Something strange has happened to American movies in the last 15 or 20 years. Most of the highly-honored, critically acclaimed, Academy Award-winning films have proven to be box office duds.
For example, look no further than last year’s Oscar-nominated films.
“Milk” was universally hailed as an excellent, well-crafted and acted flick, yet its box-office receipts were so bad it may not recover its original cost. Similarly, “Doubt” was universally praised by critics across the board, but it bombed at the box office. Even “Slumdog Millionaire,” which was voted best motion picture of the year, was a financial disappointment, though it looks like it may squeeze out a slight profit.
Furthermore, Hollywood’s biggest, most publicized, Oscar-winning stars, who earn $20 million or $30 million per movie and have their pick of any film role they want, can apparently sell more tickets to a Beverly Hills garage sale than they can to their movies. Russell Crowe’s last three or four films have failed to turn a profit, though his current release, “State of Play,” may do so. Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning performance as “Milk” wasn’t enough to save that film and even Meryl Streep – who, with the possible exception of Katharine Hepburn, is the most honored actress in screen history – couldn’t attract a crowd for “Doubt.” Need more examples? Julie Roberts’ latest, “Duplicity,” was a flop and, if Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Benjamin Button made any money, it was only a few nickels.
What’s going on here?
Well, it seems to be the genre itself; that is, well-acted and well-crafted, superior dramas are becoming relics of the past, as antiquated as the big studio system itself. Smart, sophisticated dramatic films simply aren’t selling anymore, no mater how much publicity they receive or how big the stars are. There’s no longer an audience for them.
The movies that make big bucks are those that appeal to youth because that’s who goes to the theaters. Not so much the younger-than-30 crowd, as the younger-than-20 crowd. The bottom line is being dictated by teenagers and tweens, who aren’t much interested in serious, mature films. Teen hormones thrive on action and sex and they gravitate towards trash like “The Fast and the Furious” and “Crank.” Tweens, and the reluctant parents they drag along with them, account for the astounding success of Hannah Montana and today’s animated flicks, some of which, I readily admit, are pretty good. Like “Wall-E.”
Modern youth has never been particularly interested in profound philosophical questions or the emotional turmoil stemming from jilted or unfulfilled love. Often as not, they simply shrug such matters aside. “Get over it!” is, in many ways, a mature attitude that one has to respect and admire.
A few months ago, Hugh Jackman starred in “Australia,” an expensive and expansive, historical drama – a real, first-class, studio “epic.” But alas, it really wasn’t especially memorable and it flopped at the box office. However, last weekend Jackman opened as Marvel comic-book superhero, “Wolverine” and you can bet this one will be a financial windfall.
I plan to see “Wolverine.” I’m sure it’ll be quite entertaining. But, of course, I’ll forget everything about it by the time I walk back to my car.