For more than a decade, despite the increase in domestic population, the number of movie admissions sold has stalled. For some time that fact was papered over. Premium pricing through gimmicks such as 3D and IMAX were at least able to increase annual box office revenues (a bit). Nevertheless, the movie business is no longer a growth business, and 2017 is beginning to look like the year when the industry will have to finally come to terms with that.
Globalism was supposed to save Hollywood. The exact opposite ended up being the case. The worldwide audience became the tiger held by the tail; for the global village is one that demands shockingly expensive spectacle, which means huge investments, all-in gambles, that cannot begin to see a profit until $600 to $700 million in tickets are sold.
Worse still, leftwing filmmakers were counting on these oh-so sophisticated internationales to make political diatribes profitable, to appreciate their cinematic calls for multiculturalism, moral equivalence, anti-Americanism, and statism. Whoops! Turns out the rest of the world is even more addicted to mindless escapism than us rubes.
And so, over the last ten years Hollywood slowly painted itself into a corner, where at the expense of everything else, only $250 million franchises, low-budget horror, animated films, and raunchy R-rated comedies can make any money. But today about half those franchises are flaming out and R-rated comedies are in a coma.
Oh, there will always be movies. But let’s face it, other than the pretentious, wankfest indies America’s foo foo critics pretend to like and the thrilling exceptions that used to be the rule — Dunkirk, Baby Driver — going to the movies anymore is like going to Six Flags; an expensive ride on the latest CGI rollercoaster, something that is no longer about affirming the soul or a relaxing good time. Instead of coming together to explore our shared human condition, we buckle in to overload the senses.
Anyway, let’s look at all the suicidal mistakes made by the film industry…
1. The Death of the Movie Star
The men who made Hollywood — the Selznicks, Warners, Mayers, Cohns, Goldwyns, Thalbergs, Zanucks, Schencks, Zukors, Laskys and Laemmles — quickly figured out that the movie star was the key to the world. Not just to box office success, but the key to shaping our culture, fashion, politics, Americanism, and even our humanity.
And so it was until the 1990s. Believe it or not, we used to go and see Eddie Murphy movies, Sylvester Stallone movies, and Goldie Hawn movies. We liked Harrison Ford and trusted his choices. We loved Chevy Chase and trusted his choices. This reality was good for everyone because you didn’t need $250 million in computer effects to put butts in seats. All you needed was Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal or Sigourney Weaver. All you needed was John Candy trying to get it right or Kathleen Turner merely showing up.
Fearing their $20 million salaries and growing power, Hollywood killed the movie star. But without the face on the poster selling tickets, all that’s left to sell is the narcotic of CONCEPT, which must get bigger and bigger and more expensive in order to feed the fix.
2. Partisan Politics
Movies have always been political, have always had something to say. But it used to be that for every leftwing High Noon you had a response in the form of Rio Bravo. And look at what this healthy competition created — two masterpieces, both of which are political as opposed to partisan or divisive.
Today, movies and actors go out of their way to create ill-will through insulting and divisive commentary that attacks more than half the country. Sure, in their time, John Garfield, Humphrey Bogart, Charlie Chaplin, Katherine Hepburn and many others were leftwingers who advocated for their respective causes. But they had class. They never insulted or demeaned those who disagreed with them. Creative giants, leftists such as John Huston, Orson Welles and Elia Kazan, managed to have their say without throwing poop.
And that is all the difference in the world.
Insulting your own customers is not only bad business, it cannot begin to make up for a deficit of talent.
3. The Death of Censorship
Just because I believe that certain things should be legal — porn, getting drunk, loveless sex, homosexuality — that does not mean I believe those things are healthy for our society. Quite the contrary. I side with freedom because the messy and oftentimes tragic results of freedom are almost always preferable to the result of government control (see: Obamacare).
The same goes for censorship. I’m not for any form of movie censorship, but that doesn’t mean I’m unaware of how lifting censorship, removing all barriers, has greatly diminished the art form of the motion picture.
There are exceptions (DePalma, Scorsese) where excess can be in and of itself art, but for the most part the depth, creative energy and artistic breakthroughs required to find another way through subtext are almost always preferable to text.
Had Alfred Hitchcock been allowed to get his full freak on, does anyone believe Psycho, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Vertigo, Strangers On a Train, Notorious, Rebecca, or Rope — all violent films stewing in sexual, and sometimes homosexual subtext, would be anywhere near the classics they are today?
Almost always, limits benefit art. There are no limits today and creative laziness is the result. For this reason, movies are not even sexy anymore.
4. The Leftwing Sycophants Who Cover the Movie Business
Whether it is Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter or Variety, whether it is pretty much every critic you read at Rotten Tomatoes, the people whose job it is to cover the movie business are almost all leftwing Social Justice Warriors, all sycophants who refuse to challenge the status quo or speak truth to power.
Yes, there are people on the political right like myself who sometimes cover these things, but we are all on the outside looking in. The publications within the bubble, however, are all bubbled themselves, and all about protecting the bubble. The only time they raise a fuss is when Hollywood is not leftwing enough — We need more homosexual movies! We need more trans movies! We need more women and minorities! We need more Stephen Colberts! Trump is icky!
A perfect example was published over the weekend when two new movies released on more than 3,000 screens tanked. The franchise wannabe Dark Tower failed to clear $20 million; the oh-so topical and critically-lauded Detroit lit itself on fire with $7 million.
But how did Deadline spin these dual duds…
For the second weekend in a row, Sony figured out a way to work around the Rotten Tomatoes system to get a lackluster title to open. Last weekend, it was the Emoji Movie, which posted an OK $24.5M in second. This weekend, it’s their Media Rights Capital co-production The Dark Tower, which is taking No. 1 with a modest take estimated at $19.5M. …
Call it what you will, but it’s distribution’s job to open a movie. In the case of Sony, they held back reviews as late as they could for Dark Tower and Emoji Movie and got them started so they could last the rest of the month. Again, not a wondrous result with Dark Tower, but here it sits in first place.
It gets worse…
Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit from Annapurna, despite having the best reviews and audiences scores out of this weekend’s wide entries – respectively with an 88% certified fresh and A- CinemaScore – didn’t find that love spill over into its opening weekend, which looks to settle at $7.25M. Not a fantastic start for a movie which cost between $35M-$40M. …
Once moviegoers leave Detroit, they’re amazed. The trick for Annapurna is to keep word-of-mouth alive[.] … We hear the original 20 runs of Detroit held quite well.
For the sake of context, let’s look at this very same Deadline writer’s analysis of a movie that opened in January of 2016. Both Detroit and 13 Hours are topical, controversial, and political. Both are modestly-budgeted ($40 million for Detroit; $50 million for 13 Hours), but that is where the similarities end.
13 Hours, Michael Bay’s Benghazi story, is aimed at conservative Middle America. Detroit is aimed at the Black Lives Matter crowd.
13 Hours opened cold in only 2,389 theaters. After a limited run to boost publicity and word of mouth, Detroit opened in a whopping 3,007 theaters.
Over at Rotten Tomatoes, critics buried 13 Hours with a miserable 50% rating. Critics lauded Detroit with a 88% fresh rating. Nevertheless…
13 Hours opened to much, much better $16.5 million 3-day when compared to Detroit’s miserable $7.3 million 3-day opening.
This weekend Paramount launched Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, drawing more noise from the CIA, Republicans and Democrats than moviegoers with a middling 4-day opening of $19M.
But despite audiences embracing the Michael Bay film with an A CinemaScore, bureaucrats have had a heyday kicking 13 Hours around like a political football. And it’s never good when partisan factions get their hands around a movie. Such squabbling is one of the chief factors seen in 13 Hours coming in under its $20M-$23M four-day projection.
This sort of partisan spin and wishcasting from those who should be telling cold truths is part of what’s destroying a cowardly and out of touch film business desperate for any kind of affirmation that encourages them to never change.
5. The Death of the Women’s Movie
After the studio system gasped its last in the mid-60s, the leftists of New Hollywood took over, and while they had an incredibly creative 10-year run, these oh-so progressive leftists also killed the women’s picture.
In the hands of leftist Hollywood, in the hands of a Hollywood where more women and feminists are in charge than ever before, how freakin’ pathetic is it that a Wonder Woman is a revelation, a cultural epoch, a record scratch in Hollywood history.
Sorry, but no it’s not.
When patriotic right-wingers ran Hollywood, when those stodgy, old and backwards “sexist” conservatives were in charge, up on that big screen, women enjoyed real equality. They were goddesses — tough and beautiful, independent and accessible, whip-smart and classy, in charge and selfless, sexy and decent.
The list is endless… Garbo, Davis, Crawford, Grable, Stanwyck, Simmons, Kerr, Hayworth, Lamar, Hepburn, Rogers, Colbert, Bergman, Bacall, de Havilland, Fontaine, Hayward, Taylor, Dietrich, Loren, Lombard, Garland, Loy, O’Hara, Pickford, Harlow, Day, Monroe, Kelly, Gardner, Leigh, Swanson, Holliday, Grahame, Reynolds, Neal, Saint, Caron, Wyman, Wood, Tierney, Darnell, Goddard, Grier and Arthur.
What do we have today? An aging and increasingly unappealing Meryl Streep and a whole host of cookie cutter babes (many of whom look like 14-year-old boys) all-too eager to degrade themselves, to act like sexist men. Hollywood uses these girls for nothing less than chum, and every year wonders why they can’t find even five decent choices to fill the Best Actress category.
Oh, yeah, you’ve really come a long way, baby.
6. A Bubble That Has Lost Touch With the Audience and Now Makes Crap
The movie industry has lost complete touch with its audience. Gone are the talent scouts looking to build a farm club by spreading out across the country in search of The Next Big Thing. Instead it is an incestuous bubble that only reproduces within the family, within the rarified zip codes of Manhattan and Los Angeles.
7. The Death of Comedy
I’m no prude. I love The Hangover and American Pie. But every comedy today is man-boys and their body fluids, gross-out and heartless.
I don’t want to walk out of a theater feeling like I need a shower. And judging by the endless string of R-rated flops, we are all tired of this soul-killing garbage.
8. The New Production Code Is Much More Stifling Than The Old One
The old Production Code that guided the movie business throughout much of the golden era was more about how content like sex, violence and human sexuality was presented. In other words, these topics were not placed off limits. Hitchcock was allowed to make clear that Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint did it, he just couldn’t show them doing it; Hitchcock could make clear Martin Landau and James Mason were homosexual lovers, he just couldn’t show it.
Today’s Production Code is an unspoken one. Nevertheless, it is much more fascist and creatively stifling than its predecessor because you cannot work around political correctness, you cannot turn text into subtext when certain subjects are placed completely off limits. For instance, unless you are black, you are no longer allowed to tell certain stories. A movie that told the truth about transsexuals being mentally ill could not be made today. Certain special interest groups cannot be satirized today. Conservatism cannot be portrayed as having any good ideas today. Every Western must apologize to the Indians. The list is endless and grows by the day. Just look at this stupid controversy surrounding HBO’s Confederacy.
You can argue that anyone can make any movie they want. Sure. And that was true back in the studio era. But within the system, within the mainstream, you risk the same thing you did in 1955 — being blacklisted, shunned, and personally destroyed.
9. An Expensive Bad Time
With insanely high ticket and concession prices, movies are no longer accessible to millions of Americans. Like major league baseball, the theater experience is not only expensive but becoming more and more elitist, with high-priced luxury theaters becoming their own form of skyboxes.
For those of us who do gamble a hard-earned $80 for family night, we are forced to deal with the stress of theaters that do not police the talkers and texters; we are forced to gamble all that cash on an industry with a 15% success rate when it comes to producing a satisfying product.
So what’s the answer?
The same as it was when the movie industry first began: a pool of incredible talent in touch with the audience, in touch with Middle America and the common man — talented people who actually respect and like America and Americans.
But that is never going to happen.