Anghus Houvouras on Birds of Prey and the box office…
Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) hit theaters this weekend and is receiving praise from both audiences and critics. Great action sequences, scenery chewing performances from some amazing actors and a unique big budget comic book adaptation. This should be a moment of celebration for fans as Warner Bros. has released another interesting offering in the wake of creative successes like Aquaman and Shazam!.
And yet, the mood around the internet is one of disappointment for many fans as the box office results for the movie are lower than the studio had hoped. I won’t bore you with the financials, because frankly what I’m about to say is openly advocating for a thought process that is antithetical to knowing or caring about such things.
Film fans need to stop giving a damn about box office performance.
I remember back in the late 1980’s when I first saw box office results posted in the newspaper (how’s that for an old-timey recollection). It became exciting every week to rifle through the morning newspaper for the entertainment section and flip through those pages and find out how your favorite movie performed the previous week because I just ‘had to know’ if Batman was still the number one movie in its fourth week of release.
Box office results used to be relegated to the trades like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter (how’s that for another old-timey recollection). Information discussed and analyzed by industry experts who touted successes like a badge of honor to eventually be framed on their office walls.
Eventually these results started seeping into shows like Entertainment Tonight and then became regular staples of morning ‘news’ shows like Today and Good Morning America. Context free shout-outs about whatever movie managed to reach the number one spot over the weekend. These same numbers would then be handed to studio accountants who would work hard to ensure the production looked to be a complete financial disaster so that profit sharing participants wouldn’t see any of the hundred of millions of dollars the movies did or didn’t make.
Who cares if the public has almost no understanding of film budgets, what print and advertising costs means, or that the actual reported numbers don’t represent what the studios make but the dollar amount of tickets sold before split between Studios, Production Companies, Distributors and Exhibition Venues?
Seeing these financial results become everything from a point of interest to an absolute obsession has created millions of conversations and content for movie news outlets and film websites. It’s now completely common to see articles about the ‘tracking’ for a movie before release and studio expectations. Another layer of ancillary information/marketing to try to get people excited about the eventual release.
There’s nothing wrong with being fascinated with this kind of box office information. There are so many nuances to the business of making movies. However, whenever film fans allow things outside the theater (box office/award nominations/public perception) to impact their enjoyment of the movie itself, then it may be time for some reflection, re-calibration or reconsideration of the movie news you consume.
I saw this post on Twitter today regarding Birds of Prey’s box office performance.
The fact that #BirdsOfPrey is underperforming massively at the box office honestly crushes me.
People always complain that they want more original and exciting comic book movies, yet when we get them, nobody goes to see them.
This is one of the best CBMs ever. Go see it please. pic.twitter.com/cK4Wd9i2us
— Caillou Pettis (@CaillouPettis) February 8, 2020
And now, allow me a few moments atop my soapbox.
Don’t ever let the box office performance of a movie or the opinions of others influence your love for a movie or take away any ounce of joy you might have received. Love what you love unconditionally. Don’t let the fact that people didn’t immediately latch onto a movie you loved in the first 72 hours take away a single ounce of your unbridled joy you experienced. Don’t let box office performance occupy the part of your brain where cinematic joy lives.
It’s perfectly natural to feel a moment of disappointment in this weirdly competitive cinematic culture we live in when something you’re passionate about fails to light the world on fire. But those moments should be, at best, fleeting. Not soul-crushing defeats that inhibit your joy. It’s certainly nice that people have loved Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite as much as I have. But I don’t love Robert Egger’s The Lighthouse (my second favorite movie of 2019) any less because it wasn’t as universally loved or successful at the box office.
Birds of Prey has been in theaters for less than a week. The eventual financial success (or lack thereof) will play out over years as theatrical, Blu-ray, on-demand and streaming revenues trickle in. And some people might argue that the movie’s softer-than-expected opening will signal fewer films like Birds of Prey getting made. But that’s just greedy. The movie just came out. Take a moment to savor in the creative and artistic successes of a movie you love before you start lamenting the fact that you might not see similar product down the road.
Film fans: emancipate yourself from the expectations of box office performance. Free yourselves from the shackles of award season adulation. Love the movies you love free from the encumbrances of non-artistic definitions of success. Then, you might find yourself with a longer-lasting smile on your face that rivals Harley Quinn.