Tuesday, February 14, 2017

EDITORIAL: The Importance of the Blockbuster in an Age of Indie Film

Blockbuster films have been a big part of the theater experience for decades.  These are the types of films that tend to draw large crowds to the theater, and it's these crowds that keep studios and theaters alike running.  But lately, it's the independent film that has been gaining popularity, as we see more and more these films getting awards attention, and for good reason.  You want a fun, exciting time at the theater?  Then you'll probably want to see a blockbuster like Rogue One or Doctor Strange.  But, if you're looking for something with more heart and depth, something with a story that will stick with you long after seeing it, then independent films, such as Moonlight or Sing Street, are the way to go.

I hear all the time, complaints about how Hollywood doesn't make anything original anymore.  That all they do is make sequels, remakes, reboots, and adaptations.  But I couldn't disagree with this statement more.  There are so many great, original indie films that come out every single year, but the issue is that people don't go out in droves to see these film like they would a Summer tent pole film.  "Why is this?", you may ask.  A big part of it is because indie films don't get nearly as much exposure as the big budget films do.  And that simple has to do with overall potential earnings. If a studio pumps a bunch of money into the marketing of an indie film, sure they might make a bit more than they would have otherwise, but it's unlikely.  And that's where blockbuster films come in to play.

It's films like Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean, both multi-billion dollar franchises, that pump money back into these studios, making it viable for them to take chances on smaller independent films, which may be more critically loved, but unfortunately don't earn the studio much as far as revenue goes, and, in many cases, loses them money.  And even though both of these franchises tend to get slammed critically, it's the huge box office returns that keep them coming back with sequel after sequel, both of which have their fifth installments hitting theaters later this year.  You can also look at the boom in comic book films, with Disney/Marvel raking in billions of dollars, as shown by this year's Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange bringing in a combined total of over $1.8 billion.  This is how we're able to get films like Saving Mr. Banks, Million Dollar Arm, McFarland USA, and Queen of Katwe, all of which are great, low budget films.

Now, every film is a risk, no matter what property it is.  Sometimes these big budget blockbusters do the exact opposite of what the studio had hoped.  Look at something like The Lone Ranger with Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp.  This film had a $225 million production budget and a marketing budget of $150 million, but only managed to bring in $260.5 million worldwide.  Then you have John Carter, that had a total production and marketing cost of $350 million, but only made $284.1 million worldwide.  You do the math...it's not good.  Sometimes even the most successful studios can sink a big blockbuster.  However, it's the successful blockbusters that allow for mistakes like that, and for lower budget films to see the light of day.

But don't mistake what I'm saying.  Producing big blockbuster films isn't the only way to have success in the indie film market, I'm saying it's important in the wider scope.  There are plenty of studios that focus primarily on indie film such as IFC Films (Boyhood, The Autopsy of Jane Doe), Blumhouse (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge), and my personal favorite, A24, which has put out such great films like Ex Machina, Room, The Witch, and this year's Best Picture nominee at the Oscars, Moonlight.  But for those bigger studios, who could easily just focus on bigger budget films with higher profit potential, it's these blockbusters that pave the way for smaller, more intimate stories to be told.  And in the end, having these smaller films around benefits all film fans by giving us unique, original stories to sink our teeth into.

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