noms for Best Visual Effects. I'm not sure Hollywood is really doing themselves justice here. So, what exactly am I getting at here? What I'm getting at is that there is room for all of these films to coexist with each other. There will be no dents in the aromor of your superhero franchises- they will always make money. But did a little diversity ever hurt?
The Grand Budapest Hotel had the highest-grossing limited release in cinema history until American Sniper blew it away. Birdman is ranked in the top-10 highest-grossing limited releases in cinema history. Whiplash made $12 million on a $3 million budget. Films like Fury and Nightcrawler have been banking solid numbers on VOD and DVD/Blu-Ray rentals. The recent success of Gravity, a film that came out of nowhere to gross $200+ million domestically, $700+ million worldwide, should be a sign that if a film is good, it will find an audience. Not everything needs to be based on a toy line and have giant robots blowing stuff up, or the next best selling young adult novel, or a video game adaptation that should've never made it passed the pitch process. There is an audience for these films. It seems like a small audience, but it's not. The corner restaurant that only has 15 tables and has to turn hundreds of people away, does that make it a "bad" restaurant because it can't seat 300+ people on a Saturday night like your local Applebee's? Does that mean that more people like eating at Applebee's than at the corner restaurant? Not at all, but it seems that way doesn't it? Does it make me pretentious if I prefer to eat at the tiny corner restaurant more often than I do at Applebee's? Of course not, it just means I like their food better. The proof is there, I just don't know why Hollywood thinks it isn't.
I love comic book films, but I don't want to be inundated with them. If I don't want to watch a comic book film, why do I need to trek over the river and through the woods (ok, only half true) in order to catch one of 3 showings on the day in a 5 screen theater? In today's day and age, this is a tall order to get people to the theater, isn't it? Couple that with the extremely limited release, and it's almost impossible. No one wants to hunt down a theater for showtimes anymore. Yet, these films make a KILLING in limited release and sell out- I didn't get to Whiplash until my third try. But there's no audience for them, right? Is there really a need to take up 18 screens at a 20 screen theater to run the same movie? Believe it or not, movies don't really sell out anymore.....unless they are in limited release. For the Hollywood pundits that wonder why movie theater attendance is down or their big budget films bomb and don't even make back their budget, they need not look further than the product they put out. If a film is bad, a film is bad- you can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig. The audience doesn't lie.
My point is this; Hollywood, let US decide what we want to see. I don't like having to choose between 3 movies when there are a dozen others out (there are dozens of us!). Numbers don't lie and who is the driving force behind those numbers? The audience. History and box office receipts have proven that people, whether familiar or not like myself, will go out and see the latest comic book film adaptaion because they're entertaining and usually pretty damn good. But if you want people to be invested in your highest level awards show, and to stop thinking it's one giant circle jerk, perhaps you should make the honored films readily available for them, shouldn't you? And I'm not just talking about a marathon at a select AMC theater a week before the Academy Awards. If you want people to care and be interested in your four hour long telecast to honor Hollywood's elite, try exposing your target demographic to the films you will be honoring. You should also maybe consider utilizing your 5-10 slots Best Picture category wisely and not leave 2 spots open when they could have been filled with critically acclaimed, commercial hits like Gone Girl, Interstellar or, dare I say, a comic book movie like Guardians of the Galaxy? Cast a broader net. The audience is there. Trust me on this; I talk to them every day. For a profession that teaches aspiring artists to adhere to the moniker "trust your audience is smart enough", they really seem to demean them more often than not.
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This is Jovanni, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.