Box office is in its sixteen week of declining revenues, en route to its worst financial showing in twenty years.
And to this I say….no shit.
For years now, the studios have shifted their model to marketing to teens (with their disposable income and lazy-ass schedules, they represent a large movie-going sector and will see movies they like numerous times) and have geared everything toward a big first-weekend gross. Van Helsing is a classic example. Universal marketed the hell out of it—McDonald tie-ins, endless P&A, talk of TV, amusement-park, and film franchise tie-ins—so it exploded in weekend #1—$52 million, but wound up at only $120 mil (“only” because the budget was $170, P&A $50). The huge second and third weekend declines were due to the fact that, though the special effects were stunning, the story just wasn’t that great. Sure, the studio will recover through foreign and DVDs and not take a bath, but still, the focus, it seems, was more on marketing than creative development.
With how hard it is to develop and produce a quality picture, I believe the studios no longer really TRY—they know with an aggressive ad campaign they can cash in on opening weekend before word of mouth spreads that the movie is mediocre, and they know they can recoup with foreign/DVD/tie-ins. So using this mediocre model again and again is easier than putting in extra time and effort to ensure that a film is sophisticated and good.
A byproduct of this strategy is that movie-going sectors OTHER than teens have been alienated from going to theatres. I have to go to films—it’s essential to my job as a screenwriter to know who’s doing what and how well, and I’m a judge on the Mystery Writers of America’s Best Screenplay Committee and the Chair of the International Thriller Writers’ Best Script Panel—but my wife, for instance, has largely lost interest. Why? Of the last, maybe 20 films we’ve gone to, 18 have been a waste of time. She’s been disappointed so continuously that she’d rather stay home, read a book, rent an old DVD (or better, a new DVD of an old movie). When actual quality adult films (pardon the phrase) come out, they have a harder time drawing grown-ups back to the theaters because they’ve fallen out of the habit of attending.