Enough With the Spending – Hollywood’s Addiction to Squandering Money
Article by Paul Preston
“The Movie Guys love movies”. If you’ve ever listened to The Movie Showcast, the weekly comedy show that emanates from TheMovieGuys.net, you know that’s how we begin every show. It’s a comedy disclaimer, of sorts, letting the listener know that whatever goofing we lay down on that week’s movies, in our hearts, we love movies. And it’s a true statement. I’ve spent time out of state talking to people who aren’t in southern California, and I’ve learned that they, in fact, do NOT spend every waking minute talking about movies! Who knew?!?
But The Movie Guys and our circle of freaks…we do. So as I point out one serious fault in the movie business, I want the reader to know I’m not crapping on an easy target or just trying to make myself feel good or smart, but I want this issue discussed in hopes of it getting turned around: enough with the spending. Many moviegoers are turned off at the prospect of having to pay $20 a ticket (once you lump in IMAX and 3D), but ticket prices have to be this much when $250 Million dollars has been spent to make the film. Let’s look at some egregious moments of overspending from the last year.
GHOSTBUSTERS: You probably didn’t see this (unfortunately), but the latest from Hollywood’s remake machine isn’t entirely flop-worthy. In fact, it’s upon second viewing that I could let go of the signposts the movie had to hit (they come together, they bring on a fourth team member, they hire a secretary, they supe up their vehicle, they go on their first mission, etc.) and admire the joke-filled movie that it is. However, it’s also loaded with unnecessary visual effects. Sure, the title suggests that the film should have a number of sophisticated visuals to represent the spirit world, but that’s not why the legendary original Ghostbusters is remembered – it’s the remembered for the comic relationship of four eclectic underdog heroes. Spending $144 Million to make Ghostbusters is just wrong, it’s setting up the franchise for failure.
The movie industry has gotten itself in a financial hole over the years a number of ways, a hole impossible to escape from, according to experts like Steven Spielberg.
– With NetFlix, HBO and the home viewing experience right on their tails, drawing massive audiences, the cinema countered with theater-only experiences like IMAX, 3D, 4D, XD, D-Box, D-Bag and all manner of bells and whistles. From someone whose first job in the ‘80s was at a movie theater, the move looked desperate. The up-charges turned off a lot of people who saw $100 price tags for a night at the movies with their family.
– That competition with home viewing most likely is why movie marketing budgets have surged over the last ten years to ridiculous levels. A movie can make its production budget back at the box office and still be a huge flop because the un-recouped marketing budget will sink it. This happened to Ghostbusters, a $230 Million world-wide grosser that on a $144 Million budget is considered a bomb.
– Since the ‘80s, prices surged so much that small theaters have gone out of style. Mostly only multiplexes remain and they only offer up the big budget studio selections, leaving small films less and less opportunity to find the national audience. As a result, there are fewer and fewer smaller films made for wide release.
Couple this with younger audiences not being well-equipped with how to watch a movie (no one ever TOLD them not to be on their phone, so, of course, they are), frustrating the experience for those who used to go regularly and generally the majority of movies getting bad reviews (see CRITICS DON’T MATTER), the industry is hurting. So why throw $180 Million at…
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN: When Tarzan got animated in 1999, that was pretty much a sign that we’re done, right? And yet, Warner Brothers threw at ton of money at the franchise again. Without a huge name in the lead role, the film still scrounged up $350 worldwide, and yet…it’s not a hit (see above marketing budget info). In the U.S., the film made $126 Million. I’m no Scott Rudin, but I think one could make a Tarzan movie for under $100 Million, but by inflating those costs closer to $200 Mil (and I frankly don’t see that money on the screen), it’s a flop. Again, studios, you’re not helping yourself.
BEN-HUR: Speaking of major star-less vehicles, it’s interesting to wonder just what part of this sword-and-sandal epic would be the huge draw to audiences. Even the latest version of Hercules employed the services of human franchise bump known as Dwayne Johnson. Unlike Ghostbusters, it’s source material isn’t legendarily revered to even create a curiosity. So…does this sound like the kind of movie you should spend $100 Million on? With a worldwide gross of $86 Million, Ben-Hur stands to lose up to $120 Million. Jack Huston is a good actor (see Boardwalk Empire), but if you’re unsure of his ability to front a franchise, spend as such.
THE BFG: Spielberg teaming up with Disney for the first time ever and the film is a wash? Yep. But looking back on flops like Alice Through the Looking Glass, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and Pete’s Dragon, surely an original adventure movie will hit. Nope. Not only is Spielberg’s name not the draw it used to be (unfortunately), but this most definitely is a lesser-than Spielberg effort (see our review). What a shame when Pete’s Dragon is actually a good movie! I don’t know what the reluctance is to having a guy in makeup play the Big Friendly Giant, but going all-CGI no doubt raised the budget up to an amount that couldn’t be earned back.
The BFG is one of a few stinkers from The Mouse House – Alice, The Finest Hours and Pete’s Dragon included – but they are the one studio who has somehow otherwise managed franchises, franchise starters and reboots into the biggest movies of the year – Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Zootopia (good reviews help!). This, coming off of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has Disney at well over a quarter share of the market for 2016. LUCKY. Those hits were risks with huge price tags. The best bet is to go the Deadpool route. Does that movie, with a $58 Million dollar budget, look worse than Civil War? Hell, no, and it looks a crap-ton better than Batman v. Superman ($250M) and Suicide Squad ($175M). You could make The Legend of Tarzan for $58M and have its $350 Million + gross mean something!
Lastly, this is half on you. Yes, you. You didn’t see and encourage the lower-budget offerings like The Nice Guys, Popstar and War Dogs, GOOD movies all that didn’t need many of you to be a hit ‘cause they didn’t overspend. There will be fewer and fewer if you don’t go and not going officially deletes your complaints that Hollywood doesn’t make anything but big budget sequels and remakes.
Studios have locked themselves into a vicious circle where they have to keep creating blockbusters ‘cause blockbuster money is the only thing that’s going to save them from their bad decisions. So…expect more of the same next year…(sigh)…