Tuesday, July 26, 2005

More on the Movies

Edward Jay Epstein's "Hollywood Economist" feature has become one of my favorite reads on Slate. Unlike a lot of other Hollywood-centric think pieces, Epstein's columns are well-researched and convincingly argued. And I'm not just saying that because his latest column backs up some of my recent musings about the movies.

In the David Thomson interview I linked to in my last post, Thomson suggests that the so-called "decline of Hollywood" could be a boon for independent and foreign movies:

I think [the decline] has certainly helped independent film. And I hope that sooner or later it will produce a revival of interest in foreign language films. Because there was a time in this country when there was a much bigger and more enthusiastic audience for subtitled films. So yeah--there are certainly compensating factors.

But here's Epstein on what the numbers really say about "the decline":

Consider how earlier this year entertainment journalists rattled on for months about a slump in the American box office—"Box Office Slump In Its 19th Week"—as if it were a sporting event in which the Hollywood studios couldn't get winning hits. The story would have been different if they had seen the data on Page 16 in the 2005 Three Month Revenue Report... Instead of a box-office decline, the studios actually took in more from the U.S. box office in the first quarter of 2005 ($870.2 million) than they did in the similar period of 2004 ($797.1 million). So even though the total audience at movie theaters declined during this period, this came mainly at the expense of independent, foreign, and documentary movies. For the Hollywood studios (and their subsidaries), in fact, there was no slump at all.

Again, this suggests that the idea that audiences are staying away from Hollywood movies because these movies are worse than ever is wrong. The movies from Hollywood may indeed be bad, but that hasn't stopped them from finding an audience.

Interestingly enough, Glenn Reynolds links to this same Epstein piece with the comment: "EDWARD JAY EPSTEIN says it's a Hollywood death spiral. Maybe if their movies were good..." I wonder if the InstaPundit took the time to actually read what Epstein wrote? The "Death Spiral" Epstein is writing about has to do with how the stay-at-home DVD-audience now vastly outnumbers the theater-going audience. As the home audience becomes the major source of income for the studios, there's increasing pressure to release the DVD closer and closer to a movie's theatrical debut. This makes it harder for theater owners to compete against the DVD-market.

My hunch is that this trend has less to do with the quality of the movies being made today and more to do with the fact that movies no longer have a special, privileged place in our pop-media-saturated culture.

Finally, commenting on my previous post, Steve Sailer writes:

Having been a film reviewer since 2001, my impression is that 2001 was pretty bad until the late fall, 2002 was a strong year overall, both in quality and box office. And then there's been a slow fall off in quality since 2002, and that decline in quality is starting to show up at the box office this year, as the public realizes that movies aren't as good as they used to be.

I find the idea of a slow decline in quality since 2002 to be a lot more believable than the doom-and-gloom notion that the movies have been going straight downhill since Jaws. Even so, Epstein's numbers suggest that people are still showing up for Hollywood movies and they're also watching these Hollywood movies on DVD.

My own take was that there have been very few great movies over the last couple of years, but a whole bunch of pretty good ones. Perhaps more importantly, there were "pretty good" movies in a variety of genres. We had pretty good smart, grown-up comedies, like Sideways and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, pretty good dumb adolescent comedies like Anchorman and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, pretty good important Oscar-worthy biopics like Ray and The Aviator, pretty good serious issue movies like Hotel Rwanda, pretty good action/adventure movies like Spider-Man 2, pretty good horror movies like the Dawn of the Dead remake, etc.

For what it's worth, I think the 1990s were a better decade for movies than the 1980s and that the 2000s are shaping up to be more like the 90s than the 80s.


Steve Sailer said...

The reason we are reading all the Hollywood slump stories in 2005 but the major studios' revenue year-to-date is up in 2005 over 2004 is largely "The Passion of the Christ," which none of the studios wanted to touch.

The slump was in effect in the first half of last year, but The Passion's $370 million during the weakest time of the year at the box office masked that.

emily from blog articles said...
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