Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eww! Gross!

What fascinates me these days is the obsession with box office that so many of the mainstream media and followers of film have. The most recent obsession seems to be with people wanting "The Dark Knight" to take down "Titanic" in US grosses. Except it won't. And even if it surpasses that $600 million mark, that means nothing. Since, according to Box Office Mojo, when adjusted for inflation, "The Dark Knight" would currently only be hovering around $340 million in 1997 dollars, and Titanic itself is only number 6 on that list.

The problem with the way film measures success is that the benchmark continuously changes. A platinum selling record is one that sells a million copies. A smash hit television show is in the 10s of millions of viewers. The benchmarks in most other industries is one in units. How many units of this item were sold? And through that, one can figure out a long-term success pattern. But this is not the case for movies. In the many years I've been involved with movies, I have never once seen an amount of tickets sold number. When I have searched them out, I can usually find them, but never are they reported.

But people get so attached to these numbers. Dark Knight breaks the Spider-Man record. Great. So what? Does this inherently mean that one is better than the other? Absolutely not. They are completely different movies. I can think of plenty of movies that made very little at the box office that were still incredibly successful overall. The most prescient example that comes to mind is "The Shawshank Redemption." Currently at or near the top of most "Best Ever" lists, it grossed only $28 million total when it was released in 1994.

I believe that film fans all around should begin to put these numbers behind us, and pay less attention to them. The only reason I want films to make lots of money is so that other films like it will continue to be made. I'm glad The Dark Knight has made so much money, because it secures the franchise in the minds of most executives and they will continue making more Batman films. Beyond that, there is no care for me. I was certainly disappointed to see Speed Racer make so little money overall, as I would have enjoyed seeing sequels to that movie, but its comparitive success or failure has little bearing on whether or not I enjoyed that movie on its own merits. My appreciation for that movie would not be vindicated by a higher box office gross or massive DVD sales because I continue to love it regardless.

And then you have situations like the upcoming "Watchmen." Frankly, it's irrelevant whether or not that movie makes $1 or $1 billion. The movie is made, it cannot be a franchise, and it's done. If it's a good movie (which I expect it will be) then I will certainly be happy to see it succeed if it does. But if it doesn't, and I still enjoy it, it will make little difference to me.

All I want is for studios to continue to make good movies or focus on quality again (I'm looking at you, 20th Century Fox). And maybe, somewhere down the road, we can focus on benchmarking through admissions instead of inflated box office numbers.

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