Boyhood Offers Some Hope in Box Office News

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

21 Comments on this Post

  1. Philipp

    When even Steven Spielberg had problems getting the money for LINCOLN, you know the film industry is in trouble.

  2. 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.

    I’m sure some people can remember when it was McDonald’s and KFC that was it. Now there are 40 or 50 fast-food chains. And I don’t have any trouble finding food that’s not fast food. Does anyone else have trouble finding something to eat that’s not fast food? Is Burger King causing other restaurants to go out of business in your city?

    “Less choices…”
    Fewer choices of places to eat? Fewer movies to choose from? What planet are we talking about?

    “Customer satisfaction very nearly guaranteed”?
    wow, sounds horrible.

    McDonald’s is only depressing if you eat there. I don’t.

    I’m happy for Boyhood. I’m thrilled for Boyhood. Fantastic news.

    Why does good news for Boyhood have to be an opportunity to sneer at Maleficent, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, How to Train Your Dragon 2? I thought it was ok to like those movies. Are those movies examples of the fewer choices we’ve had this summer?

    This summer has been fantastic. I thought Godzilla rocked. Both Captain America movies have been intelligent, witty, and downright adorable. Yes Scarlett Johansson was great in Lucy. She was better in The Winter Soldier. Much better. She was better because the role of Black Widow is better-written.

    But people who turn their noses up at movies like this wouldn’t know, because they don’t go see them.

    That’s fine by me. Go see whatever movies you like. Variety is the spice of life. That’s why the movie business gives us choices. Plenty of choices. A multitude of available options.

    More options that I have have ever experienced in my lifetime.

  3. Oscar Island sits out in a sea of the same old shit and on it, movies that tell original stories.

    As it’s ALWAYS ALWAYS been.

    Over the past 50 years we can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Best Picture winners which were also in the box-office Top 10.

    Back in the early days sequels and remakes were frowned upon as being unoriginal.

    Like 50 years ago? 1964? 1964, when Two movies in the Top 10 were James Bond movies, One was a Pink Panther movie, and One was a “Man with No Name” movie. Half the movies in the Box-office top 10 in 1964 were franchise films.

  4. edkargir

    I am glad Boyhood is making money. I have been telling everyone I meet since I saw this film in April to see this great film. I am also glad IFC did not put it on VOD should be seen in a thearter.

  5. phantom

    Even with the inevitable sequelremaketentpole storm, this has been a great year for indies so far. Wes Anderson delivered the biggest hit of his career (The Grand Budapest Hotel – 59M US / stunning 170M worldwide); Jon Favreau’s unspectacularly well-received Chef will finish its domestic run well over 30M basically solely thanks to word of mouth (rare nowadays) not to mention its widest release was still only 1298 theaters; John Carney’s Begin Again will also end its run as a solid little indie hit with somewhere between 15-20M (it has been also showing signs of life on the international circuit) and even Amma Asante’s Belle managed to reach double digits in the US. Add A Most Wanted man to the list that has been exceeding expectations so far (and is looking at a cool 20M in the US) and Boyhood that is still in only 310 theaters and already at 7.4M – AND still has months of expansions, a big TVspot-heavy marketing push scheduled for later this month, a lenghty awards season that could result an expertly timed rerelease or late expansion to look forward to – and who knows how far it could go. And all this in early August, when the true prime season of the indies is still just around the corner.

  6. Bryce Forestieri

    So whose fault is what?

    Isn’t the only reason though that some (i.e., a shitload too many) people only feel that they can reach that promised island during Oscar season, and *maybe* during Cannes too, because and only because those “real movies” they are watching are also going to be seen by a sizable audience? And because they come with a whole lot of prepackaged buzz surrounding them? A whole lot of huge beautiful stars that are going to be vying for the most prestigious golden statues that reward the best in “the industry? And isn’t it so much fun to be surrounded by so much…fun, so many “events”, so many “important” people, so much campaign paraphernalia, all the fashion, and the red carpets, all the intrigue, and the hit pieces, and whispers campaigns, and all “real movies” participating in this wonderful masturbatory multimillion dollar communal circus, half of which (in some years) are actually not even worth two sac of re-purposed bovine excrement, but who cares, they are so “original” and “real” and so tastefully overhyped, and remember, competing for the highest honors that reward the best of the best!!

    Why don’t they find the island just around the corner, *this weekend*, for instance with BOYHOOD, THE ROVER, NIGHT MOVES (directed by a woman) SNOWPIERCER, A MOST WANTED MAN, PALO ALTO (which is wonderful and also directed by a woman, but for some reason, who gives a hoot, right?), And for the FRANCES HA typish hipsters, there’s even OBVIOUS CHILD featuring strong female leads, I personally would ban the thing from being projected outside the premises of the Village, but there you go, *it is available*. Somehow VENUS IN FUR -in theaters right now- doesn’t seem sexy enough to go to battle for, especially now that unlike last year at Wonder Con, I mean Cannes, nobody is paying attention anymore! I’m sure in two weeks there will be another one of these pretender island available, just as interesting and diverse as the one we just had this past weekend, just like there were several similar others earlier this year, but my bet is that one won’t count either, because it will be before Telluride and before Venice, and that’s when we reach the real island.

    My theory for a reason is that *everyone*, at some level, enjoys the hype, especially if it’s around artists, premises and materials that we hold dear in advance of the actual movie, and everyone loves to somehow partake in these big cultural moments of shared excitement because everyone else is paying attention, hell, even those hating are paying attention, apparently.

    I could go on about the actual quality of the movies, but that’s only one aspect of what makes both of these giants realms or shall we call them islands soo-oo much fun, isn’t it? Plus with your clever readership, I’m sure I don’t need to fill in the blanks.

  7. Bryce Forestieri

    I have to say though I am over the moon about BOYHOOD’s box-office success

  8. I’m pining for the fjords.

    I’m pining for the 1950s when movielovers all across America had so many choices.

    #thelastpictureshow

    go, Boyhood, go!
    go, Lucy, go!
    go, Snowpiercer, go!
    go, Maleficent, go!
    go, Godzilla, go!

    What’s nice is that these days we can all choose whatever choices we want. Movies for all tastes are accessible by anyone.

    I guess I don’t understand how we can say we wish there were more choices and simultaneously resent the choices that other people make.

    Saturday night my Mom was in the mood to watch a movie with me. I knew I could ask her what she felt like seeing and be 100% confident that I could deliver that movie to her, no matter what movie she named.

    So when she said “something like Barbara Stanwyck?,” within seconds I had Clash By Night ready for us to watch on her 46-inch Panny.

    What if we had wanted to see Clash By Night in 1975?
    Easy! Just wait around several years for it to show up on the Late Late Show, stay up past midnight, and then watch it be cut to shreds with 55 TV commercials interrupting every 9 minutes.

    ===

    (As it turned out, we watched a double feature Saturday night: In A Lonely Place and Clash By Night. Both those movies were at my fingertips with just a couple of mouse clicks).

    (let’s pause to consider that hardly anyone could ever see those 2 movies throughout the wistful golden age of movies between 1950 and 1980. They might come to your small town for a couple of weeks when they first opened. Then they would vanish forever — Forever — unless you saw them at a museum or lived in one of the 5 cities in America that might resurrect retro movies in the ’60s and ’70s.

    Until the 1980s, most movielovers could only read about these movies in books. But now that we have MORE choices about how to spend our movie-watching hours, thousands and millions of people can decide to watch these films — watch them again, or see them for the first time — and that helps explain where grownups are on the weekends these days).

    In A Lonely Place and Clash by Night didn’t come anywhere near the Top 10 of 1950 and 1952. They also didn’t come anywhere near the Oscars.

    In A Lonely Place pretty much bombed in 1950. And so? Did Hollywood stop making film noir? No it did not.

    Only 3 million Americans paid to see Clash by Night in 1952.
    9 million Americans paid to see Sailor Beware in 1952.

    I haven’t seen Sailor Beware. But I know it’s a silly Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis franchise flick. Movies like that are not made for snobs like me. But I’m guessing that the people who like that sort of thing ate it up in 1952, they thought it was the bees knees, they thought it was a stitch! I’m not angry about that. Why would that bother me?

    Why should I worry that Sailor Beware was in the Box-office Top 6 in 1952? While we’re talking about the Treasures of Oscar Island, I also don’t let it bother me that The Greatest Show on Earth beat High Noon for Best Picture that year. “Gee thanks, Oscar Island! The 1950s Oscars sure were swell!”

    ===

    So ok, to sum up: there was an audience of 3 million* people in 1952 who wanted to see Clash By Night. That’s all it needed to succeed.

    There were only 2.5 million Americans in 1972 who paid to see The Conversation. That’s all it needed to succeed. Nobody’s film career was ruined by only attracting 2.5 million ticket-buyers.

    There’s STILL an audience of 3 million people in 2014 who want to see Boyhood. That’s all it needs.

    Be happy! All kinds of movies are thriving. Huge movies find a huge audience. Niche movies find niche audiences. Just as it’s always been. Hollywoodland is alive and well.

    Here’s something to know about Boyhood. Boyhood would not have been made in the 1950s or the 1970s and most Americans would never even have be able to find Boyhood in 1950 or 1970, much less pay to see it. Today they can.

    *(so far, only 893,000 Americans have paid to see Boyhood — it’s far from done yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if it sells 5 or 6 million tickets. I will be surprised if sells any more than that. Surprised and ecstatic.)

  9. I noticed that The Conversation opened in theaters in the USA in April, and went on to play at Cannes in May. Does this happen that often, or at least, anymore?

  10. Al, I think most movies that are appropriate for Cannes (and those that have any hope of being accepted by the Cannes selection committee) would like to capitalize on any Cannes publicity before they open in theaters for a general audience.

    But as recently as last year, The Great Gatsby was the opening night event at Cannes — and it had already been released in America a week earlier.

    But don’t let an ambitious movie for grownups fool you into thinking people would welcome the effort. It still got called an “abomination” on twitter and blogs — by the same people who wish studios would spend big money on big serious movies for adults.

    Luckily though, the lack of a standing ovation from a jet-lagged Cannes audience did not prevent The Great Gatsby from earning back more than 3.5x what it cost.

    Everybody associated with The Great Gatsby got considerably wealthier from that association. We should celebrate that success, instead of rolling our eyes at Baz Luhrmann finding the financing to be Baz Luhrmann.

  11. “Al, I think most movies that are appropriate for Cannes (and those that have any hope of being accepted by the Cannes selection committee) would like to capitalize on any Cannes publicity before they open in theaters for a general audience.”

    Okay, that’s what I thought. Possibly in 1974, the studio that released The Conversation didn’t worry about it’s Cannes response, since they had already released it in American theaters.

    “But as recently as last year, The Great Gatsby was the opening night event at Cannes — and it had already been released in America a week earlier.”

    Oh yeah, I forgot that The Great Gatsby had already been released right before it was seen at Cannes. I think more about movies like Inside Llewyn Davis and this year with Foxcatcher, that are seen at Cannes in May, and then wait months until the end of the year to release in theaters.

  12. - 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.

    If we want to do something besides bemoan the situation, we might need to focus on aspects that we have some reasonable chance to affect.

    Bryce asks: “So whose fault is what?”

    I’m not sure I understand the question, Bryce, but I’ll take a swing at it. Do we want to understand why kids are not going to be buying tickets to see Boyhood? It’s not the fault of the audience. It’s not fault of the studios.

    It’s simple: Boyhood has been rated R by the MPAA.

    Over the years, over the decades, has there been any evidence that a campaign for change will influence audience behavior? No. Do campaigns calling for change ever influence the studio system? No.

    But at many junctures throughout the history of cinema, the Hayes Office, the Production Code, the MPAA have gradually been pushed into changing. The movie-ratings board gradually evolves to reflect changes in society, and in that way it changes how it controls what audiences are able to see.

    If I had to decide where to put my energy to influence the habits of movie-goers, that’s where my efforts to effect change would be aimed.

    ===

    It makes me really uncomfortable to play the devil’s advocate in discussions like this. But, Sasha, you and I have a fundamental difference of opinion about the significance of the box-office Top 10.

    Ordinarily I’m an idealist, but when I’m faced with cold hard numbers i have to be a realist. The box-office is not magic. It’s not even science. – It’s basic arithmetic.

    I cannot waste my time wishing that Boyhood would rise onto the Top 10 at Box-Office Mojo. Or that Spider Man would fall off it.

    There are only 2 possible ways that can ever happen. Both virtually impossible.

    1) Either we somehow convince 25 or 30 million people to buy tickets to see Boyhood. (Highly unlikely. I’m guessing the total will be less than half that.)

    2) Or else we somehow convince the 20 million, 30 million, 40 million people who enjoy movies like X-Men or Iron Man or Superman to STOP going to see those movies. What are the chances of us succeeding at that, do you think?

    Sure, if we could eliminate 5 of the movies from the current Top 10 that are earning in the $200 million range, then some other movies that can only conceivably earn $80-$125 million might move up into the lower half of the Top 10. Obviously.

    So let’s think that through, we would have to somehow DISCOURAGE people from buying $900 million worth of tickets in order to clear out space in the Top 10 for movies that are only ever able to earn in the $80-125 million range.

    Let’s say that again: In order to make room in the Top 10 for movies that only make $100 million, then we have to suck close to a billion dollars out of the Top 10.

    Once more: In order to artificially force the box-office Top 10 to look more like it did 30 years ago, we have to extract billions and billions of dollars from studio earnings. Every year.

    But then to really clear a path to create a box-office Top 10 that is free of moderately popular trash, we would have to obliterate the earnings of at least 20 movies every year in order to make room in the Top 10 for movies that “smart grownups and only smart grownups” will pay to see. That would easily add up to erasing 2 or 3 billion dollars every year from the Hollywood economy.

    I’ll let somebody else explain that cool plan to the studios.

    It’s impossible, Stop trying. It’s not ever going to happen. People LOVE these movies, Studios LOVE the money they can earn from those movies. What in god’s name is the problem with either of those two impulses?

    ===

    Almost NEVER in film history have there been serious intelligent brilliantly-made movies for grownups that can attract 50 million ticket-buyers. And without those 50 million people there is simply no way in hell that a movie can earn $250 million – $400 million. It happens, but only once every 3 or 4 years. That’s just historical fact. We have to accept that.

    The good news!? : Studios will never give up trying to replicate The Godfather or The Exorcist. They would LOVE to tear 50 million grownups away from watching The Voice for one night and lure them into theaters. They haven’t given up on those 50 million grownups. They just know that an overlapping subset of that same 50 million are more reliable moviegoers. So they make movies to make those people happy.

    These 50 million moviegoers are the same ~50 million moviegoers who paid to see The Godfather.

    But we have to stop being disappointed when a movie like 12 Years a Slave or The Social Network does not sell as many tickets as The Godfather.

    And anyway, The Godfather wasn’t even #1 at the box office. The Poseidon Adventure sold close to 60 million tickets that year and The Godfather sold only 48 million tickets.

    30-50 million North Americans love to see exciting action-packed movies. Guns. Fist fights. Car chases. Cleavage. Explosions. Muscled-up homoerotic heroes. Branded or not, it’s always been that way. Always.

    Can we make 50 million people stop buying tickets to see the kind of movies they enjoy? Of course we can’t.

    Can we force 50 million people to buy tickets to a 3-hour time-lapse movie about a kid growing up? Of course we can’t.

    ===

    Jesus Christ, I hate talking about the fucking Numbers at Metacritic and the Numbers at Box-Office Mojo.

    Can we please stop obsessing about these ridiculous meaningless numbers?

    I can dismantle any ill-conceived essay about numbers that anybody wants to write. Please don’t make me. I’m so tired of it.

  13. I think this may be of interest. As the text says is pre-Boyhood but I think it is an interesting video essay about Linklater’s “Perception of Time”, as described.

    http://filmmakermagazine.com/87050-watch-richard-linklaters-perception-of-time/#.U-BHXlYj3zQ

  14. Bryce Forestieri

    I appreciate it! Q was highly rhetorical but you’re exactly on point about where I was coming from.

    By the way I saw GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY today and what a load of bollocks if I ever saw one. And they robbed us of JUPITER ASCENDING for this? I can’t waste too much energy talking about it but aside from a few laughs, which I can count with one hand’s fingers, the whole thing isn’t worth two sacs of re-purposed bovine excrement. Marvel’s best, by a wide margin, remain the Whedon and the two CAP movies.

  15. Chris Price

    FUCK EVERYTHING I’m going to see the new Herzog today

  16. And I don’t have any trouble finding food that’s not fast food. Does anyone else have trouble finding something to eat that’s not fast food? Is Burger King causing other restaurants to go out of business in your city?

    I don’t know about fast food chains, though it’s undeniable the effect that the proliferation of supermarkets in the UK has resulted in the closure of an enormous amount of independent grocery shops here, and of many smaller chains. Is this relevant to the film industry in America? I’m not sure, though I’d need to think more about it.

  17. And all those films are suitable for 10 year olds. Which is the problem. Going out to a film should be an adult experience. Babysit the kids at home with the TV. An adult who wants to see a decent film February-November? Good luck. Stay home and watch True Detective instead (the best 8 hour movie ever made). Watch Game of Thrones (a movie theatre NC-17 if ever there was one). This is crazy.

    I have now decided I won’t go see any sequels/comic book movies, etc. even if they might be amusing or well-made. And my kids won’t either. Too bad. Enough is enough.

  18. .. oh, and Boyhood has the same rating as The Wolf of Wall Street. Right.

  19. Ailidh,

    There’s plenty of adult alternatives in the theaters currently. Staying at home and sticking with TV is a cop out. Right now in the theaters you have these options, all of which are very likely to be playing somewhere near you (or at least they were very recently, but you missed out because you decided to stay home and watch TV):

    Boyhood
    Calvary
    We Are The Best!
    Snowpiercer
    Magic In The Moonlight
    Life Itself
    A Most Wanted Man
    Mood Indigo
    Venus In Fur
    Obvious Child

    Already this year you could have seen these movies, if you didn’t stay home:
    The Immigrant
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    Gloria
    Joe
    Blue Ruin
    Locke
    The Dance Of Reality
    Under The Skin
    Only Lovers Left Alive
    The Rover
    Chef
    Night Moves
    Enemy
    Palo Alto
    Nymphomaniac
    The Double
    Belle
    Grand Piano
    Omar
    Stranger By The Lake

    That’s 10 in the theaters right now and 20 that already played (to say nothing of the many films I didn’t even mention). I’m not a math genius, but those numbers tell me you could’ve easily seen one thoughtful, adult-oriented movie a week on average this year if you were so inclined. I’m sick of the argument that there isn’t anything worthwhile in the theaters. There really, truly is, but people like you opting to stay home will contribute greatly to a sad near future where there indeed will not be. I do my part and get out to support real cinema because I don’t want to be a part of the problem. If there are no eyes on films like the ones listed above we are all just further encouraging studios to only bankroll the kind of branded content you railed against above. Also, as Ryan thoughtfully pointed out, some of that branded content IS actually well made and adult oriented. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is certainly not a film suitable for 10 year olds. And while Captain America 2 and How To Train Your Dragon 2 may be, they’re still engrossing, immaculately crafted and satisfying. Don’t just complain about it, put your money where your mouth is and buy more movie tickets to the right stuff.

  20. Ailidh,

    You should plan on seeing all of these great upcoming movies, but if you don’t want to, to each their own:

    The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them – Ned Benson – 12 September 2014
    Gone Girl – David Fincher – 3 October 2014
    The Homesman – Tommy Lee Jones – 3 October 2014
    Kill the Messenger – Michael Cuesta – 10 October 2014
    The Judge – David Dobkin – 10 October 2014
    Whiplash – Damien Chazelle – 10 October 2014
    Birdman – Alejandro González Iñárritu – 17 October 2014
    Interstellar – Christopher Nolan – 7 November 2014
    Rosewater – Jon Stewart – 7 November 2014
    The Theory of Everything – James Marsh – 7 November 2014
    Foxcatcher – Bennett Miller – 14 November 2014
    Fury – David Ayer – 14 November 2014
    The Imitation Game – Morten Tyldum – 21 November 2014
    Wild – Jean-Marc Vallée – 5 December 2014
    Exodus: Gods and Kings – Ridley Scott – 12 December 2014
    Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson – 12 December 2014
    Mr. Turner – Mike Leigh – 19 December 2014
    Big Eyes – Tim Burton – 25 December 2014
    Into the Woods – Rob Marshall – 25 December 2014
    Selma – Ava DuVernay – 25 December 2014
    Unbroken – Angelina Jolie – 25 December 2014

    I know I will try to see as many as I can.

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