Making movies is a business in Hollywood. For the most part everyone understands that, even the most die-hard fans and fanboys alike. Without the monetary investment from shareholders and studios along with the requisite box office return on their investment, we don’t get our big budget blockbusters that most of us know and love, and to a greater extent we wouldn’t get the smaller films either.
There has always been a fine line between making money and preserving artistic vision though, and every studio in the business has crossed that line at some point with its movies in all genres, not just comic book movies or the like. It’s really become part of the business itself to just accept that certain things are going to happen with a production for the sake of making money, even it and maybe even especially when it displeases fans at times.
The thing is that now the fans have started to cross that line as well with their own behavior towards movies in general, and social media has only proliferated it even further. With respect to fandoms, a lot of people have developed “rooting interests” for studios and franchises at the movie theaters, basically putting their hearts on the line for their movie, franchise or studio to succeed so that in principle, more movies can be made to their liking.
But now it’s gone deeper than that, as fans are openly using box office and money as a way to assign judgment on films worth to feel better about themselves and the choices they made, as though that movie or studio was a sports team that they were rooting for in open competition. That’s why it’s considered a “scoreboard mentality,” at least that’s how I see it.
In sports, this is literally how a fan operates out of protocol. Competition is the lifeblood of how it works and the scoreboard is how you keep track of who wins or loses. You can appreciate the talent and the integrity of the competition you’re watching, but it’s really never about that most of the time. It’s about wins and losses. You want your team to win because you’re a fan and that’s what sports is all about. Competition at the highest levels.
Now we have a lot of people who think that’s what movies are all about, competition at the highest level, and it’s horrifically illogical and incredibly dangerous to think that way from what I see.
To understand why, you have to look at how it started. Some years ago with the advancement of technology itself and the Internet, we as an audience became more and more interested in the things that happen between movie releases instead of just focusing on the movie itself. All the behind the scenes stuff, contracts, the studio organization, production budgets, marketing and everything else became a new focal point for us to follow and more information for the audience to latch on to.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this at all, given that you’re responsible with the information. The problem is that too many people are being horribly irresponsible with it on a regular basis, and that’s not just fans and fanboys, it’s also bloggers, critics and even movie executives and people in Hollywood as well. A lot of them are treating box office as a measure of quality for a film, which is horrifically inaccurate. The box office only tells you how popular a movie is because it measures how much money was made from sold tickets, which displays how many people paid to see the movie. Now this is vitally important for the future of movies and franchises in the business because higher box office returns means financial stability, but that’s literally it. There’s nothing else that box office should ever translate to in terms of a deeper meaning for us as an audience.
Yet that is exactly what people have been doing the past few years and it’s only getting worse.
Now we have people that are openly declaring movies good or bad based nothing other than how much money it made and essentially how popular it is. If a movie makes a billion dollars, it must be incredible. If it only makes a couple million, it must be horrible. That’s what a lot of people actually think now.
It goes further. If the movie you love made more money than another movie people that other people love, then your movie was clearly better and their movie was clearly worse and vice-versa. Not only that, but clearly the best movies ever made are the ones that made the most money based on what sites like Box Office Mojo, Forbes, The Numbers and Exhibitor Relations tells us.
This is real. People actually think this is a valid thought process for assessing movie quality. That’s terrifying, not just because that mindset plays right into the greedy Hollywood executives hands, but also because it is affecting how movies are being made now.
The era of the blockbuster film has changed, in no small part because of what Disney has done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before the first Avengers movie, movies making a billion dollars or more wasn’t seen as a regular thing. It happened here and there and maybe it was starting to happen a bit more often, but Disney turned the expectation into a regular occurrence with the MCU and with Star Wars as well.
So now you have people that use a billion dollars as the benchmark for success with all comic book movies. If one makes less than that, it’s seen by many as lesser than, if not an outright failure, and to be fair there are some that are certainly failures, but that has more to do with what it made at the box office versus how much money was spent to produce and market the film, so if you’re going to call a movie a success or a failure, you have to look at the difference between the numbers instead of just assigning the flat expectation of a billion dollars and being done with it.
The thing is, even when movies like Aquaman, a DC film, make a billion dollars, you have people immediately looking for reasons to tear it down, the same way sports fans look for reasons to tear down the accomplishments of a player or team they don’t like for whatever reason. Why is that necessary? How is that valid? If you’re going to set the unrealistic expectation of a billion on a film, why can’t you do it across the board? Maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
But the studios are wise to it now, and they see how the audience is reacting and even they are adopting the idea of a billion dollars being the benchmark, whether they admit it or not, and in the shadow of the MCU influence, blockbuster movies are battling each other for release dates left and right, leading to an incredibly crowded marketplace of movies every year now and a constant competition for our attention that always leaves all the smaller movies out in the cold. It’s no longer a case of giving movies a chance because it’s something new and fresh, it’s now a case of going to see whatever your favorite brand is out of loyalty.
This has been made no clearer than when we saw people openly lobbying others to go see Avengers: Endgame again just so that it could beat the record for highest grossing film of all time, as if that’s something for a film to aspire to creatively speaking. Not only that, but you had people openly trashing the current top film Avatar, and finding every reason to call it horrible and undeserving of the top spot, despite completely conforming to the box office rules those same people set with their unrealistic expectations so many years before even setting them.
Make no mistake either, the studios LOVE this brand loyalty. They want EVERYONE to lobby people to go buy tickets for Endgame so it breaks the record because that means more money in Disney’s pockets and less money in ours at the end of the day, which not only makes Disney richer, but also robs money and attention from the other studios and movies competing for their own space. An MCU or Disney fan will just say that it’s because Disney is the best there is and everyone knows it, but how fair is the competition between these studios when so much of the market share is dominated by one company?
They’ll tell you that it’s business and fair has nothing to do with. Alright, but then what happens to movie variety in general? Is everything destined to simply become a clone of the MCU or Disney then? Is that the only kind of movie that will make gobs of money and ever be made from here on out? People that have no issue with Disney chasing the Avatar record with a re-release of Endgame are saying yes to that question, because continued dominance by Disney not only adds to their coffers but also squeezes out everyone else in the process. If you’re a Disney fan and you want that dominance that is your business, but don’t complain once you get sick of the same product over and over again and don’t complain when other studios do their best to emulate Disney in hopes of getting your money, because you’re just telling them that it’s exactly what you want them to do. Otherwise, you’d be seeing other movies and you wouldn’t be okay with a re-release of a movie while the original run is still in theaters across the planet just to break a box office record that is arbitrary and has nothing to do with a movie’s subjective quality in the first place.
The longer we keep treating movies and studios like sports teams and pushing the business more toward that model instead of one that actually salvages the artful part of the medium, the more Hollywood is going to gravitate toward only one kind of filmmaking and eventually sterilize most of cinema in the process. You might think that’s extreme, but given the current landscape and how much movies not made by Disney are struggling to find room this year, and with how strong and prevalent the scoreboard mentality is among people of all walks, it’s far closer and more dangerous of a reality than you might think.
If you’re good with all movies being Disney, that’s your business. Then you’ll know how everyone felt in Demolition Man when all the restaurants became Taco Bell. That’s not the kind of future for movies that I want any part of to be honest with you. That’s just me though.