Rob Edelman : Why Movies Are Made

As we are about to embark on one of the high-profile movie seasons, it is as good a time as any to ponder exactly what is being marketed to mainstream moviegoers. 

The films cited here, all of which have been in release since early May or are scheduled to premiere between now and early July, are not of the art house variety. They are not opening for limited runs. Instead, they will open wide and primarily play in the mall movie houses, where they will battle each other to capture the teen and twenty-something demographic which, we are told, comprises the bulk of the ticket-buying public.      

Because their makers are hoping to quickly top the magic $100-million mark in domestic box office, just about all the new releases are based on tried-and-true properties. For example, you have THE AVENGERS, which opened several weeks ago and features an all-star line-up of Marvel comic book superheroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Hawkeye, and the Black Widow. 

You have sequels and reboots, like MEN IN BLACK III, PIRANHA 3DD, MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE’S MOST WANTED, G.I. JOE: RETALIATION, and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. You have Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS, based on the popular ABC soap. You have ROCK OF AGES, based on the hit Broadway musical. You have BATTLESHIP, based on a Hasbro combat game. This one, like so many others, is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of violence, action and destruction, and for language.”

You have films based on best-selling books or book series. One is WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING. The title of another just about sums it all up. That is: ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER.

Moviegoers who prefer their films to be character and plot-driven, who want more than just mindless eye-candy when they pay to see a film, may complain about all this. But the bottom line is that the motion picture industry is just that: an industry, where profit-and-loss is all that matters. Films such as THE ARTIST, HUGO, and THE DESCENDANTS, three of last year’s very best films, may earn critical raves and Oscar nominations. But despite all the hype, their box office take will be relatively modest.

According to the web site Box Office Mojo, HUGO has to date earned $73-million in ticket sales. Sure, $73-million is nothing to sneeze at, but the budget for HUGO was reportedly in the vicinity of $170-million. Would this film, which of course features no comic book superheroes, even have been made without the participation of Martin Scorsese, its high-powered director?

THE DESCENDANTS has to date earned $82-million. Would this film even have been made without the participation of George Clooney, its high-powered star? THE ARTIST, which won five Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Picture, is a critical sleeper if there ever was one. In the seven-odd months since its release, it has taken in $44-million. 

But THE AVENGERS earned over $200-million-- during its opening weekend alone! So if you are running a movie company, which film would you back: HUGO, THE DESCENDANTS, THE ARTIST-- or THE AVENGERS?

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the views of this station or its management.