Thursday, January 07, 2010

Decade in Review: Movies: Box Office

I debated awhile as to whether to write some of my observations about movies this decade on nymoviereviews, or here. Obviously, I decided here.

The first observation I have in a long line of posts forthcoming is about the box office. Whether you are a believer in total attendance being the true measure of a film's popularity (and I would argue that more people see movies than ever before, just not in movie theatres) or not, the box office dollars exploded this decade unlike any other before it. I'd like to tell you the tale of Jaws.

At the beginning of 1990, Jaws was sitting there at 5th all-time on the domestic chart, behind the Star Wars trilogy and Steven Spielberg's own E.T. By the end of the 90's, the movie sat at 13th, after basically being unharmed by the eighties. It was Independence Day, in 1996, that bounced Jaws from the top 10 after having been there for 21 years.

My point about Jaws and this past decade is that now, Jaws sits at 48th all-time. (By the way, Independence Day is now 30th)

That's right, the movie that grossed $260 million back in 1975 has been passed 47 times, 35 of them in the recently-completed decade.

What happened? Well, ticket prices certainly account for some of it, but this was the decade of the franchise. Moviegoers went to the familiar more than in any other time in history. The top 10 of the decade are as follows:

1. The Dark Knight, sequel to Batman Begins and part of the Batman franchise.

2. Shrek 2

3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Movie #2 in what became an unintelligible series.

4. Spider-Man. One of three non-sequels to make it, but who are we kidding? Decades of comic book fans were ready for this.

5. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, film #2 that somehow, despite all reason and integrity, found its way into the top 10 of all-time.

6. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

7. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, third in a franchise that had fifty years of Tolkien followers buoying the entire series into the billions of dollars worldwide.

8. Avatar, continuing the trend of James Cameron way overspending, but being let off the hook when the movie does insane business. Studios will now think it's OK to spend $300 million on a movie because they all have the chance to do what this one did. It'll be either 1st or 2nd of the decade by the time it's all over.

9. Spider-Man 2.

10. The Passion of the Christ. Mel Gibson marketed this movie as close to "you must watch this if you believe in Jesus Christ" as you could without actually saying it. Last I heard, that's a lot of people.

This top 10 doesn't include stuff like any of the Harry Potters, the other LOTRs, the other POTCs, and a load of Pixar movies, in which every new film builds upon earlier success much like sequels do. Before this decade, sequels were usually just a quick cash-in (they still make those, too), but now studios are thinking that their franchise can go to fours and fives with relative ease. And there's at least a consciousness to make the sequels look better than the first movie, which wasn't a requirement in years past. That's why Jaws is 48th now.

As a side note, studios started buying into this "popular reading series" thing and went overboard, as they often do. Harry Potter, LOTR, Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, etc. were huge hits because they had time to build up followers who were hungry for movie versions. So, that's why The Golden Compass, The Seeker, City of Ember, Daredevil, and so on, were made in haste. Why weren't they hits? Because the audience is smaller, way smaller, than those legendary comic book and fantasy series.

I'll be back with some more in the coming days and weeks.

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