With Oscar Season approaching, a few decent movies can easily make us forget all of the riffraff we endured the other eleven months of the year.
Let’s reconsider the existence of these.
When Movies Suck
When movies suck it’s often because of money. “Big” movies that bomb, a glut of sequels, the computer-animated, empty-headed extravaganzas, the crowded summer season, all point to Hollywood’s business model tanking.
And it’s because of money.
Many people will tell you that money is the way the world works. This is not the case. The world works like this: The sun comes up each day, the plants give us oxygen, the bees pollinate the crops (at least until recently) and man and nature evolve together in a cooperative scheme of magnificent proportions.
Man invented money. And that’s not “man” in the sense of “mankind.” Women didn’t invent money. Money translates into territory, and men are territorial. If you don’t have much money, you might live in your car. That’s small territory. If you have lots of money, you might own thousands of acres of land in Costa Rica. That’s big territory.
The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The more money you have, typically, the more money you can make. The less money you have, the harder it is to make money. The widening socioeconomic gap is inarguable. Some noted capitalists like Martin Friedman will say that the poor and middle class have come to enjoy a better standard of living through capitalism, but that depends on what you consider standard of living. By increasing their debt, the poor and middle class have come to acquire more “stuff” in their lives, like TVs and cell phones on which to watch bad movies. High conditionality loans which lead to the exploitation of natural and human resources abroad allow us to viddy gems like “Gigli,” but there has been no real wage increase since the 1970s, and just a few years ago there was a rash of underwater mortgages unprecedented in the housing sector, a burst bubble with spatter patterns as ugly as Jonah Hex. I could go on and on, and talk too about the global lower class, or cleverly analogize our corrupt money-market system to various films, but that isn’t the point.
Some people will point to a cultural degradation and say that movies have diminished in quality because we are becoming a shallower, more decadent culture. But the surface of culture reveals the socioeconomic structure of what lies beneath.
Money, and a top-heavy system of capitalism are what’s behind our culture now, influencing everything around us, including the movies.
Hey, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the model of capitalism. Philosophically, there is an appealing side to the model – that each person be unfettered to achieve their highest self through healthy competition. And that is self-actualization will ultimately contribute to the greater good for society.
But, as the movies show us, capitalism, without an enlightened touch, can run amuck. Capitalism easily fosters greed. Capitalism encourages a kind of indifference to one another – to see things in terms of “business” and not humanity, when we all are, at the end of the eight hour work day, still human.
And it seems that many of the films which have done incredibly well over the years did not germinate with a promise of big money – it was the love of storytelling, the joy of innovation itself which hatched them.
As humans, we continue to crave good stories. We need art to remind us why we bear the suffering of life. To remind us of the good things, too. Otherwise, it would be just “business” out there. Our culture craves quality storytelling just the same as any other time in human history. We have the tools to do incredible things in the name of art and entertainment, but along comes money, and we wind up where we are now, with some good, but with bigger and bigger bad.
10 Really Bad Investments
1. Jonah Hex (2010) Cost: $47 million / Box Office (after 10 weeks): $16.2 million
2. Catwoman (2004) Cost: $100 million / Box Office: $40.2 million
3. The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002) Cost: $100 million / Box Office: $4.4 million
4. Gigli (2003 – Ben Affleck? Jennifer Lopez? A Marty Brest film? What went wrong? This stinker netted a 2.4 out of 10 stars on imdb.) Cost: $54 million / Box Office: $6 million
6. Repo Men (2010) Cost: $32 million / Box Office: $13.7 million
7. Speed Racer (2008) Cost: $120 million / Box Office: $43.9 million
8. The Invasion (2007) Cost: $80 million / Box Office: $15 million
10. How Do You Know (2010) Cost: $120 million / Box Office: $30 million
Okay, so, some are just bad ideas, (Pluto Nash, Gigli, Catwoman), but some had the promise of ensemble casts of name actors (How Do You Know, Town & Country), the reputation of a successful franchise (Speed Racer, Jonah Hex, The Invasion), the formula of other successful ventures (Australia). That these failed can only mean, well, they sucked.
And they keep the company of an increasing number of flops like them. Too much money thrown at ideas “guaranteed” to work. Moreover, too many ideas green-lit because of the promise of a mega-return.
What these films all have in common is that someone thought they would make a boatload of money by investing in them. And, to be safe, and go the surefire way, the ventures were contrived to mimic successes from years past, to feature the actors who had drawn big crowds before, and to open sometime around when Jaws opened nearly 40 years ago, spawning the trend of summer releases – in the middle of July.
Money. Money-driven decisions. Not creativity-driven decisions, but money-driven decisions. How will we make as much as possible?
On the other hand…
10 Really Good Investments
You could say, well, without money, we wouldn’t have the great films we have today. Okay, let’s take a look at some of the consensus-voted “great” or at least “cult classic” films, and see about how much they cost to make, and what they took in at the box office.
1. Rocky (1976) was made for a cool million and took in 225 million at the box office. Stallone was virtually a nobody at the time, and there are no boxing movie success stories which precede the film. The success is arguably attributable to the story.
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968) was produced for a little over a hundred thousand dollars. It rakes in 30 million world-wide. Not bad for a bunch of zombies. Horror films were nothing new at the time, but the irreverence and gore was an innovative stab in the right direction. Pun, I guess, intended.
3. Mad Max (1980) Cost: $200,000 / Box Office: $100 million
4. El Mariachi (1992) Cost: $7,000 / Box Office: $2 million.
5. Brothers McMullen (1995) – dawn of the “independent film” (with Sex, Lies and Videotape a compatriot) Cost: $25,000 / Box Office: $10.5 million
6. Supersize Me (2004) Cost: $60,000 / Box Office: $29 million
7. Blair Witch Project (1999) Cost: $35,000 / Box Office: $250 million
8. Halloween (1978) Cost: $320,000 / Box Office: $60 million
9. Swingers (1996) Cost: $250,000 / Box Office: $4.5 million
10. Napoleon Dynamite (2004) Cost: $400,000 / Box Office: $44 million