We need to talk. There’s something you need to understand about the power that you yield; A power I’m not even sure you realize you possess. See, you probably think of yourself as a consumer. The machine churns things off of an assembly line, and you seem to see it as your duty to purchase whatever product they’re pushing on you today. Don’t believe me? Take a second- right now- and ask yourself, “Have I ever seen a movie out of a sense of obligation?”
“Well, I have to see this one because I already saw the first nine,” you thought to yourself. Or maybe you wondered, “This looks bad, but…how bad can it really be?”
In short, any time you’ve ever seen a movie for any reason beyond really wanting to see it, you’ve betrayed your own power. Because the thing you have to realize is that you’re not just a consumer. You’re much more than that. You’re a participant. Even more important than that? You’re a voter. And every ticket you buy is a “Yes” vote in the box office ballot box.
The studio doesn’t know that you only bought the ticket because you wanted to hate-watch their movie, or because your friend with the lousy taste said “We have to see this!” No. All they know is that they got your money, and they interpret that as a vote of confidence that they’re free to continue making movies like this one that you probably should’ve skipped.
And this is an issue that seems fairly unique to comic book movies, where fans feel a certain loyalty to the genre, and so they show up to see every last one of them regardless of their interest level. If you look at other genres, it’s rarely that easy. Last June, Universal learned the hard way that they couldn’t just mash together a bunch of independently likable elements and expect huge box office receipts when The Mummy came out and promptly bombed. It was a monster movie based on a classic property, it had action and humor- a blend that’s very “In” these days, it was promoted as the start of a new cinematic universe (also very “In” right now), and it had international superstar Tom Cruise front-and-center.
People love monster movies; People love action movies; they love shared universes; And, yes, plenty of people still love Tom Cruise movies! But what happened? Audiences saw the trailers, they weren’t sold on it, and they didn’t show up. Now not only did that movie sink, but it may have dragged the entire Dark Universe down with it.
It was democracy in action!
And yet, what happens whenever a new film about Marvel or DC characters comes out? While The Mummy was rightfully dismissed by audiences, ending with a worldwide cume of $409 million (80% of which was from overseas, where Cruise is still king), even the most disliked films in the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes make some respectable bank. That’s right, I’m looking at you Thor: The Dark World ($644.5M), at you Suicide Squad ($746.8), and even Marvel’s X-Cousins over at Fox where the ho-hum X-Men: Apocalypse managed to make $544 Million in 2016.
By and large, F4ntastic Four aside, comic book movie audiences tend to reward all kinds of mediocre-to-bad films with box office rewards they don’t deserve. And then we wonder why the studios think they can just force feed us anything?
Its why Bret Easton Ellis paraphrased the following about a conversation that took place between some people who were working on Ben Affleck’s The Batman and other WB executives in 2016:
“I was having dinner with a couple of executives who know other executives who are working on the [forthcoming] Batman movie, The Batman. And they were just telling me that there are serious problems with the script. And that the executives I was having dinner with were complaining about people who work on the Batman movie. And they just said they went to the studio and they said, ‘Look, the script is … Here’s 30 things that are wrong with it that we can fix.’ And [the executives] said, ‘We don’t care. We don’t really care. The amount of money we’re going to make globally, I mean 70 percent of our audience is not going to be seeing this in English. And it doesn’t really matter, these things that you’re bringing up about the flaws of the script.’”
That’s how you end up with situations like Justice League, where the film clearly needed some extra incubation time but Warner Bros. thought, “Well, we made a ton of money in 2016 with two movies that were widely divisive and/or disliked (Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad which combined to make over $1.6 Billion), so these people will lap up anything!” That’s also how you end up with forgettable, vanilla Marvel movies like Doctor Strange ($677.7M).
Justice League, by the way, despite it being a big disappointment at the box office, has still made over $654 Million despite the fact that you probably can’t find anyone who says they’re happy with the finished product.
My friends, you have to come to grips with the fact that- as long as you’re showing up to see movies regardless of your reservations or apathy- studios don’t care about you. When they’re putting a movie together, they take you for granted. Yes, you. Because they know that no matter how disinterested you are, how much trash you talk about the movie on social media, and how little faith you have in the talent involved with the picture, you’re going to cough up your hard-earned money and vote “Yes” to their creation.
You are complicit in that.
Just look at what’s happening with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film is on track to make $700-$800 Million less than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That is a sizable drop (sorry, but somebody has to say it!), and it’s because Star Wars fans are voting in a very discerning way. They’re not rewarding it with the same number of repeat viewings, and they’re not emphatically telling people around them, “You have to see this!” And, because of that, it’s very possible that Lucasfilm could start to second-guess giving Rian Johnson the reins to a whole new trilogy.
It’s time for comic book movie fans to become that discerning. It’s time you stop taking your power for granted. If a movie doesn’t really interest you, or if you think the series is heading in the wrong direction, or if the last one let you down, it’s okay to sit one out! That’s the only way the big studios will ever start to pay attention to you. Don’t let them discount you anymore.
If you don’t take this advice, then you forfeit the ability to say, “This isn’t what I want,” because it’s your fault it’s there in the first place.
You want your voice to be heard? Then start letting your cold shoulder do the talking.
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