The movie Bros has disappointed at the box office. But this time, it was too big to ignore. Billy Eichner and others decided the reason was straight people not turning out to see it. It might be that, but it’s also that Hollywood and much of the culture around it is alienated the broader majority, as I keep saying, like a broken record. They’re doing this by focusing on an insulated bubble that mostly exists online. That might translate to streaming platforms pretty well but it doesn’t translate to movie theaters.
The public, by now, has become wary of anything Hollywood puts out for fear of it being what most people call “woke.” That means it will have some kind of “do better” agenda somewhere in there. In simple terms, that means people are coming in for the fish and chips, and they’re getting steamed broccoli and salmon. They’re on to it now so if they think there is a chance that the movie is going to deliver yet another lecture in this era of strident purity and “cancel culture” they are going to stay away.
While it’s true that a good many people probably avoided it for the same reason they avoided LIghtyear – they’re just, not up for it and maybe some of that is due to homophobia — the bigger reason is that Hollywood has shifted its role in society from offering up entertainment to offering up a lecture, or a “correction” for human behavior.
While that sells on social media, where signaling one’s virtue ups their clout, it isn’t going to translate to people who can barely afford to put food on the table or gas in their tank. The broad majority of Americans, don’t have much interest in Hollywood products overall, especially if it means driving to a movie theater, paying for a ticket, and sitting down for two hours without access to their cell phones, not that everyone adheres to that rule. I was in screening the other night, and two people still checked their cell phones. At The Fabelmans.
What will bring people out to the movies? Fun. Anything advertised as “non-woke” will drive ticket sales. I’ll put it to you as plainly as I can: “woke” is not a strong selling point to most Americans. It is better suited to Netflix or another streaming platform. Had Bros screened on Netflix, tons of people would have watched it. It ain’t no big thing to check it out on Netflix. On Netflix, they get people from all over the world.
America is still 95% heterosexual. Women see romcoms to live project themselves into them, to imagine themselves falling in love with a guy or a guy falling in love with them. Men only see romcoms if forced by their girlfriends — in general. It is already such a limited audience base that they barely make them anymore. They’re relegated to streaming and the Hallmark channel.
We’ll see if Julia Roberts and George Clooney can bring back that magic when their rom-com comes out later this month.
The best bet, though, to get audiences to make an effort to pay to see a movie is going to be to broadcast the message that they are leaving politics out of it. I don’t know if that’s possible since celebrities like Roberts and Clooney have become such vocal activists online, which means they bring politics with them anyway.
We’re entering yet another dark period in American life. We might even be going to a hot war with Russia. Inflation is crushing our finances. That makes this not unlike the 1930s when people turned to the movies to feel better, not to feel worse. It isn’t that they didn’t turn out to see Bros as much as they weren’t motivated to go to the movies at all, considering what’s playing.
The marketing and the trailer for Bros focused on the gay part of the story: this is a movie about gay men. I remember there was a series a while back, Looking, about gay men in the dating scene, but it somehow managed to be about them as people, not necessarily only about their identity as gay men. I don’t know if a movie called Looking would have made money right now. I have no idea. But I do know that regardless of what the movie is ACTUALLY about, audiences are now wary of anything Hollywood puts out for fear of it being yet another “do better” lecture. That’s just the plain truth.
The best selling point for Top Gun was just that — it was an agenda-free fun time at the movies. If you want to make money at the box office that is what you have to do. People are inundated as it is with politics all day long everywhere they look. Even if people WANT the public to WANT to see Bros, where cold hard cash is concerned, if they don’t want to, they ain’t gonna.
The best test for that is to ask whether or not both sides of the aisle can watch the movie. If they can, it’s probably going to make money. If they can’t, its audience will be limited. That doesn’t seem that hard. Online engagement usually drives online content, like streaming or TV. It CAN drive box office but only if the branding of the film itself is appealing.
We saw this last year with King Richard and West Side Story. People assumed both came equipped with a “do better” message, even if they didn’t. Hollywood has branded itself that way for the past few years, so have the Oscars. If they want to broaden their reach they are going to have to rebrand so that Americans trust them again. And it’s going to take time. The Fabelmans, I will say, is lecture-free and really a film almost anyone can watch and enjoy, like all Spielberg’s movies. Hopefully, that message can get out before it hits theaters.
Probably Bros will find an audience over time and become a cult classic such that people won’t believe that it didn’t do well at the box office. It’s not the end of the world.