Watson was out of town yesterday so Tom took over our Box Office report with something different. Sure, he reported the top five movies’ box office and the top zero Broadway shows but then Tom asked an interesting set of questions about why we care. Find out what he asked and all the answers after the break!
Here’s the relevant passage:
Do we celebrate when pharmaceutical companies make huge profits off new drugs? How about when an oil company hits a major geyser? Or even if those Back To School sales paid off for local retailers unless we happen to be the local retailers? Nope. We don’t.
First, of course we celebrate all those things. They take place in different forums–the pharmaceutical company celebrates during their financial reporting or the press releases when new drugs start delivering profits; the oil company hitting a huge oil well gets blasted to all of their audience as well; and retailers are constantly being told if their numbers are good or bad for the year, the season, and how they compared to the same time period last year. The difference is if you happen to be included in the audience for that content.
For movies, Tom and other geeks are going to be overlapping with channels that report this kind of information. We’ll discuss why that is later, but if instead of being a pop culture geek you were, say, a geology geek then you would likely read more about major oil discoveries even if you didn’t particularly care about who was making money off the deal.
Second, these box office results aren’t unique to the movie industry or as far fletched as Tom’s other examples of drugs, gas, and backpacks (incidentally, that was the original title of Natural Born Killers). Creative endeavors can be notoriously difficult to measure in terms of success–sure a movie or song or book can get horrible reviews but you may love it, or they may get amazing reviews and you can’t stand it. There will always be a degree of subjectivity to creative products but there also comes a degree of objectivity which is how those creative pursuits are received.
The song you may not like reaches the top of the Billboard charts. The artist you don’t enjoy just had the top selling concert series of the summer. The book you couldn’t get into remains on top of the bestseller list. The movie you saw just opened at number one. These are all objective measures of the audience’s reception and of course they matter to the industry just like they may not matter to you individually. But these measurements can help provide objective context to a subject that will remain subjective on an individual level.
Finally, I would say that movies, more than any other creative platform (even my beloved Broadway) are the pinnacle of pop culture acceptance and story telling. Other art forms have taken this coveted spot before and future art forms could take movies’ place in the future, but for now movies are the ultimate expressive art form. Not necessarily in how impactful they can be but in how many people they can reach. Movies are the optimal combination of emotion and story, visuals and audio, realism and escapism. They are communal stories and emotional workouts. They are larger than life and as intimate as we allow.
So, yes, everything Tom says is right that we shouldn’t care about how a movie made more money than we’ll ever make. But it’s also all wrong because it is part of the shared experience that has made movies such a popular form of expression. Of course some of it is pure marketing–when a movie trumpets its top grossing weekend it may entice us to see the previously unviewed film or celebrate the movie we enjoyed with so many others. But the other part of it is the limited objective discussion we can have around an art form. “Man, I loved Fantastic Four, why did it bomb?” (Words not spoken by me but Jenny or Watson may have.) And that’s pretty cool.
And if it isn’t your thing, that’s fine too. But for those of us that enjoy discussing box office, maybe this provides some insight as to why. We cannot have broader discussions about how much people enjoyed a movie like Titanic–our closest analogue is to discuss its remarkable box office run. It isn’t a perfect comparison, but it can be fun to analyze.
2 thoughts on “Why Box Office Matters”
On the one hand, this is a well-thought out response that I can’t argue with.
On the other…I still stand by every word I wrote about the box office, since it still holds no interest for me.
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I accept this Schrödinger’s response.
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