The debate rages on as to whether films in theaters will survive. We already know event films will have no problem drawing crowds, but it’s the “adult” movies everyone misses. And by everyone, I mean the generations that still remember the importance of the theater-going experience. I was looking at Rotten Tomatoes after spending some time on TikTok and I was thinking about how much storytelling has been democratized on TikTok especially. It’s much easier to consume than YouTube, less censorious than Facebook or Twitter and every second of every day there are stories. Some of them are true, some of them are made up out of whole cloth. News events, politics, gossip is all used as fodder for the storytellers. I expect, for many of them, they feel impatient with how slow Hollywood moves, how careful the storytelling has become. Never mind streaming, Hollywood, to compete with TikTok, is going to need to significantly up its game.
This past year, it seemed clear that industry voters really appreciated that a movie that was original and daring also played in theaters. After giving their top award to CODA the previous year, it felt like the end of everything to some of us, especially after so many of the year’s best films — the more familiar OSCAR MOVIES — did not fare as well at the box office.
Now, Apple has announced a major play in the awards race, I’d say, a chess move, if you will:
Apple plans to increase its spend on movies for Apple TV+ to $1 billion annually, and to release them in theaters globally. From Mac Rumors:
Apple is believed to have already approached several third-party distributors about collaborating to release Apple TV+ titles in theaters this year, including Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Matthew Vaughn’s “Argylle,” and Ridley Scott’s “Napoleon.” The movies are expected to be in theaters around the world for at least a month. Apple is purportedly looking to third-party studios owing to its lack of expertise in movie distribution across thousands of cinemas worldwide, but it has concerns around the hefty fees and marketing budgets that such partners would demand.
Amazon had already announced they were going to have a theatrical release for Ben Affleck’s upcoming Air (which has been met with strong reviews so far), and their philosophy is, “Movies with a theatrical window are more lucrative and end up being better value for streaming platforms.”
Twitter is an unreliable narrator when it comes to the success of Hollywood. They are always, as a hive mind, looking for ways to rationalize or excuse what has become of the Oscar race since social media became the main driver of popular opinion. They will say theatrical isn’t dead because look at all the movies that made money this year. That may be true, but it’s a shadow of its former self.
If you track box-office figures since the rise of the franchise blockbuster (after the turn of the millennium) you’ll find that studios made ungodly amounts of money from international ticketbuyers. But two things have happened since then to cut Hollywood’s profits, aside from competition from streaming and content providers. The first, COVID, obviously. But even before COVID, China had mostly become more circumspect about what kinds of films they allowed to play there and instead began building up their own homegrown profits with original blockbuster content. Smart move, of course.
Obviously, America’s box office prior to COVID was trouncing China’s but it’s still interesting to see a country building up their own film industry to compete with ours.
The message I get from this, and I’m no expert, is that China doesn’t really need American movies as much as they once did but America needs American movies more than they ever did, and not just The Avengers. We need grounded storytelling back, good storytelling, brave storytelling. We need Hollywood to grow its balls back and stop being so afraid of Twitter, afraid of activists, trying to constantly tinker with our utopian diorama to make society better. We need a new era of radical, brilliant, fearless — NON ASPIRATIONAL — storytelling.
In my opinion. Not that it matters. Hollywood, alas, has been overtaken by a religion and that religion includes the fandoms that have sprung up online, as AO Scott said in a recent New York Times interview:
But I’m not a fan of modern fandom. This isn’t only because I’ve been swarmed on Twitter by angry devotees of Marvel and DC and (more recently) “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” It’s more that the behavior of these social media hordes represents an anti-democratic, anti-intellectual mind-set that is harmful to the cause of art and antithetical to the spirit of movies. Fan culture is rooted in conformity, obedience, group identity and mob behavior, and its rise mirrors and models the spread of intolerant, authoritarian, aggressive tendencies in our politics and our communal life.
What has happened is that the fandom has married the new religion and they’re fixated on identity. The Oscars now, to many of them, is a way to “right” the wrongs of society.
The problem is that most people agree with me but they’re either not on Twitter or are too afraid to speak up on Twitter. Twitter is activist-based. This is how people build followings and platforms. It also drives self-censorship and fear. It distorts reality. The less studios and journalists pay attention to Twitter the better — especially for those who are easily intimidated.
It is the contention of many on Film Twitter that award wins MUST be inclusive and representative, which means there is no such thing as merit. And that renders it pointless. If you are a person of color winning, are you going to feel pride in that win even if deep down you think that the (still mostly white, mostly male) power in Hollywood is mainly trying to protect themselves? How will you ever know you really deserved it? Moreover, if it’s power given how can it ever be real power?
All of this to say, movie exhibited in theaters take storytelling out of the grasp of the puritanical thought police on Twitter and hand it back to the free market, where moviegoers are invited to watch films and enjoy them without feeling like they’re under constant surveillance or they have to adhere to some kind of moral code.