Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Why a Bad Box Office Isn't Bad for Viewers

It's no secret that this summer's box office had the lowest ticket sales since 1993, despite 2 blockbusters earning over $1 billion. It seems that moviegoers just weren't as interested in buying tickets, and who could blame them? Just because box office spending was down doesn't mean that cinephiles weren't get their fixes. Here are few reasons why customers have been avoiding theaters -- to the detriment of the box office but not their entertainment.

1. Really awful movies. Let's reflect on this summer's offerings: Dark Shadows, Battleship, What to Expect When You're Expecting, Rock of Ages, etc. As a cinema lover, I usually hit the theater every week or two for a show; I love the experience so much that I'm willing to pay for the experience, even if the movie is just decent. This summer I've gone weeks, sometimes more than a month without the big screen because I'm just not going to pay a premium for absolutely absurd movies. If I want to watch something terrible, I'll just watch Netflix, thank you very much.

2. Really amazing television. Cinema-quality television shows are becoming easier to access with subscription cable networks, Netflix, Hulu, and other on-demand options. AMC sets the bar extraordinarily high with its popular shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead. These shows shatter the traditional 3 camera set up, offering cinema-quality visuals with compelling story lines, excellent writing, and stellar performances. That means that television is filling the content void that a weak box office creates. When movie lovers have the option of staying home to watch Game of Thrones or going to a sub-par movie, chances are they'll choose the former.

3. 3-D fatigue. I enjoy my fair share of silly 3-D in campy horror films, but there's no reason movies like Men in Black III and Step Up Revolution need to be in 3-D. Viewers seem to be increasingly upset over the high cost of 3-D tickets, especially when the technology adds nothing to the film.

4. Nontraditional releases. Crafty distributors are finding lucrative opportunities to skip the expensive and complicated wide theater distribution in favor of alternative venues. Online rentals allow the distributor to generate excitement for a film; since the rental is for a limited time, the viewer still has to pay for repeat viewing after the rental expiration. For example, Bachelorette was released for rental on iTunes before a limited theater release. Likewise, some films (and television shows) are being released on subscription models like Netflix. The most notable example of this is the upcoming season of cult-favorite Arrested Development. The beauty of these models is that they provide a cheaper alternative to the theater experience. Because they are only accessible through a rental or subscription, they are not always available, which means the value of a purchased DVD or download is not diluted by these competitive media.

It's my (somewhat futile) hope that Hollywood seriously analyzes this summer to find the faults in the box office. As cinephiles, we want to buy tickets and see shows, but we won't stand for the pathetic offerings we've had to endure. We're voting with our dollars, and there are far too many amazing things out there for us to sit through another Bourne movie.

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