Monday, June 29, 2009

Transformers sequel may be most-panned film to top $400M

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

After just five days, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is halfway to $400 million in the U.S., a box-office milestone only eight other movies have reached. If it climbs that high, the "Transformers" sequel will be by far the worst-reviewed movie ever to make the $400 million club.

Critics and mainstream crowds often disagree, but "Revenge of the Fallen" sets a new standard for the gulf between what reviewers and mass audiences like.

The movie pulled in $201.2 million since opening Wednesday, the second-best result for a movie in its first five days, just behind "The Dark Knight" with $203.8 million. Even after its whopping $60.6 million opening day, "Revenge of the Fallen" was packing theaters, a sign that unlike critics, who mostly hated the movie, audiences felt they were getting their money's worth and were giving the flick good word of mouth.

Critics "forget what the goal of the movie was. The goal of the movie is to entertain and have fun," said Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount, which is distributing "Transformers" for DreamWorks. "What the audience tells us is, 'We couldn't be more entertained and having more fun.' They kind of roll their eyes at the critics and say, 'You have no idea what you're talking about.'"

According to Paramount's exit polls, 91 percent of the audience thought the sequel was as good as or better than the first "Transformers," which received far better reviews.

More here.

Well, as the pollsters say, if you ask the right questions you'll get the answers you're looking for. That is, saying that Transformers II is "as good or better" than Transformers I is like saying that vomit is "as good or better" than shit: they're both awful, but that's not what the question's about. Really, my overall take, as far as moviegoers' taste is concerned, is that audience standards have fallen in tandem with the quality of Hollywood movies over the years--to return to my metaphor, when all you have on the menu is vomit and shit, vomit and shit don't look half bad.

But there's more to it than that.

It is in no way surprising that a shitty movie can get a massive first week take in this day and age, especially when said shitty movie is a high budget action craptacular. Remember, Hollywood is a business, and since the 80s, it's been big business. Big blockbusters, then, are massive corporate investments in hot pursuit of massive returns. When you've got hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, failure simply cannot be tolerated. That's why these huge investments are always accompanied by huge marketing campaigns virtually guaranteed to get some decent audiences during the first week.

That is, people show up without any understanding that the movie is any good; they're checking it out based on the hype. Later, after a couple of weeks, when it becomes achingly clear that Hollywood's latest Stallone or Schwarzenegger or Willis project sucks donkey cock, and ticket sales consequently plunge dramatically, it matters little to the corporations that own the studios. That's because the real money doesn't come from the box office: most movies make their profits later on down the distribution chain. But first week box office sales are important in that a good opening strongly bolsters foreign market, DVD, and television sales. In other words, even though the movie theater market generates a pittance for a given film relative to later venues, a killer opening week is a vital sales point in generating massive profits after the given film's theatrical run has ended.

So a multi-million dollar action film simply has to succeed in its first week. Otherwise, it's guaranteed to be a financial failure, whether it's good or not. I mean, what cable company wants to pay-per-view a movie that nobody showed up to watch in the theaters? Opening week numbers are what Hollywood uses to push its products in these post-release markets. Consequently, massive marketing campaigns always accompany massive budget pictures. Sometimes this doesn't work, but it's a good business model, and it usually succeeds.

I think that's what's happening with this Transformers sequel. If ticket sales continue to be strong over the next few weeks, then I have no idea what I'm talking about. But I'm betting that as the hype fades, so too will audiences. Of course, in many ways that doesn't matter one way or the other. Transformers II got its big opening week. Hollywood will make its money. And we'll have some more crap to surf through on cable in about six months or so.