The day the movies died, or, you know, didn’t
Written by Sarah
Dear Mark Harris:
I read your thorough and interesting article in GQ, “The Day the Movies Died”. I do agree with your overall point—there’s an awful lot of crap being made in Hollywood these days with little sign of stopping. And it is discouraging, Mark, it really is. But I think you’ve overstated the case a bit. After all, adaptations have a long and stellar history in cinema—The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Schindler’s List, The Wizard of Oz are all adaptations and are all at the top of AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films list. And sequels aren’t the end of the world, either. After all, Toy Story 3 was the sequel of a sequel and it was not only one of the best films of 2010 but also one of Pixar’s best efforts to date, which is really saying something. In and of themselves, adaptations and sequels aren’t a problem.
Granted, the product-based movies like Transformers are more problematic. The success of Transformers brings us Battleship and Ouija and Magic 8 Ball: The Movie. If Battleship is successful I’m sure other board games will follow like CandyLand and Chutes and Ladders. But they’re just a fad, really. There was a time when Hollywood cranked out sh*tty musical after sh*tty musical, then it was sh*tty beach movies, and so on. So I reject your thesis that bad movies are a new thing, a thing that only started in 1987 with the release of Top Gun. Sh*tty fads have always existed in cinema, just like they’ve existed in literature and fashion and pop culture at large. The money men and marketers you’re so anxious to blame for destroying American cinema are only responding to the demand in the marketplace.
You know where I put the blame, Mark? On audiences. It’s not that they don’t go to the movies anymore, because they do. It’s just that we (yes “we”, we all do this, don’t act like you don’t) go see bad movies. Often, we go see them knowing they are bad. We perpetuate the trend. Pirates of the Caribbean is a big success so we get three sequels, but we keep going to see them even though they get progressively worse. Ditto for Transformers. The only way to stop the product-based movie is to not go see Transformers 3, Battleship, and one day Stretch Armstrong. If the movies bomb, they will stop making them.
Am I being too idealistic? If I think you’re taking too pessimistic view of the state of American cinema, Mark, am I then being too optimistic? Maybe. But let’s take a look at what happened in 2010. Inception banked over $800 million worldwide. The King’s Speech has logged over $230 million and counting. Black Swan is about to seal the deal on $200 million, too. The Fighter has topped $100 million. Those are all original, adult-oriented dramas.
What about adaptations aimed not at kids, but at adults? Shutter Island took in $128 million and The Social Network over $96 million. And let’s not forget about that “unnecessary” remake that turned out to be better than (in my opinion) the original—True Grit. It’s raked in $164 million and still going. Yes, sequels, remakes and youth-oriented adaptations dominated the release schedule in 2010 but you think all this success for adult-oriented dramas was an accident?
I’m with you on the attitude around Hollywood before and after Inception’s release. I have an acquaintance at Warner Brothers who predicted it would be an “arty but expensive flop that brings home a trophy or two”. And I’m with you that Inception’s success looked fluke-ish at first. But then came The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, True Grit, etc. Adults were at the movies in force in 2010 and that seems to be continuing in 2011 as Liam Neeson’s adult action movie Unknown bested teen franchise hopeful I Am Number Four on President’s Day weekend. 2011 is chock full of sequels—more than any year before—but we both know that it can take years to get a movie in theaters. Realistically, all this recent success for adult dramas won’t yield fruit until 2012, and more likely 2013, at the earliest.
But it can change, Mark. We don’t have to mourn American cinema as dead, we can celebrate the budding new life occurring. We can encourage it to grow and develop by drawing attention to the quality work being done instead of dwelling on all the crap. How about next month we get a 5,000 word article in a major national publication about the rise of Darren Aronofsky or the return of Terrence Malick? We don’t have to lie down and accept that movies just suck now, that’s how it will always be because the ad people ruined it. Because they didn’t, Mark. We ruined it. We ruined it with twenty years of supporting sh*t. But we can fix it. We just have to stop going to see sh*t movies. And I think we’re beginning to, Mark. I really do.