Tuesday, December 27, 2011


"Good movies always rise to the occasion. Bad ones, not so much."

Box Office
Hollywood is seeing disappointing numbers again. Would-be blockbusters like Mission Impossible 4 aren't doing as good as expected, and kid-friendly sequels like Alvin and the Chipmunks are suffering as well. Even Tintin isn't doing as well as they expected worldwide, pulling down just $250 million so far. That sounds like a lot, but it cost $124 million just to produce.

Movie attendance dropped 6% in 2010, according to Brooks Barnes at the New York Times, and this year is expected to drop even further:
With five days left in 2011, ticket sales in North America are running about $500 million behind last year — despite higher prices — prompting a round of soul searching by studios trying to determine what went wrong and how best to proceed.
And analysts point to the fact that Avatar inflated 2010 numbers by being released late in 2009. That's despite a huge number of 3D movies, thought to be the salvation of the movie theater (you can't watch 3D at home very easily, so it makes you go to the theater). And since 3D tickets cost 3-5 bucks more than normal ones, that helps inflate the numbers, but sales are still down almost 5% from last year.

Hollywood types are trying to figure out why they aren't making as much, and list a few possibilities, such as the general poor economy worldwide and their usual bugbear: movie piracy. And there are the usual complications, such as home entertainment centers, which make viewing movies in the comfort of your home little different than at a theater for most people. And video games probably are taking a bite out of movie going as well, they're getting so visually brilliant that they're almost like an interactive movie, at least the well-made ones.

What they don't seem to understand is boldly explained in the first paragraph of this Times piece, something even Barnes doesn't seem to notice: they raised ticket prices. Back in the great depression of the 20th century, ticket prices were pretty cheap. People could go see a movie for a nickle, when they were being paid 25 cents an hour. Today, its 15 bucks to see a movie, plus a second mortgage for popcorn and a drink. And the average worker doesn't pull down 60+ dollars an hour, even in America.

Movies used to be cheap entertainment, something fun and low cost for the family in tough times, to help you escape. Now, they cost a family a hundred bucks or more, and people just can't pop for that as often, even when the quality is good. And frankly, its not. Here are the top movies of 2011:
  1. Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows pt 2
  2. Transformers 3
  3. Twilight pt 4
  4. The Hangover 2
  5. Pirates of the Caribbean 4
  6. Fast Five
  7. Cars 2
  8. Thor
  9. Rise of the Apes
  10. Captain America
That's seven sequels, two comic book movies, and a prequel to Planet of the Apes. Two of the sequels were actually part of a book series so they aren't as bad as Fast and Furious part five, but look that over. That's the best people had to choose from, the most popular.

People just want something fun to watch, something to get away from troubles and bills for a while. Something that will entertain and bring a smile, which is why comic book movies tend to do so well (X-Men First Class and Green Lantern were also in the top 25). They are fresh, fun, and reliable entertainment.

So when you overcharge for a product that people don't have a lot of motivation to buy, you're not going to see a lot of popularity. Sure, piracy takes a bite and the economy hurts, but the truth is they're hurting themselves with their own practices. Anyone want to start a countdown for them to turn to the federal government for regulations to help their business? They already get huge tax breaks and subsidies.

1 comment:

Eric said...

We saw three movies at the theater this year (Green Lantern, Harry Potter, and War Horse). That's probably the fewest number of movies I've gone to in a year in my adult life. It is just getting harder to justify the expense, and that's with us going to to Matinee shows and sneaking in our own snacks.

I will say this though: we saw War Horse yesterday at a large megaplex type theater, and every seat had a butt in it. I was sort of cringing before the movie started because it has bee a long time since I was in a crowded theater (when we saw Green Lantern late in its run, we went to an early showing and were the only ones in the theater). I was, quite simply, amazed at how quiet and respectful everyone was during this movie. No cell phone ringers went off, no texters littered up the ambiance with glowing smartphone screens. No annoying whispering. No people shouting at the screen. It was almost unsettling to have that many people in a room together and not be annoyed with any of them. Maybe the high prices are driving out the casual customers who are just there for something to do, and leaving behind people actually interested in watching a movie.

There is a drive-in theater not too far from us, and I would bet in 2012 we will probably see more shows there than at the regular theater. The ticket prices are generally $7 per head, and for that price you get two or three movies. The snack prices are higher than regular prices, but not even close to the astronomically high prices of a commercial theater.