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Remember Me: The Box Office & Pop Culture Longevity…

I was reading an interesting article on Rope of Silicon which pondered whether Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was our generation’s iteration of The Big Lebowski. Much like the comparisons between The Social Network and Citizen Kane, it doesn’t matter whether the question is downright ridiuclous or even improper, it simple serves to illustrate the type of movie that people think of when they see these modern films. That people would even utter “Scott Pilgrim” and “The Dude” in the same sentence is a huge compliment to the latter, no matter what the literal result of the comparison. Of course, this is small comfort to the studio which is no doubt disappointed by the less than stellar box office returns. However, ignoring the obvious immediate and practical impact of box office receipts, do they speak at all to a film’s longevity?

Does the box office disappointment mean "game over" for Scott Pilgrim?

A huge box office generally means that the mainstream has embraced your property. It’s great news for any film – as it inevitably means that a sequel is assured and the hard work of all the people involved in the film will be rewarded with higher paying gigs and more high profile roles. It basically guarantees the future of your film if it can generate huge revenue out of the gate.

In contrast, disappointing box office returns generally mean that the film like languish in something resembling movie limbo. It’ll air a bit on cable, maybe be used as one of several examples of a given genre (but never as “the” example) and you can look forward to the creators attempting to salvage their careers by latching to a far more conventional production. The short term consequences can be devastating – bad box office can stunt careers or wipe out genres. None of which is particularly good when you are talking about a project which was risky in the first place. You can pretty much give up on seeing it again.

Is the Expendables ultimately expendable?

However, I wonder if the long-term prospects are any better. History would indicate that long-term pop culture memory can be far kinder to films than the public on opening weekend. It’s easy to list the “masterpieces” which “underperformed” on their initial release – be it Blade Runner which has been rereleased so often I’ve lost count, or It’s a Wonderful Life which became a Christmas staple on television decades after its initial release.

And what happens to blockbuster fare? I mean, a lot of are still talking about Titanic and The Lord of the Rings. However, I wonder what legacy – if any – we’ll see for films like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It’s interesting to wonder what the longterm legacies of the two films which beat Scott Pilgrim at the box office will be. What will we think of Eat Pray Love and The Expendables in five to ten years time? Will we talk of them of all? (That said, this somewhat arrogantly assumes that we will be talking about Scott Pilgrim in five to ten years time, which I readily accept may not be the case.)

Of course, this sort of legacy doesn’t exactly balance out the impact of more immediate failure. Frank Capra never really recovered from the failure of It’s a Wonderful Life, despite the fact it became perhaps his most iconic film. Ridley Scott is perhaps lucky that the rehabilitation of Bladerunner came during his lifetime (although you’d argue that having Alien on his filmography would have meant he didn’t have to worry about it too much). That said, it is perhaps a bit of comfort that the box office isn’t necessarily the final arbitrator on a movie’s legacy.

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