The Atlantic Wire suggests that moviegoers are sick of Hollywood’s efforts to soak them by revisiting the same old concepts:
The numbers are in, and they show what studio execs likely feared and movie-goers likely suspected all along: Not a lot of people went to the movies this year. Box-office tracker Hollywood.com says that “an estimated 1.275 billion tickets sold” in 2011, a 4.8 percent decrease from 2010 making for “the smallest movie audience since 1995,” reports the AP. A hodgepodge of reasons for the sour showing were cited in the AP and ABC News reports. Among them: Too many sequels, too many kids movies, too many distracting gadgets, the bad economy, high ticket prices, and, something being called an “‘Avatar’ hangover” from 2010.
I’m not entirely convinced. Seven of the top-grossing movies in 2011 are sequels, and one, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, is simultaneously a reboot of and a prequel to a popular franchise. The two that fall into neither category, Thor and Captain America, are part of Marvel’s grand Avengers product, and so while they were both handsome movies, are not exactly proof of Americans seeking out fresh concepts. You have to go all the way down to the 12th movie on the list, Bridesmaids, to find a feature that is wholly new, not based on a book, or unlinked to an existing project or franchise. Rio, Super 8, Rango, and Horrible Bosses are the only other movies in the top 20. Clearly, Hollywood’s having some real trouble selling original stories to American audiences, or for whatever, reason, finding original stories that it feels comfortable trying to sell.
The presence of Rio and Rango on that list also suggests that family movies aren’t completely the kiss of death—it’s that other movies weren’t catching hold with the teen and adult audiences in a way that would have pushed those family films further down the list. It makes sense that terrible kids’ movies like Mars Needs Moms would flop, and it’s always nice to see the market recognize stupidity when it sees it as happened there. But it’s really too bad to see a terrific family film like Hugo struggling to make back its production costs: the movie took $155 million to make, and thus far has hauled in just north of $45 million, and I wonder if a lot of that is because people are so sick of paying extra for 3D movies that aren’t particularly worth it that they’re turning away from a movie where 3D is used to brilliant, lovely effect.
It would be nice to believe that the two-year box office slump we’re seeing has an easily diagnosable cause, that studios could just sit up and say “Huh, audiences aren’t loving 3D. Let’s ditch the glasses and everyone will come back.” But there seems like a failure to connect on a more fundamental level. I don’t know that the formula for something like Fast Five is easy to distill and make use of in original features, though I will always take more movies with multiracial casts in which Dwanye Johnson acts somewhat hyperreal. And I don’t know what the best way to get audiences in theaters for some great movies that just went so wholly overlooked, like A Better Life. What Hollywood—and those of us in the seats need isn’t necessarily more blockbusters. It’s more deeply compelling mid-budget, mid-gross flicks.