Will the Blockbuster Bubble Pop?

Yesterday my sister and I were gushing over the new Spectre trailer and she innocuously asked me when the flick was being released. I told her we’d be able to see it in November and then launched into an unsolicited explanation that James Bond movies always come out in November because the last time they released a 007 entry in the summer was 1989 and it got clobbered at the box office by Batman, Indiana Jones and Lethal Weapon 2. Then I start babbling about how I was worried that since Star Wars 7 is also coming out in Q4 it might hurt Bond at the box office. THEN I continued to explain that usually Star Wars movies come out in May but that Disney probably pushed back the release date to the winter because they didn’t want to compete with their own Marvel film Age of Ultron and cannibalize their box office receipts. I topped off the conversation with a hope that Spectre would still “do good business.”

I then stopped in my tracks and realized I never once mentioned that I hoped the movie would be any good. All I was talking about was how I hoped it would make a lot of money so that we would be assured we’d see more good James Bond movies. But why the hell should I care? I don’t work for Sony Pictures or the British Intelligence. I’m not a financial analyst.

I don’t think this is my fault. It’s just how we talk about movies these days. Each month brings a new conversation around box office record-breaking. This is the first movie to make this much money on Memorial Day. This is the most money that a movie has made in a single day. This is the most money a movie has made in a single weekend. This is the most money a movie based on a romance novel has made on a leap year in which the planets were aligned with the northern star. This week the conversation is about the newest record Jurassic World has made, replete with lazy puns about “chomping through the competition” and “stomping through box office records.”

So let’s go ahead and say it. It’s official, Jurassic World has eclipsed Avengers to become the number three top-grossing film of all time. Number three? Who the eff cares? Well, since Avatar and Titanic are still a clean billion dollars’ worth of business ahead of anyone else due to James Cameron’s fondness for deep-throating Satan, for all intents and purposes number three is the spot to beat.

But what does that mean? It means that 3 of the top 10 movies of all time came out in a SINGLE YEAR. Forget Jurassic World’s billion and a half dollars, that’s the real record here. For years, the highest grossing movie of all time was Star Wars, which had eclipsed the record of Gone With the Wind. Star Wars was released in 1977, Gone with the Wind hit the silver screen in 1939. That’s almost a four decade difference, which is laughable in this day in age when half of the top grossing films of all time were released within 2 years of each other and seven out of the ten top grossing films of all time were released in the last ten years.

Adjusted for inflation, Gone with the Wind is still the moniestmaking film of all time.

So what does this mean? That in 2017 four of the top movies of all time will be from the same year? That in 2019 half of the top movies of all time will be from the same year? And that by 2029 every movie in the top ten will be from the same year? And that every year after that the entire list of top ten movies will be entirely supplanted? Okay, obviously any statistician worth her salt would shoot an Indominous Rex-sized hole through the pattern I’m suggesting here, but my point is: how sustainable is this? I’m reminded of the dotcom bubble of the 1990s and the housing bubble of the 2000s. They both seemed as unstoppable as Jurassic World and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But isn’t the box office economy a market like any other? Isn’t this a bubble like any other? Isn’t it inevitable for it to pop?

Let’s take a look at this from the perspective of supply and demand. What are audiences demanding from top-grossing films these days? Shit they’ve never seen before. Shit they’ve seen in comics and videogames that they want to see on the big screen. Shit they’ve been imagining and dreaming about for years that we finally have the technology to put up on the silver screen. And now that social media has empowered moviegoers to express these demands to studios, the supply is finally being met.

By this time next year, we’ll have seen it all. We’ve already seen Jurassic Park finally open it’s door this summer. Next summer we’ll finally know what happens when Superman fights Batman. We’ll finally see Spiderman join the Avengers and watch the entire Marvel Universe explode into a civil war. We’ll finally see what happens next in the Star Wars saga. We’ll finally see Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise begin their legendary 5 year journey. We’ll finally see Wonder Woman on the big screen. We’ll finally see James Bond battle Spectre in the modern era.

And I think the bubble will pop. What the hell could make more money a superhero civil war? What could possibly make more money than new Star Wars movies? There’s no way that year after year movies can just continue to make more money than ever before. I don’t know about you, but when I see Superman and Batman together on the big screen I know I’ll say “well shucks, now I’ve seen it all.”

Of course that’s a preposterous statement and I know it. Something new will always show up. People said they saw it all when Star Wars came out. Then The Matrix blew their minds. It’s bound to happen. It’s happened before. By the late 1960s, the Hollywood studio system was about to collapse under its own weight. People had seen it all. They’d seen Moses part the Red Sea. They’d seen what outer space would look like in the year 2001. They’d seen the Crucifixion in glorious Technicolor Cinemascope and the Blob swallow teenagers in 3D. They’d seen Frankenstein meet the Wolfman and Dracula. They’d seen nudity and heard the F word. They had television sets now and there was nothing movies could show them that they hadn’t already seen. The bubble popped. And that was a good thing. It paved the way for Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, Bogdanavich, Scorsese, De Palma, Peckinpah, Polanski and Boorman. It opened the door to The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars, Taxi Driver,The Last Picture Show, Chinatown, and Deliverance. The popping of the old Hollywood bubble showed audiences things they’d never seen because they didn’t know they existed.

Somewhere out there a little girl is making her first movie on an iPhone. Someday she will grow up and show us something we’ve never seen before. But first, the Blockbuster Bubble needs to pop. 30-something nerds like myself need to have seen it all, go into hibernation and let her take over. And you know what? I hope her movie makes a trillion dollars. Why? Because James Cameron seems like a douche and all his movies except Terminator are ridiculously overrated. Have a great summer folks. See you at the pictures.

Why Rated R Movies are Better for Kids than PG-13 Ones

People who let their kids see rated “R” movies are often considered to be “bad” parents who aren’t paying enough attention to what their children are exposed to. In fact, if you take a kid to a rated R movie, the guy behind the ticket booth will usually ask “you know this movie is rated R, right?” The problem is, kids love the kind of violence normally associated with these movies. This caused a conundrum after the release of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, smack-dab in the middle of the first Hollywood Blockbuster heyday. It was too violent to have been PG but they still wanted to make money off of the violence-starved young masses. Spielberg and the MPAA solved it with the magical rating “PG-13.” Now you can say “fuck” once, show Kate Winslet’s tits and kill as many people as you want as long as it’s not too bloody or gory. Problem solved? Not quite. I posit that PG-13 movies are actually worse for kids than rated R movies. They teach young people that violence is a fun, bloodless affair that isn’t nearly as bad as the news makes it out to be. Rated R movies on the other hand show audiences how horrific violence is and set high stakes for the characters.

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Take the PG-13 Jurassic World for instance. A shit-ton of people die. They get munched by Velociraptors, snatched by flying pterodactyls, dropped into the gaping maw of the sea-dwelling mosasaurus and eaten alive by the genetically altered “Indominus Rex.” But it’s also fairly tame. The director cuts away when the actual eating happens, there’s no guts, barely any blood and we don’t see any arms or legs ripped off. No one we care about ever gets killed. The people who die are generally assholes but we don’t know enough about them to actually enjoy it when they receive their just desserts. In other words, violence is something that happens to other people, not us. It’s also not scary. It’s kind of funny. Therefore, the movie fundamentally fails to be what a monster flick should be — scary.

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Put Jurassic World up next to one of the best rated R monster movies, the original Alien. Only a half a dozen or so people die in this movie, but when they die, they die. You see aliens ripping out of people’s chests, people getting burned with alien acid blood, blood gurgling out of people’s mouth. It’s fucking scary. It reminds us how small we are and how fragile our existence is. It shows us that death isn’t fun, it’s horrible.

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Compare that to the post-credits scene of another monster movie, the very PG-13 The Mummy. It’s an epic war sequence in which a horde of Middle Eastern warriors engage in battle with the French Foreign legion. More people die in that first scene alone than in the first two rated R Alien movies combined. But somehow this movie is considered less violent because they don’t show anyone’s blood or guts. So three things are happening here. We are showing an ass-load of people being mercilessly slaughtered in a movie marketed towards children. We’re also portraying violence in a way that is highly unrealistic. Third, we’re making violence seem fun. So what’s a worse influence on your kids? A movie in which a few people die and you see some blood or a movie in which countless nameless Middle Eastern people and young soldiers murder each other in a light-hearted spirit? Think about it.

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You can’t shield your kids from violence. Even if you don’t let them watch any movies they still live in a world filled with war, genocide and murder. So the question becomes, what do you want them to think about violence? Is it something scary and horrendous or is it something fun? At the end of the day, don’t give movies too much credit for influencing your kids. It detracts from the impact of your role as a parent. Films can only shape your children’s understanding of the world if you aren’t around to show them how it really is. After all, it’s just a movie.