Theatrical box office ticket sales for 2007 were slightly up (4%) over the previous year, but attendance was not. Hollywood is still addicted to the franchise sequel formula, which gets riskier with each year and will eventually wear thin. The box office winner was Spider-Man 3, followed by Shrek the Third, both of which produced healthy ticket sales even as a third installment in a series. Rounding out the top ten were, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Bourne Ultimatum, I Am Legend, 300, Ratatouille and The Simpsons Movie. Clearly Americans love fantasy/science fiction stories, with animated feature length movies having earned their place along side live action pictures some time ago. With so many tickets being sold on sequels, audiences seem to prefer familiar characters.
Source: Media by Numbers Chart: The New York Times
But the high water mark for ticket sales in a single year was back in 2002. Why has Hollywood been unable to grow their market share? Certainly we know there is competition for leisure time, particularly among the young. A significant amount of time is being soaked up by online usage. Each year more and more resource is being poured into an ever-shrinking number of pictures. The stakes get higher and higher for fewer and fewer films. Marketing budgets are huge now and are boosted even further by support from campaigns launched by secondary products, such as books, toys and video games. The studios are also pouring millions into stand alone Internet sites to promote film releases. The viral components of these interactive sites are beginning to crack open a new marketing avenue, which should help.
Hollywood shoulders most of the blame, but the exhibitors are also at fault, as the overall show going experience has deteriorated over time. When you enter a multiplex (no longer called a theater) you are immediately bombarded by repackaged television promotions and product commercials. Then there is the parade of public service announcements. Pleas for the audience to silence their cell phones and leave the talking to the actors. That’s how far we’ve veered from a respectful theatrical experience. No one takes watching movies seriously. It’s become like television. Acceptable to answer the phone, talk, get up to get snacks, etc. I long for the day when exhibitors publish the actual movie start time, so I can calculate my entrance accordingly. Generally I am fine with trailers, but those have become formulaic as well (will save that for another post). Compare what I just described to the pre-event atmosphere you find while waiting for a dramatic play, or a classical music performance to begin. Miles apart!
But I posit that there is a fundamental flaw in the final product being produced by Hollywood. There is very little pure film DNA found in today’s movies. If Hollywood doesn’t turn it around soon, they will find even fewer butts in their seats over the next few years. Now I’m not all doom here. There are still serious films being financed, shot and released. But the money will dry up for those real cinema films. The current Writer’s Guild strike has yet to be a factor for Hollywood, due to lead times, but if it drags out much longer it will be a big problem. I submit the following observations about film.
Film is an art form that has been perfected and refined by masters of cinema past and present. Individuals that were/are students of a revered craft, and contributors to its ongoing aesthetic.
Compared to the recycled content we see today, which I refer to as strictly a movie.
There is still time to make a change. The question is, does Hollywood have the courage, business creativity, and ability to identify the talent necessary to pull it off? I hope so. In the meantime, I am hopelessly passionate about film and will continue to buy tickets while watching for signs of change. One thing is for sure. When I do see great work, I appreciate it so much more. Then there is always my home film collection available to me whenever I want. That’s what really keeps me going.