Highbrow films aiming to win Oscars are losing audiences

A year ago, Hollywood watched Oscar-oriented movies like “Licorice Pizza” and “Nightmare Alley” with dismay. Flat at the box office. It seemed like the day finally arrived when prestige films were no longer possible in theaters and streaming would change cinema forever.

But the studios were optimistic, concluding that November 2022 would give an accurate reading of the market. By then, the coronavirus may not be such a complicating factor. This fall will be a “last stand,” as some say, a chance to show that superheroes and sequels can be more successful.

It’s been a massacre.

Here are the pictures for adults one after the other Could not find audience Big enough to justify their price. “Armageddon time” cost about $30 million to produce and market and grossed $1.9 million at the North American box office. “Tar” will cost at least $35 million, including marketing; Ticket sales totaled $5.3 million. Universal spent about $55 million on production and marketing.she said,” which also took in $5.3 million.”Devotion” grossed over $100 million and grossed $14 million in ticket sales.

Box office king Steven Spielberg’s Washeekar has also got off to a rosy start. “Fablemans,” Mr. The play, based on Spielberg’s teenage years, grossed $5.7 million in a limited four weeks. Its budget was $40 million, including marketing.

What is going on?

The problem isn’t the quality: the reviews are exceptional. Instead, “people grew up comfortable watching these movies at home,” publishing film consultant David A. Cross said. Newsletter In box office numbers.

Ever since Oscar-themed movies began showing up on streaming services in the late 2010s, Hollywood has worried that such movies would disappear from multiplexes. For the first time ever, Apple TV+’s streaming movie “CODA” was a hit in March, when the importance of big screens is waning. Academy Award for Best Picture.

It’s about more than money: Hollywood sees the change as an affront to its identity. Filmmakers have long clung to the fantasy that the cultural world revolves around them like it was 1940. But that illusion is hard to bear when it reveals that their only measuring stick — bodies in seats — can’t disturb the masses. Come watch their most acclaimed movies. Hollywood likens it to cultural misfit.

Of course, the core crowd of cinephiles is still changing. “up to, centered on Mamie Till-Mobley, whose son Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi in 1955, grossed $8.9 million in the US and Canada. This is nothing for an emotionally challenging film. “The Banshees of Inisherin,” a dark comedy with heavily accented dialogue, grossed $8 million, with foreign ticket buyers contributing an additional $20 million.

“While it’s clear that the theatrical specialty market has not fully recovered, we’ve seen ‘The Banshees of Inishreen’ continue to be strong and spark conversation among audiences,” Searchlight Pictures said in a statement. “We firmly believe there is a place in theaters for films that can offer audiences a wide range of cinematic experiences.”

However, crossover focus is always the goal, as underscored by how much movie companies spend on some of these products. “Until,” for example, cost at least $33 million to produce and market.

And remember: Theaters keep half of the ticket revenue.

“There is hope that the results will be commensurate with this.Woman is king.” Starring Viola Davis as the leader of an all-female group of African warriors, “The Woman King” grossed nearly $70 million domestically ($92 million worldwide). It cost $50 million to produce and another ten million to market.

Oscar-oriented dramas rarely become blockbusters. Even so, these films did well at the box office. World War I film “1917” grossed $159 million in North America and $385 million worldwide in 2019. In 2010, “Black Swan,” starring Natalie Portman as a disabled ballerina, grossed $107 million ($329 million worldwide).

Most studios declined to comment for this article or offered anodyne statements about boasting prestige dramas they’ve recently released, regardless of ticket sales.

A reluctance to engage publicly on the matter may reflect the annual awards race. Having a competitor named as a box office misfire isn’t great for polling. (Oscar nominations will be announced Jan. 24.) Or maybe it’s because behind the scenes, studios are still searching for answers.

Ask 10 different specialty film executives to explain box office and you’ll get 10 different answers. There have been many plays in theaters lately, resulting in cannibalism; Viewers are left looking for options on streaming services and are left with very little. Everyone is busy watching the World Cup on TV. No, it was TV dramas like “The Crown” that undercut these films.

Others are blaming the corona virus. But it does not hold water. Although initially reluctant to return to theaters, most older audiences have come to view theaters as a virus-safe activity, box office analysts cite polls. According to Sony Pictures Entertainment, nearly 60 percent of “Woman King” ticket buyers are over 35 years old.

Hollywood considers people over 35 to be “old”, and this is who usually comes to see plays.

Maybe it’s too subtle? Old audiences are coming back, a longtime studio executive suggested, but Sophisticated Not so the older audience — some of their favorite art house theaters have closed and they don’t want to mix with the multiplex crowd. (He was serious. “The more people, the more likely you’ll encounter a sticky site.”)

Others find content problematic. Most movies that struggle at the box office flop, coming at a time when audiences want to escape. Consider the successful spring release of “Everything, Everywhere At Once,” which grossed $70 million in North America. Baz Luhrmann’s bedazzled “Elvis” delivered $151 million in domestic ticket sales.

“People like to call it ‘Escape,’ but it’s not really that,” said film scholar Jeanine Basinger. “It’s entertainment. It can be a serious topic. But, like so many Oscars now, when movies are so introspective, the audience forgets.

“Give us a laugh or two there! “When I think about going out to see the misery, the degradation, the racism and all the things that are wrong with our lives, I’m too depressed to wear my coat,” said Ms. Basinger in her latest book, “Hollywood: The. The oral history, co-authored with Sam Wasson, came out last month.

Some studio executives insist that box office totals are an outdated way of judging whether a movie will generate financial returns. For example, Focus Features has developed its business model over the past two years. The company’s films, including “Tár” and “Armageddon Time,” are now available for video-on-demand rental — at a premium price — after three weeks in theaters. (Previously, theaters got an exclusivity window of about 90 days.) The money from premium home rentals is substantial, but Focus said it declined to provide financial information to back up that promise.

The worry in Hollywood is that such efforts will fizzle out even more—the conglomerates that own the specialty movie studios will decide they don’t have enough revenue to continue releasing prestigious films in theaters. Disney has Searchlight. Comcast owns Focus. Amazon is owned by United Artists. The CEOs of these companies love being invited to the Oscars. But they want profit more.

“The good news is we’ve got a very large streaming business now that we can go forward and redirect that content to those channels,” former Disney chief executive Bob Chabeck said at a Nov. 8 public event. movies. (Robert A. Iger, since He returned to direct Disney(may feel different.)

Others recommend continued patience. Mr. Cross pointed out. Damian Chazelle’s “Babylon,” a drug- and sex-fueled fever dream about early Hollywood, is slated for wide release on Dec. 23.

“I think movies are coming back,” Mr. Spielberg recently The New York Times said. “I certainly will.”

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