Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A solution to film piracy and theater attendance in America: make movies for grownups?

Gran Torino and Taken. What do these two films have in common?

They both were made by, about, and for adult audiences. They both opened well above expectations, at number one for the weekend box office, with $29.4 million and $24.7 million respectively. They both achieved these results with a majority of audience members who were 25 years old or older. Oh, and both of these films had DVD-quality bootleg copies widely available on the Internet months before the wide release date.

So let's play devil's advocate and believe the studios' claims that one of the main reasons that kids aren't going to the movies as much is because they are downloading them illegally online. And let's for a moment acknowledge that one of the main reasons grown ups aren't going to the movies is because the films in wide release are usually aimed at teens and young adults. Let's also concede that one of the main drawbacks of theater attendance is having to view a film aimed at juveniles while said kids engage in all manner of disruptive behavior during the film (texting, talking, walking around the theater, etc*).

Ok, so if grown ups don't go to theaters because the films are aimed at kids (and the kids are obnoxious), and the kids are going in declining numbers to films aimed at them because they have other ways to spend their time and/or they are downloading those kid-friendly movies off of Bit Torrent, then might the solution be obvious? What if studios were to make more grown-up friendly genre movies all year round (as opposed to just year-end Oscar bait that is marketed as being 'good for you')?

Well, in theory, the adults would show up, the kids would see something else and not bother them, and said adult films wouldn't get downloaded because the target demographic doesn't know how or doesn't care to download said films anyway. And since most grown up dramas and thrillers are more cast-driven than FX-charged, the films would be much cheaper to make (and theoretically cheaper to market, since you could concentrate on traditional advertising methods).

I'd argue that the same pattern might hold for family films like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, but that's a rant for another day. Just a thought.

Scott Mendelson

* Full disclosure: While the theater etiquette of teens has gotten worse (or rather, maybe I was just spoiled by two years living near the relatively polite AMC Burbank 16 crowd), some of the worst movie going behavior in recent months came from older adults. During the opening weekend of Quantum of Solace, a 60-something gentleman (who, to be fair, seemed mentally impaired) occasionally tried to engage me in polite conversation, frequently downloaded photos onto his cell-phone, and offered to show me said photos of Daniel Craig during the feature. Furthermore, while viewing Waltz With Bashir at the local art house theater, there was an older couple who kept their cell phone on and allowed it to ring a few times. On the plus side, I reported them to the theater staff after the second occurrence and the ushers immediately interceded.


Kyle Leaman said...


Frost/Nixon and Wrestler both opened wide in January and haven't recieved nearly the Box Office that Gran Torino and Taken have. Its not as easy as "make adult movie for adults = money at box office", for every Taken and Gran Torino there is a Blindness or Changeling. Perhaps its more about the marketing and the inherent appeal of the material to draw those adults out?

Scott Mendelson said...

True true. But what I was referring to (and I've slightly amended my original piece to clarify) was the dearth of 'entertainments' for adults, genre pictures that are actually (in theory) fun to watch.

It seems that the only 'adult' pictures we get these days are year-end prestige pictures that are marketed as being the film equivalent of oatmeal. 'See Milk... or your neighbor will think you're a homophobe!' 'Blindness: the most depressing, soul-killing experience you'll have at the movies all year!'

Kyle Leaman said...

I agree with you Scott. My guess is that studios with "adult" fare that is actually good want to hold those films for times when it will get maximum exposure and that seems to be at the year end.

Still, how great would it have been to have that end of the year glut spread out over the year (given that the films could be ready)?


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