Sunday, October 13, 2013

I Wanna See That!

This weekend, Alfonso Cauron's highly acclaimed Gravity fell an amazing 20% this weekend, grossing $44 million over the course of three days. Word of mouth is going to be particularly strong for this one, but it's a bit of an anomaly. A lot of "leggy" films often open small (The Help is a good example, off the top of my head) and end up grossing more than $100 million domestically based on the word of mouth, people who saw it telling their friends to go to see it, etc.

Why is Gravity different? Gravity opened with $55 million, a near blockbuster-level total! Heck, it outgrossed a lot of big budget tentpoles already released in the last three years! I see a lot of people talking about what audiences go to see, what audiences like and whatnot. I'll often hear generalizations like "American audiences are idiots and they only go to see crap! Transformers anyone?"

If that's the case, why did something like Battleship sink on its opening weekend? Also, who are you to deem the American moviegoers and masses "stupid" or "idiotic"? If anything, Gravity's success on opening weekend proves one thing to me...

American moviegoers (and this extends to moviegoers around the world) go to see what "looks" good. Quality is out of the question here.

If it's true that American moviegoers have no taste at all (they have a taste for something, even if it is drivel), then why is Gravity - a highly-acclaimed film that's even considered by some as one of the greatest films ever made - doing so well at the box office? How come many critically well-liked films have done well at the box office over the decades? Those meddling American moviegoers are idiots, right?

The high-horse mentality needs to go. Earlier in the summer, everyone sounded the alarm when Pacific Rim failed to outgross Grown Ups 2 on its opening weekend. Apparently this was humanity going backwards, humanity was coming to end! People had no faith in the human race because more people paid to see a stupid Adam Sandler comedy with pissing deer than Guillermo del Toro's passionately-made big-budget pet project. Apparently all those people who saw Grown Ups 2 but didn't check out Pacific Rim are bad, terrible, horrible idiots. Right? Right?!

I think the bigger issue here is how people treat others who have certain tastes in film. Yes, it would've been nice to see del Toro's film make big bucks at the box office, but it exists and it's delighted many - so what's the big deal? We are still going to get a lot of great films, both mainstream and independent. It's not like the end of the world or anything, all because of the success of an Adam Sandler movie that was going to do well to begin with. I wasn't horribly upset with Pacific Rim grossing less ($37 million on its opening weekend wasn't too bad for a film that was very badly marketed) than Grown Ups 2, I was more upset with how people reacted. (Film aficionado Cinemaxwell wrote an excellent piece on this topic.)

I accept the fact that people like certain things or will go to see certain things. Lots of people eat McDonald's, should we call them horrible idiots that only make humanity go backwards because they'll eat that and shun a gourmet meal? We can politely question their taste (literally in this case), but if anything, all this callous name-calling and insulting sets humanity back more than one's taste in film does.

Which brings me back to Gravity. If mainstream audiences are such idiots that set humanity on a trail to backwards-dom, why is this film doing well?

The marketing was great. The marketing made it look like a film that people would definitely want to see. When you succeed in marketing your film, it becomes a big success. Let's go back to this past summer. Why did Pacific Rim only open with $37 million? It had nothing to do with a pissing deer, Warner Bros. ' marketing campaign is to blame. The trailers made the film look highly uninteresting. I read the premise for this film a while back and was like, "Humans building robots to fight giant monsters? Sign me up!"

I saw the trailers and thought "Looks like every other blockbuster, where's the story?" Most people looked at it and said, "Looks like Transformers with giant monsters. Pass!" I'm in the know, I wanted to see the film regardless. I can't the say the same about other moviegoers who probably don't take the time to read up on movie news, and that's totally alright. The film world may not be of their interests, it's my interest on the other hand and that's why I'm in the know about upcoming films that aren't out for years. It's also partially the reason why I was excited about the film beforehand, I knew the premise, who was making it and everything else.

Also, coincidentally, Pacific Rim and Gravity are both Warner Bros. releases.

Americans gravitate towards blow-em-up/big budget blockbusters, you say? Well then, tell me why White House Down, Pacific Rim, The Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D., Battleship, John Carter and several other films like that underwhelmed on opening weekend?


Marketing makes and breaks films, no matter who they are from. The marketing's job is to give audiences an incentive to see a certain film, and if it fails, then the film most likely will. Legs are a different story, that kicks in after the opening.

I can extend all of this to the world of animation...

Let's look at ParaNorman, shall we? Focus Features did the marketing, the film's theatrical trailer was a poorly-edited and often painful mess of jokes, potty humor and ghoulish stuff. It was too much for toddlers in the audience, but it was also too silly for anyone over the age of 12. What happened next? This wonderful LAIKA film only grossed a paltry $14 million on its opening weekend last summer - a pretty damn low gross for a wide-release animated feature. Word of mouth and legs spread from the few who saw it on opening weekend, but it ultimately wasn't enough - the film only grossed $56 million in the end. (4x multiplier.)

Weeks later, Sony Animation's Hotel Transylvania opened with $42 million and had good word of mouth, and thus that film grossed over $140 million at the domestic box office. Double what ParaNorman took in. The marketing for that film was pretty good, the trailer actually had me chuckle a few times! On the other hand, I was worried that ParaNorman was just going to be laden with middle school-level potty humor and that would be the antithesis of the great Coraline. I actually wanted to see Hotel Transylvania despite what I had thought of the voice cast, the studio's overall track record and the (in my opinion) awful teaser.

I saw ParaNorman, I was blown away by it. Hotel Transylvania? I only enjoyed a few parts and I did like the animation, but I don't plan to watch it again. It was very forgettable in many aspects for me.

Audiences most likely reacted the same way I did to those trailers. Why did I see ParaNorman, though? I know who LAIKA is, I'm an animation fanatic and I had heard good things about it from screenings and those who were working on it. Are other American moviegoers even thinking of those things? No. They saw that poorly-made trailer and made the decision from the get-go: "No, I am not interested in seeing that." It didn't help that the movie was also not for young children. The film wasn't for little kids, and the marketing shut the adults out (Rule of thumb: You need to entice adults to go see your animated film if you want it to be a success!)... You were left with a film that did poorly at the box office.

How about we look at last year's animated films and this year's?

Only five films grossed over $50 million on their opening weekends. Two Pixar films: Brave and Monsters University. The other two were from Illumination: The Lorax and Despicable Me 2. Then there was Madagascar 3.

Pixar movies gross over $50 million on their opening weekends by default, even the dreaded Cars 2 - arguably more for young children than the other Pixar films - opened with a great $66 million! Why's that? Adults respect Pixar and know they'll deliver animated entertainment for them that they'll enjoy. Brave opened with $66 million, I think it wouldn't have done as well had it been made by another studio. Monsters University, we can except, it's a prequel to a beloved film. Prior to Toy Story 3, WALL-E and Up grossed over $60 million on their opening weekends, Ratatouille's adjust opening is $55 million.

As for Illumination's two films... The Lorax was something of a fluke, but the marketing for that film was great, it was in your face and also it's a Dr. Seuss adaptation! In hindsight, a $50 million+ opening was inevitable. Despicable Me 2? Well, the first one broke out on opening weekend thanks to great, great marketing... So the sequel was poised to do just as well if not better! Madagascar 3 came off two successful films and had an effective marketing campaign. How come films like Wreck-It Ralph, Hotel Transylvania and The Croods only settled for opening weekend grosses between $40-50 million?

The marketing campaigns for those films were good enough, they worked to ensure opening weekend grosses of that size. ($40-50 million) But none of those campaigns were great. Wreck-It Ralph looked like every other animated movie out there, except with some recognizable video game cameos. Hotel Transylvania looked like every other animated movie out there. The Croods looked like every other animated out movie there. All of them looked like colorful, silly, kiddie comedies. Wreck-It Ralph was classic Disney magic with a bite, it inched close to a $200 million domestic gross. It would've completely topped $200 million had the marketing been great. The marketing hid its inner greatness. The Croods got to $187 million thanks to having many weeks to itself, so that word of mouth did its work. If that film had to encounter an animated release in April, it would not have grossed over $170 million. Hotel Transylvania's word of mouth was good, and it didn't have any legitimate competition until Wreck-It Ralph came out, so it was able to gross over $140 million. Ralph got close to $190 million while duking it out with direct competition, Croods got to $187 million because it could, there was barely any competition in its way. Hotel Transylvania would've grossed less than it did if it fought what Ralph went up against.

When will a non-Pixar animated film gross over $50 million on its opening weekend? Simple, when one comes along that has a great marketing campaign that differentiates it from the other animated films out there. Free Birds doesn't look like it'll make that amount on its opening weekend. Frozen looks like Tangled on Ice to many fans and moviegoers, and typical animated film fluff on top of that. The Lego Movie might be the next non-Pixar animated movie to hit that threshold, given the great buzz that the teaser had gotten and the fact that it's... Well... A Lego movie.

In the end, marketing makes or breaks many films. Audiences go to see films that look good, the trailers have to get them interested early on.

Gravity's success on opening weekend more than proved that to me.

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