- The New York Times argued over the weekend that there appears to be “no room at the box office” for midbudget movies in the “blockbuster era.”
- It’s true that franchise filmmaking has dominated cinemas recently. Disney has accounted for over 40% of the domestic box office this year, after all.
- But movies like “Hustlers” and “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” prove that midbudget movies or non-franchise films can still thrive at theatres with solid word-of-mouth, studio support, and good critical reception.
- Plenty of big-budget movies, from “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” to “Dark Phoenix,” bombed this year because audiences weren’t interested in them.
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The New York Times argued over the weekend that there appears to be “no room at the box office” for midbudget movies in the “blockbuster era.” “Say goodbye to midbudget movies” was even trending on Linkedin on Tuesday.
But that’s not entirely the case. Just ask Alamo Drafthouse NYC, which quote-tweeted the Times’ piece on Friday, saying, “We have seven theatres and manage to find space for non-blockbusters, so pretty sure the multiplexes could too if they so desired.”
It’s true that big-budget releases – often franchise films that cost $US100 million or more to produce – have dominated cinemas recently. It’s hard to argue with that when Disney has accounted for over 40% of the domestic market share this year thanks to Marvel, Pixar, and whatever “The Lion King” is. But as Paul Dergarabedian, the Comscore senior media analyst, told Business Insider last month, this year seemed like an “anomaly” due to Disney’s all-star lineup.
The midbudget movie, something that costs far less and doesn’t necessarily fall into any established IP, can still thrive if studios commit to making good ones.
That’s obviously easier said than done. But there are midbudget movies this year that have broken through and attracted audiences with buzzy word-of-mouth, superb marketing, and critical approval.
“Hustlers,” a female-led dramedy based on a true story about strippers who steal from their wealthy Wall Street clients, earned $US105 million in the US this year and was made for $US20 million.
It features an all-star, diverse cast that includes Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu with appearances by the popular musicians Cardi B and Lizzo (the studio, STX Entertainment, made a point of getting their names and faces on the posters). Lopez is getting Oscar buzz and the movie received an impressive 88% Rotten Tomatoes critic score.
More recently, “Ford v Ferrari” topped the box office in its opening weekend with $US31 million and dipped just 49% in its second weekend. The movie isn’t a typical “midbudget” one (it cost just under $US100 million to make), but it’s close enough at a time when studios are spending close to $US200 million, sometimes even more, on franchise films.
“Ford v Ferrari” is proving that a non-franchise movie aimed at adults can still drive people to the theatre with big movie stars and expert filmmaking. The same can be said of “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” which earned $US372 million worldwide and is one of Quentin Tarantino’s most successful movies yet.
On the flip side, the box office looked to be in serious trouble over the summer, a time historically reserved for, wait for it, big-budget blockbusters. Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” cost almost $US200 million and grossed $US385 million globally. Its predecessor cost less to make and earned $US160 million more. Other franchise entries, such as “Men in Black: International” and “Dark Phoenix,” bombed.
What do all of those movies have in common? They were devastatingly panned by critics. Critical reception doesn’t always predict how a movie will perform financially, but in these cases, the reviews reflected the audiences’ attitude toward these movies: nobody asked for them, nobody wanted them, and nobody saw them. Midbudget films that bombed this year like Warner Bros.’ “The Goldfinch” and “The Kitchen” were similarly torn apart by critics.
The Times does point out that Warner Bros. also released midbudget movies this year that were received well by critics but still flopped, such as “Blinded by the Light.” But it’s the case with any studio in any given year that one mega-successful release can make up for a few bombs. Warner Bros. struck gold recently with a movie that combines the box-office aspirations of franchise filmmaking with midbudget productions costs. For better or worse (depending on who you ask) “Joker” is one of the biggest movies of the year and gaining Oscar buzz. It’s the first R-rated movie to ever reach $US1 billion worldwide and it did it on a $US55 million budget.
The moral of the story is that no matter the budget, good movies – or at least those that pique people’s interest in unique ways – still have a place at the box office. Next year might be the best test for this. There are no “Avengers,” “Star Wars,” or Pixar sequels on Disney’s release schedule and the box office is expected to be more evenly distributed among studios. It will be the perfect chance to support solid midbudget releases – studios can’t expect audiences to believe in these movies if they don’t.
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