Why does Hollywood suck so badly as of late? More than usual, I mean. Have you been to the theater lately? I’ve been in half-empty theaters on weekend nights! From the moment you walk in the theater, you’re bombarded by advertising, in the form of non-stop commercials. Is there anywhere on this planet one can escape from advertising??
Commercials before ads before more commercials, followed by movie previews. And even the previews aren’t a fun part of the experience anymore; 45 minutes of sequels, remakes, and shoulda-never-mades.
Thus far in 2014, box office revenues are down 6% from last year, for the top 12 studios. The current #1 grossing film this year has been Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a fine film I’m sure but not #1 material.
So what gives? Perhaps this downturn is a result of people increasing their consumption of digital media. Digital media sales and rentals seem to be surging as DVR, Netflix, and Redbox attain the status of household words. iTunes, Google Play, Xbox Live, Amazon, the list of digital media stores is growing every day and technology is quickly scaling up to the streamable world of digital media consumption.
But instead of explaining dismal theater attendance, this just reiterates the fact that folks are willing to wait for Hollywood’s fare on BluRay or Netflix, streaming at home instead of streaming to the theater. Streaming devices and digital recorders have been around for years but this is the first prolonged box office downturn in several years. No, the increase in appetite for home media is a result of decreased interest in going to the theater, not the other way around.
Why are so many people staying home? Probably one reason is that is costs a small fortune to go to the theater. With our national unemployment rate hovering around 11.8% (the real U-6 rate, not the government-massaged rate they pretend represents all unemployed Americans), folks have better ways to utilize their dwindling entertainment budgets. With ticket prices sometimes topping $15 for a matinee, folks just can’t afford to go to the movies like they used to; and you can forget about buying a tub of popcorn, box of candy, and 2 soft drinks, unless you really didn’t want that $50 to stay in your pocket!
Another explanation is that TV shows are outpacing films in quality and popularity. Some of the best writing and acting in Hollywood now belongs to the small screen. With the critical success of series like The Sopranos, The Walking Dead, Duck Dynasty, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, movie studios are taking it on the chin. Their budgets no longer dwarf those of television shows and a two to three-season run on a television series can be a much more effective vehicle for on-screen talent than a two to three-hour movie which gets forgotten two months after the premiere.
Also film actors are increasingly seeking other work in television and voice acting. Silver screen icons like Morgan Freeman, Kiefer Sutherland, Gary Sinise, and Maggie Smith are turning up on television more and more regularly.
There’s also the most obvious explanation of all: the movies suck. Go ahead and spend four minutes perusing the upcoming release schedule and tell me I’m wrong: Dracula Untold, Horrible Bosses 2, Annie, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Night at the Museum 3, Amityville, Taken 3, Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity 43. Sequels, remakes (even a re-remake), and other assorted, rehashed crap.
Now “reboot” has become the most popular word in Hollywood. The Spiderman franchise “rebooted” five years after the previous booting. Batman is going to reboot four years after he hung up his cape. Studios aren’t even waiting until Burger King has finished selling all their commemorative cups before they reboot the franchise and rehash the same, tired stories over and over and over again. Producers are getting lazy and losing the ear of the American people.
The best explanation borrows a bit from each of these suggestions: Hollywood isn’t speaking to us anymore. They’re making movies for each other and marketing the crap out of them in the hopes that we’ll continue to fork over wads of cash for (re)warmed-over manure.
Box office anomalies have shown that Americans will always go to the theater to see a good film. The problem is that Hollywood is rarely releasing good films. Thankfully independent studios continue to gain in quality and reputation. Films like God’s Not Dead, Soulsurfer, and October Baby arrived with little fanfare, yet performed exceedingly well. God’s Not Dead had a budget of $2m and has earned $62m worldwide. This is without considering runaway, smash hits like The Passion of the Christ and The Blind Side which further reinforce the fact that a well-made film that rests on a Judeo-Christian foundation is a recipe for box office success.
And it’s not just feel-good Christian dramas which perform well. Hard-hitting, artistic documentaries like 2016, Waiting for Superman, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed demonstrate that conservative cinematic messages have an audience and a voice in the industry.
The bottom line is that Hollywood isn’t making movies for us anymore. They’re making movies for each other. That’s why the Oscars is such a snooze-fest, akin to watching footage of lunch at the “cool kids'” table. The movie industry is one big inside joke and Hollywood’s plummeting box office revenues have become the ironic punchline. Let’s continue to support well-made films with a strong moral foundation. If there is one thing that gets Hollywood’s ear, it is revenue; and in today’s audience-starved environment, our support for conservative, Christian cinema will stand out all the more starkly.