Million Dollar Blame-y: Who’s Really At Fault For Hollywood’s Lackluster Fare?

(From The Vault: My first “Confessions Of A Dangerous Film Student” column for INsite Boston, originally published April 2005. As usual, these pieces serve as an interesting time capsule. The point I made is still as true as ever, while nearly all the bad movies I mention have been completely forgotten — as well they should have been.)

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Million Dollar Baby, this year’s Academy Award-winner for Best Picture and one of the best-reviewed films of the year, never made more than $12.3 million in a weekend. As it reaches the $100 million mark, it’s certainly a box office success — but the week after Clint Eastwood’s boxing drama won four Oscars, the real champ at the box office was… The Pacifier, which grossed $30.6 million out of the gate.

Based on what?

Critical acclaim? Strong advance buzz? High hopes for Vin Diesel in the 2006 Oscar race?

Not likely. Release strategies and targeted demographics obviously differ for adult, Oscar-bait dramas and family-friendly studio comedies, but the lesson here is that over the weekend of March 4th through 6th, more people wanted to see Diesel fishing around for a dirty diaper in a sea of plastic balls than two supercharged Oscar-winning performances. Which is rather meta, if you think about it. Since both those moviegoers and Vin Diesel came up with a big steaming pile of… well, whatever was in that diaper.

Other successful openings in early 2005 include Boogeyman, Are We There Yet?, Constantine, The Ring Two, and Guess Who. What do all these films have in common, besides bad word-of-mouth and abysmal reviews? Only one thing — people inexplicably went to see them. No matter whether or not these movies are profitable, the fact that obviously-bad movies like the Get Shorty sequel Be Cool make dozens of millions of dollars means someone is seeing them besides John Travolta’s mom… and it isn’t with high expectations. There’s a dangerous epidemic sweeping through the nation — I call it “cinematic masochism.”

See, today’s moviegoing audience is savvy enough to know that pretty much any sequel is going to be a cheap carbon-copy of the original. Did anyone really think The Ring Two would be as well-crafted and scary as the first one? No. Did anyone laugh at a single one of the stale jokes in the trailer for Be Cool? Not without the aid of an illegal substance! I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to warn a friend that the film they’re planning to see is bad, only to hear in response, “I know.” Audiences are subjecting themselves to squalor and mediocrity, and they’re doing it on purpose.

Worse still, they’re not taking the blame.

“Whyyy doesn’t Hollywood make better movies?” whines the cinematic masochist. “I just wasted ten bucks and two hours of my life on — ooh! Alone In The Dark is still playing downtown!”

Now, Hollywood is much like any other business, in that making money is a very good thing to do. A filmgoer pays the same price to see Hotel Rwanda as they do for Are We There Yet?, but guess which one made almost four times as much money? (It’s the one that wasn’t nominated for Best Actor, and here’s a hint: Ice Cube has never been nominated for an Academy Award.) So when a consumer pays for a bad movie, they send a message that says, “Thank you, Hollywood, this is a product I want. Please make more just like it!” And if Are We There Yet? grosses four times as much as Hotel Rwanda, they are roughly four times more likely to cough up millions for an Ice Cube sequel than they are to make another though-provoking socially-conscious thriller. You can bet, based on the original’s grosses, Vin Diesel will likely be back for The Pacifier 2: Suck On This! You hear that sound? It’s the sound of a brilliant box office underachiever like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind not being made.

Why should studios take chances on movies that are, like, artistic and stuff? Why take care to make sure the next Ring sequel is actually scary and fun, if people will see it anyway? Hollywood is reading you loud and clear, America. You clearly do not mind wasting your money on an inferior product. And it’s not like it’s hard to tell which movies are going to suck. With the advent of movie review websites galore, filmgoers have no excuse for not knowing if a movie is at least moderately good. Seriously, Metacritic boils it down to the colors of a traffic light — green, go. Yellow, you’re chancing it. Red? Stop! What are you doing, you fucking idiot? Honk!! CRASH. It’s not as if there’s a total dearth of quality fare on the market — The Upside of Anger and Millions have received good reviews for strong performances and imaginative storytelling, but more people have seen the critically panned Constantine than both of them combined.

So then. When audiences consciously pay for a movie they strongly suspect will be godawful, they are sealing their own fates — and the rest of ours as well.

Damn you, cinematic masochists!

If only we lived in a world where, when someone says they consensually paid to see a bad movie, we could just hit them in the face. I don’t normally condone violence, but we’re talking about people who willfully chose Vin Diesel and diapers over Morgan Freeman. These lessons won’t teach themselves. Next time a friend says something like, “Oh, hey, I saw Guess Who this week—” POW!! Just punch them in the face.

Wouldn’t that make people think twice before forking over their hard-earned money to see another Ashton Kutcher movie? See, it’s for their own good.

So that’s it. I’ve had it with your pouting, cinematic masochists. If you go see Sahara, know that you are paying to see Penelope Cruz flop about on a camel and little else. That means no complaining about the ludicrous plot or uninspired dialogue. No more wishing you had your two hours and ten dollars back. No more blaming Hollywood for yet another brainless blockbuster.

If you saw The Ring Two, it’s your fault Hollywood makes bad movies.

POW!!

Thoughts?

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