Box office numbers can let one know many things. Money is powerful, and it has the ability to make or break careers. Directors, producers, actors, or whatever else; they're all impacted by whether or not their product ends up being successful commercially. Interesting to consider is what and who makes a film commercially successful.
Over the weekend a contest occurred between three competing films to see which would rake in the most dough. Coming in first with $35 million was The Expendables, an action flick containing a lot of old recognizable names such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, and several others. Eat, Pray, Love, an adaption of a woman’s memoir in which she embarks on a spiritual journey across several countries, grabbed $23.7 million. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, placed third out of the new movies (5th overall, behind The Other Guys and Inception) at a meager $10.5 million (and that’s quite bad considering the film cost $60 million to make). That final picture was by far the biggest surprise, and the performance of these three movies reflects an interesting cultural fact.
Critically it received far more acclaim than Eat, Pray, Love or The Expendables. Some critics, including the esteemed John Serba of the Grand Rapids Press, went as far as to label it “groundbreaking,” primarily due to its visual style. Eye candy with a fun cast and a lighthearted plot involving a boy and his adventure beating down seven of his new love’s exes, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World definitely seemed to be perfectly set to be a big money maker ready to hit hard during the dwindling and rather lackluster days of summer. That it didn’t manage to even hit its target of around $20 million in the first week is revealing.
Audiences in America apparently are still stuck primarily on films featuring familiar faces. Celebrity never hurts where finances are involved. The Expendables featured, almost as a gimmick, an entirely star studded cast. Julia Roberts, too, maintains similar star power, making Eat, Pray, Love a high selling product. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, by contrast, lacked what it’s opponents had. True, Michael Cera, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh, and Jason Schwartzman, all actors who took part in the film, remain relatively well known, but they evidently were not as well known to those who were heading to theaters at the time and thus were not able to make their film a big hitter. But also, familiar faces can refer to stereotypical movie characters. Much has been made over the supposed trend towards more of scrawny hipsters or dorky types being presented in film as opposed to big, beefy manly men.
But apparently those hipsters aren't really the hot new thing, at least according to the numbers. Perhaps the day will come when characters in film differing from traditional social or gender norms will be the norm. But that day has not yet arrived and probably will not for some time, if ever. A final telling detail to note is rather depressing. Original storytelling, simply put, fails to be appreciated. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World presented a unique genre mix with an aesthetic style that literally has never been seen before. By contrast, Eat, Pray, Love and The Expendables sound nearly identical to a hundred other dramatic or action films that have been seen a hundred times before over the years. It’s sad that people would rather view the same thing again rather than to experience something new. However, as Bob Dylan put it, “The times they are a-changin’.” Maybe, given a similar set of circumstances in the future, things will look different for films from a financial perspective.
"You Sack of Wine!"