It’s already happening. We’re already calling Kick-Ass a failure. Even though it managed to narrowly slide into first place at the US Box Office over the weekend, there are tonnes of pundits ready to dogpile on top of it and describe it as the most epic kind of failure. It seems to be a cyclical experience every time that a big geek film emerges, that has experienced a large amount of pre-release hype on the old interweb: Snakes on a Plane, Watchmen and Grindhouse among others. So how come Hollywood keeps pandering to a niche that never seems to show up?
The first thing to observe is that sometimes the pandering pays off. There’s a lot of speculation at Iron Man 2 may secure the biggest opening weekend of all time when it arrives in the US next month, and it is the living embodiment of geek chic. Similarly any insecurities about the geeky comic book movies that were raised by Watchmen were somewhat erased by the surprising success of X-Men Origins: Wolverine a few weeks later. Geek-driven cinema is going strong.
But one might argue that there’s a whole order of magnitude between films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, with their simply massive mainstream appeal, and more niche and geeky properties like Snakes on a Plane or even Watchmen. Everyone knows Batman, who the hell knows Dr. Manhattan? Except for us geeks. Cause we’re cool like that. So, even if you except the appeal of the nerdy dollar, you must concede that it seems a lot safer for studios to play it safe with big mainstream properties rather than venturing into titles that draw hopefully fictional (and slightly disturbing) reactions like ‘nerdgasm’?
Being honest, it’s hard to figure out what ‘failure’ for a movie means these days, particularly as prognosticated by pundits. It was recently announced that Grindhouse – a film which failed so badly at the US box office they had to split it up for us simple Europeans) has just produced its second spinoff. Apparently we’ll be seeing Hobo with a Shotgun some time after Machete. Apparently ‘once bitten, twice shy’ means nothing to these big studios, at least according to the pundits who declared the big experiment financially stillborn. The ghost Snakes on a Plane continues to drive the production of web-driven publicity machines like Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus (albeit on a much smaller budget). Much to the chagrin of The Guardian, Hollywood is still using these old models and making movies for us, despite our apparent failure to show up on opening weekend, which is becoming rude at this point.
Every one of these films posted weak opening numbers (and, arguably, weak overall numbers) which were decried as some sort of cataclysm. I’m not convinced. Watchmen opened with a Box Office of the same size of Superman Returns, which was deemed a success (of course, Batman, being the devious little fellow he is, undermined Supes with an even bigger box office prize for Batman Begins). I think labeling it a bomb isn’t necessarily fair. Given the moderate-to-low budget of Kick-Ass, this isn’t a box office bomb. It isn’t an earth-shattering success, but it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s all about how you measure these things, and they need to be measured relative to the costs. A few weeks ago, the ever wise Castor made an excellent post about Hollywood films, budgets and when they make their money back that’s well worth a look. He makes the point that by that measure any number of success stories are severely undermined, struggling to make back money made on them. So what makes these cases so special that they deserve to be singled out?
I’m tempted to go the obvious route and suggest expectation management needs to be drawn on. I loved Kick-Ass. A whole host of enthusiastic bloggers agreed with me (or I with them). That got people talking about on-line. The assumption is that chatter means box office money. Not necessarily. That’s a faulty assumption and one I think needs be removed from the equation when speculating on the next ‘big’ release.
We’re nerds and geeks. We get excited about Kick-Ass, in the same way that teenage girls get excited about Channing Tatum, for example (he is the hulk of the moment, right?). However, we don’t vent our excitement and anticipation by gushing at lunch with the girls or googling pictures of that dreamboat, we do it be writing articles and tweets. These get picked up and noticed. Like some wizard staring into a couldron, these are interpreted as a grand design in motion. Hollywood executives don’t hang out at the local prep school or beauty salons or local hangouts, they browse the web. They’re wired in. So the interest from nerds, even though it may be comparable to the interest in a Channing Tatum vehicle, is magnified, because they can actually measure it and substantiate it.
Of course, this is conjecture. Maybe I’m being too straightforward. Personal experience also tells me that nerds like us are probably more likely to by the DVD than the casual movie-goers who flock to cinemas in great numbers than us. We’re suckers for special editions or rereleases. I make a point not to buy these deluxe packages, but I still own two copies of the Godfather Trilogy and two copies of Blade Runner. I’m a Hollywood executive’s wet dream. I have no figures to back this up (I’m not as awesome as Castor is), but I remember reading once that a film’s theatrical release is nothing but a trailer for the DVD. Hell, Alice in Wonderland had its cinematic run cut short (to the chagrin of cinemas) in order to get it out on DVD faster, because that’s where the money is. And those niche audience members are the ones who buy the video. I imagine a higher percentage of people who saw Kick-Ass this weekend will buy the home video release, especially compared to, say, Dear John. But I don’t know – but how many non-movie geeks do you know with a DVD collection over over 500?
I don’t know exactly what the box office figures mean, but I know that they don’t mean failure. At least not in any real terms.
Filed under: Movies Tagged: | box office, economics, failure, films, geeks, grindhouse, hobo with a shotgun, hollywood, home video, kick-ass, machete, Movies, nerds, snakes on a plane, studios, watchmen