As most of you know, the ambitious and expensive Cloud Atlas will be opening this weekend with around $10 million for the weekend. Even with Warner Bros. merely on the hook for distribution and marketing and even with the film's $100 million budget covered by foreign pre-sales, this is not a pleasant figure for a rather impressive movie. There will be finger-pointing and blame to go around over the next few days. But I would argue that the primary reason for its box office failure is actually a net positive. In short, Cloud Atlas had the bad luck to open during what can only be called a plethora of adult films. I've talked quite a bit about the slow and steady comeback of adult cinema in an age of non-stop tentpoles, but there is one downside to the current deluge. It can be argued that there is actually too much adult product out there in the current marketplace. And as we all know, a large majority of adult moviegoers aren't quite as frequent as the younger crowd. The stereotypical adult moviegoer, the one with a family and a job and various responsibilities, maybe only goes to the movies once a month. And if they went to the movies this weekend, they probably went to see Argo.
I liked Cloud Atlas but I didn't love it. I admired it more than I enjoyed it. As such, if a casual moviegoer asks me what they should see this weekend, I'd be hesitant to recommend Cloud Atlas. It's nearly three-hours long, it has a rather sprawling narrative and exists in a blend of reality and fantasy. It's R-rated and is occasionally quite violent,. But most importantly, it's not quite good enough to overcome the various reasons why it might not be the cup-of-tea for the so-called general moviegoer. If asked to recommend an adult movie in years past outside of the Oscar season, I might have struggled to think of more than a token offering. But today, Ben Affleck's Argo so perfectly fits the bill that it's almost foolhardy of me to recommend anything else. But say said moviegoer is a bit more adventurous (or has already seen Argo), my next recommendation would be Seven Psychopaths, which is simply one of the best films of the year. After that, I'd mention the brainy mainstream sci-fi genre entry Looper. Only after those options are noted would I inquire as to whether something like Cloud Atlas might be up their proverbial alley.
And that's not even accounting for the handful of adult films I haven't seen (Trouble With the Curve, End of Watch) or the somewhat adult-skewing thrillers that are pretty bad but provide C-level television-procedural type thrills (Taken 2, Alex Cross). I wouldn't recommend them, but they'd arguably jump out as low-risk options for the casual 'just want to take in a movie' audience member. As you can see, this is a rather great time to be a grown up who likes movies. If you're the sort who sees movies on a regular basis, it's an absolute embarrassment of riches (and the upcoming likes of Skyfall, Flight, and Lincoln will only sweeten the pot). But keeping in mind that most adult film-goers don't have the time or inclination to see everything that comes out, a film like Cloud Atlas didn't have a chance. When you can recommend such high-quality meat-and-potatoes fare like Argo and Looper, something like Cloud Atlas feels like a genuine gamble. In short, we finally have too many adult movies in the marketplace at one time. That's a good thing, but that means that an oddity like Cloud Atlas had to be great to break out of the pack. Even as ambitious and creative as it is, merely being good wasn't enough when there are at least a few great adult films to choose from.