last time: bad movies fail because they are bad

I’ve been following the ever-expanding coverage of the summer box-office returns, and the growing number of financial fails at the movie theater. It’s a fascinating beat to watch, year after year.

This season the subject is getting more attention because of Steven Spielberg’s comments regarding the implosion of the Hollywood film industry. But despite Mr. Spielberg’s warning, I’ve yet to be convinced of any substantive difference between this summer’s round of failures, and those of last year or any year previous. Maybe this time around things really are different and I’m just not looking close enough. But I doubt it.

Either way, I’m going to continue making this point. Bad movies are bad; they fail, at least in part, ¬†because they are bad.

This time it comes from the New Republic, where Isaac Chotiner wrote a piece called Hollywood is in Big Trouble, and We’re All Going to Pay. Chotiner runs down the list of box-office failures, and the original vs. sequel disparity (which is real), and concludes: “the real lesson of the summer might very well be that audiences want what they already know. Don’t expect much to change.”

And yet, missing entirely from the piece is the fact that this list of failures, by and large, consists of bad movies. Not everything that wins at the box-office is quality film-making. But there has to be an accordance made for the quality of film that viewers are interested in seeing.

Too many articles appear berating the failure of of original stories at the box-office without looking beyond to even consider the possibility that audiences are not going to see After Earth because it’s no good. Andrew Sullivan does his round-up magic on the subject, and each story he links avoids the subject that is at the heart of the summer movie mania: bad movies are bad, and are not going to succeed.

At this time in the Hollywood endeavor, a lot of the best big-budget stuff is superhero stories. A lot of creative people have gathered together around the genre and are producing superbly entertaining, high-quality movies. Still, we know superhero blockbusters are not guaranteed to succeed. If they’re terrible they will fail dramatically – ask Ryan Reynolds (superhero fatigue set in at the box-office two years ago. Good thing no one told Joss Whedon).

Last year, Battleship and John Carter failed because they were not very good. This year, Disney’s Lone Ranger failed for the same reason. To ignore that in the opining over Hollywood’s brokenness and impending destruction is to miss the the whole point of the movies.

Summer box-office analysis is of questionable value to begin with (including this one, I grant you); every year we hear how the box-office bombs threaten to end the industry. And every year, the industry returns with a few quality pieces of booming pop culture entertainment and loads of dreck.

As the voice of the doomsayers has grown, the possibility that bad movies fail because they are bad gets ever more lost in the trenches of the economic trends.

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