The Dark Night

It’s a dark day in Gotham City…

Holy flash in the pan! After just two fleeting weeks, the Caped Crusader, aka the Dark Knight, aka Batman, has been emasculated at the box office.


Not one but two other movies have beaten it, and both of them have received pretty lame reviews to boot.


One could almost sort of maybe understand the situation with the latest Bourne flick, even though this one stars a no-name. It’s part of a successful franchise. But the tepid Will Ferrell-Zach Galifianakis mess? Kicking out Batman, the most-hyped movie of the year, the one all the execs were counting on to rule the summer box office, after only its second week? Despite the fact that The Dark Knight Rises will ultimately go on to make a lot of money because of Asian markets, where the kids love action and don’t care much about trivialities like dialogue or storyline, and there will doubtlessly be many more sequels, reboots and smashups, the producers have to be disappointed that their big bang of a movie turned so soft so quickly. And without anything appropriately momentous knocking it out of first place.


And if that weren’t bad enough, it’s not just down, it’s way down. The film’s take is off a whopping 46 percent from the week before.


This happened just weeks after the latest Spiderman flick, also promoted relentlessly throughout the spring and early summer via non-stop advertising and tie-ins, suffered an even worse fate, toppling from number one after a single week. And such heavily-promoted movies as Total Recall, John Carter, Underworld: Awakening and Battleship flopped. Take all the losses from these films, and as I said before, you could feed a small country for a year.

Of course that hasn’t stopped them from gearing up to make sequels. Studios seem lately to decide what they’re doing based not on any sensible economic calculations. Rather, they appear to conclude ahead of time that certain types of films—”franchises” is what they’re called—are hot, even if this current one didn’t do so well, even if the last three didn’t do so well, even if the next three aren’t likely to do so well. Or when they plan reboots, they don’t even consider that time may have made the movie totally irrelevant. They’re rebooting Red Dawn, for example. Yes, they are. How badly do we need a Speed Racer sequel? About as badly as we needed the original mega-flop.


It’s interesting that no one has suggested a reboot for 1999’s smash hit Shakespeare In Love. Mind you, not that I want to see one. But it made a lot of money very quickly. Yet there were no quick imitations, no talks of a sequel (thank heavens!), and no clamoring for stories with more cleverness and intelligence in the script. Movie executives generally refer to this kind of success as the “non-recurring phenomenon,” meaning it’s a fluke, whereas they consider Iron Man’s success to be part of the natural and predictable order of the universe, ripe for exploitation.

What does this have to do with Entertaining Welsey Shaw? Well, in the story Welsey is basically retiring from acting, or at least taking a big break. The reason is that she does not want to be the leather-suited kick-boxing sidekick of the hero, and these are more and more the only types of films that are coming her way. She got into the industry because she wanted to act, not be a living mockup for an action figure. In the real world, this is why so many A-list actors, writers and directors are now turning to that retro vehicle they once fled from—television. They can do the kind of work on AMC, Showtime and the like that they used to do for Paramount, Universal and 20th Century Fox.

Hollywood still makes things that run tour hours or so and have camera movements and music and lighting and cuts, but I’m starting to think it really can’t make movies anymore. One day a year it honors a bunch of films made entirely outside its very closed system, the very films it tries with all its might to prevent the other 364 days. Then it drinks itself into an afterparty stupor and goes back to business as usual next morning. The box office take has been padded to some extent lately by IMAX and 3D ticket prices, but what’s next? (There’s talk about bringing back smell-o-rama. Seriously. Do you really want to experience the next Planet of the Apes film that way?)


How many times can the Black Knight rise?


Holy crisis, Batman! What do all the sequels, prequels and reboots do for the shelf-life of the originals? MGM is still relevant because of its killer library of films from the 1930s-1960s. What will we be saying about today’s product in fifty years? My prediction is, not very much.

You may also be interested in this article from earlier in the summer box office morass.



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