What could be causing the recent box office slide? Attendance is down 10 percent since last year and even the blockbusters War of the Worlds and Batman Begins couldn’t bring it back to where it was last fourth of July.
To be fair, it’s not as bad as all that. War of the Worlds earned a four-day gross of $77.6 million, second only to last year’s Spider-Man 2, which earned $88.1 million. Is that really so bad? It’s not when you factor in the must-see element to Spider-Man 2, which, frankly, no film this year can lay claim to.
The slump, as it were, is generating much talk, from Fox news, which blames the diminishing returns on the attack of the killer remakes, sequels and stale ideas. While it’s hard not to agree, the same sort of unoriginal fare has been making money for years now so it can’t be that alone.
DailyKos.com, a left-leaning blog, has a heated discussion that blames the Bush administration and the wave of conservatism that seems to be sweeping the country – too many sluts, drug addicts and poor role models. That is one possible theory. Perhaps further investigation into the matter might reveal that the same 10 percent that isn’t going to the movies was exactly the margin needed to elect President Bush for a second term. But does anyone really believe that if Hollywood made more religious epics, like the smash The Last Temptation of Christ, it would improve the box office as a whole? Not likely.
More likely, Fox News is on to something. Audiences are not as predictable. Anyone who works in Hollywood knows this. Just when you think you have it down pat as to what they want, the audience wants change. Last year, it looked like the formula had been set and the films were all making lots of money as predicted. This year, not so much.
Contrary to popular belief, we are not stupid. We can only stomach so much before we turn back to our TIVOs (the culprit if there ever was one) and start to make a dent in the many wonderful television shows and movies we have, commercial free, at our disposal.
Let’s face it, the comforts of home are far more alluring now than they ever have been. There’s Netflix, which sends DVDs through the mail with no late fees – all you need is an address and online access. Home theaters are getting cheaper and better and movies seems to go from the theater to DVD relatively quickly.
Movies are becoming, more and more, activities for parents with nothing else to do with their kids, and for teenagers on a Saturday night. Adult movies have taken the biggest hit, it appears. Log on to Boxofficemojo and it becomes all too clear that of the top ten box office hits of the year you can go down the list, date movie, kid movie, date movie, kid movie before finally getting to The Interpreter at number 15 with a total of $71 million. Below it is the disappointing Cinderella Man, a very adult film, which sits at number 22 with a scant $54 million. The best film of the year so far is Crash, which hovers at number 27 with $49 million.
Grown up movies aren’t making money so they aren’t being made – that is a huge portion of the population that is skipping the theater and staying home. Without a lot of quality, grown up films being released, the slate looks pretty grim – one crappy movie after another.
There is one other factor that could be coming into play – the recent surge in celebrity-hating. Lindsay Lohan, for instance, failed to carry Herbie: Full Loaded anywhere because upon the film’s release, she dropped twenty pounds and suddenly looked like a strung out coke whore – the formerly nubile redhead’s name, at 19 years old, is mud. The story spreads all over the tabloids and on the internet – is it any wonder no one wanted to see her film?
Same goes for Russell Crowe, whose Cinderella Man underperformed after Crowe assaulted some poor hotel concierge. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Smith benefited from the tabloid attention to its two notorious stars, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, because they did their best to stay completely out of the spotlight and never be seen smooching in public (nobody knows for sure if they are indeed an item to this day).
Perhaps it’s time to count blessings rather than downplaying what is essentially positive news. What is perhaps more surprising than how few people are going to see movies is how many are still going despite the positively awful films that are being released. Monster-in-Law, for instance, was panned universally but still managed to make $80 million. And The Pacifier made a staggering $112 million. If those craptacular films can be high earners, anything is possible.
Fourth of July Weekend Box Office numbers:
1. War of the Worlds $77.6 million.
2. Batman Begins, $18.7 million.
3. Mr. & Mrs. Smith, $12.7 million.
4. Bewitched, $10.8 million.
5. Herbie: Fully Loaded, $10.5 million.
6. Madagascar, $7 million.
7. Rebound, $6 million.
8. Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, $5 million.
9. The Longest Yard, $3.5 million.10. George Romero’s Land of the Dead, $3.2 million.