Anghus Houvouras on caring about box office…
What is your favorite film?
An easy question to ask and a difficult question to answer. If you’re anything like me you struggle with narrowing it down to your 10 favorite films, much less a single solitary choice. Last week a friend asked me to name my top 10 favorite movies from 2000-2010 and it felt like a Herculean task. Just 10? That’s difficult. Now, how about another question.
How much did your favorite film make at the box office?
On the surface it seems like such a stupid question. And yet, every day there are a ridiculous number of people engaged in conversations about the success or lack thereof with movies based on their eventual bottom line.
Right now there’s a lot of this going on with Mad Max: Fury Road. People are passionate about the movie and want to celebrate George Miller’s magnum opus. The movie just crossed $100 million here in the United States. Some position this as a major success for an R Rated action film from a long dormant franchise. Other claim that these numbers indicate a somewhat lukewarm response in an era where movies that aren’t instant mega-hits are swallowed up by subsequent releases.
I find these kind of discussions amusing. Like being at a nice restaurant and watching the couple next to you completely melt down between drinks and the main course. Their well intended evening taking a melodramatic turn into relationship tragedy. It was supposed to be a night of celebration, but instead two grown adults turn into petty children airing their dirty laundry and making everyone else around them brutally uncomfortable.
Like our estranged couple, they want you to pick a side. Those who love Mad Max will defend the films’ financials explaining that under the circumstances it has performed above expectations. The detractors will tell you that you’re looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. No matter how much you love the film, the 200+ million dollar expenditure will make it difficult for the film to recoup its budget. Unfortunately, I can’t pick a side. Because I have no investment in either one.
Why are people so worked up over the box office? Probably because they see the success as validation. Big box office for Fury Road means people who are proclaiming it to be the second coming of Jesus are right. That the film is something special and should be seen as culturally relevant. For the movie to be seen as a success, it has to cross a certain financial threshold.
If you’re wrapped up in the financials of Mad Max: Fury Road, I hope you either work for Warner Bros. or are a stockholder. A movie’s box office will never be a cultural barometer. Twilight was a massive hit which was responsible for a ridiculous number of Young Adult franchises being rushed into production. In 20 years, no one is going to care. Hell, people don’t care now and it hasn’t been more than a couple of years. Blade Runner was considered a box office disappointment and is still cited as one of the most significant movies in terms of art direction, production design, and cinematography. Those of you convinced that Fury Road will fade into dusty obscurity if the movie doesn’t hit half a billion worldwide need to go ahead and put the kool-aid down.
There was the same kind of insane fan groundswell over Pacific Rim (a movie I hated). The film was a disappointment financially. Studios and financiers aren’t looking for movies to break even. Yet, the fan base for the film was so strong that they’re willing to double down and try again. They’ve already announced another Mad Max installment, so why does anyone care if the film is a financial success or not?
Still, I posed a question earlier that I want to answer. Your favorite films: How did they fare at the box office? Here’s a cross-section of movies I often refer to as ‘favorites’. Let’s see how they fared at the Box Office.
1. OldBoy (the original, not that turd of a remake)
2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
3. The Professional
4. The Reader
Some bona fide hits on the list. Crouching Tiger was a huge crossover movie that won awards and made bank at the US Box Office. Face/Off was a decent hit in the summer of 1997. But OldBoy didn’t make any real money until it hit DVD. Even then it was hardly a huge earner. The Professional was pretty much ignored when it was released theatrically and The Reader did fine for an awards season release. None of these movies had much of an impact culturally. Sure, lots of filmmakers cite OldBoy as an influential film these days, and Crouching Tiger certainly opened a window for Wire-Fu releases here in the United States. But neither were any of them failures. Chan-wook Park is still making movies, as is Luc Besson. If crazy Nic Cage movies are you’re thing, you got at least another 10 years of them after Face/Off.
My point is, investing any level of energy into your favorite films’ box office is a fool’s errand. Your love of the film is enough, as is your passion. Debating the box office success or failure for a movie you loved or loathed is pointless. It doesn’t validate your point if audiences universally accept or reject a movie. The final box office tally is hardly ever an indicator of quality, unless you believe that the Transformers movies, Titanic, Avatar, and two Avengers movies are the most resplendent examples of cinema over the last century.
I love a good movie debate, but once box office is brought in to bolster a point I become disappointed. It’s a sign of desperation, or your inability to articulate the strength of a movie based on what was crammed in between opening titles and closing credits. Box office discussion is taking the populist route. And the love of cinema isn’t about popularity but passion. Fans of Mad Max: Fury Road have plenty of love to draw from. It’s a film loved by critics, fans, and other filmmakers. Who gives a damn how much it ends up making?
You do. And that’s disappointing.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.