Boyhood has already made a cool $7 mil at the box office and Oscar season hasn’t even started yet in earnest. It is somewhat heartening to know that a movie like that can still make enough money to justify its existence.  We are living the result of a multiple decade long audience conditioning experiment which has paid off well.  Back in the early days sequels and remakes were frowned upon as being unoriginal. But generations of kids raised on toys and merch branding have grown up to especially recognize those brands, to embrace them, to seek them out at the box office. It makes a difference of about $100 million if the blogger/critic buzz is good out of the gate. Good buzz can boost the product significantly. But we are still really talking about a familiar experience with a slightly different variation. It is the McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Five Guys, In and Out method of choosing — less choices, heavy brand association, customer satisfaction very nearly guaranteed.  It’s depressing if you remember when it wasn’t like that. But maybe if you’ve grown up in the comfortable embrace of consumerism and brand culture you’re fine with it. We are what we buy – we wear our brands to help identify ourselves as types. Watching Mad Men ought to have given Americans a healthy education on what brand association/identity means. But it doesn’t matter anymore anyway because brands rule. Just look at your biggest money makes from 2014 so far:

boxoffice

Is there a single film on the top ten without an identifiable brand?

These are good movies, you will say, and they are. Within those parameters they have eked out something worthwhile. When McDonald’s comes out with a nice new coffee drink or salad we think, hey, it’s GOOD. Yes, it’s still McDonald’s but they are changing up our routine a bit.  But they are still perimeters. This is still the cage we find ourselves in, the zoo, the spaceship from Wall-E. We are trapped in our branded consumerist culture and there doesn’t appear to be a way out.

Except for every so often we are reminded that cinema DOES still exist. If you have the luxury of flying to Cannes every year you will see what world cinema is like where branded culture doesn’t dominate. You will find human stories. Remember people?  And you will find Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.  I find myself so looking forward to Oscar season because Oscar season means real movies again.  Oscar Island sits out in a sea of the same old shit and on it, movies that tell original stories.

So bravo to Boyhood for its $7 million. If we’re in the business of measuring numbers at the box office it’s a miracle when anything this good makes any money at all. I’m not saying these big dumb summer branded movies aren’t fun. They are. And within the parameters – inside the cage — it’s a great way to waste an afternoon. You get your bang for your buck, have a good time and hopefully go home and play with your Transformers or Legos – either that or introduce them to your kids. Many filmmakers within these parameters — INSIDE THE CAGE — do a little more than just entertain. Occasionally they enlighten – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Godzilla are two of these. We here in the cage are grateful to them for doing that.

I won’t stop paying for movies, even though I’m given the lucky advantage of getting to see most of them free. But the people who buy the tickets are the people whose happiness counts.  But it is my hope that people recognize, at the very least, that branded culture leads to fewer choices.

I find myself happy when even a movie like And So it Goes makes money at the box office. Any time a film that dwells outside the cage makes money it renews my hope that there are people out there who are actually going to the movies not because they’ve been marketed at so heavily they practically have no choice in the matter.  Parents are bringing their kids in droves as we speak and those kids are cutting their teeth on the familiar tropes and brands to ensure this money making machine does not stop any time soon.  But hopefully those kids will eventually hear about movies like Boyhood and that might make them decide to step outside the cage when they get old enough to do so.

Box office source: Box Office Mojo