There's been a lot of talk over the past year or so about the decline of revenue at the box office. An argument that you hear quite a bit is that fewer people are going to the movies because the product has become no good. I don't buy it. Maybe Hollywood blockbusters do suck and maybe they don't, but I think that doesn't stop them from raking in huge sums of dough.
The theory seems like sour grapes as many of the folks making this argument are people in showbusiness who aren't having their films greenlit or being given the budgets they want or whatever. Oh, I see. It's because YOUR movies aren't being made that people are going away from the box office.
I decided to test out the theory by going to two movie websites: BOX OFFICE MOJO and ROTTEN TOMATOES. I looked at the domestic grosses of the top twenty films of the past five years and then examined the "tomatometer" reading for each film. The Tomatometer simply compiles all the reviews for a film and compares the "fresh" (positive) ones with the "rotten" (negative) ones. I by no means consider the Tomatometer a foolproof tool for evaluating films. Indeed, I see flaws in the system - but I think it's at least consistent and certainly worth looking at for determining how much a movie was liked or disliked overall.
I'm only including domestic grosses because the tastes of foreign audiences can vary so much from Americans'. U.S. moviegoers were (rightly) underwhelmed by epics such TROY and THE LAST SAMURAI, whereas overseas crowds can obviously be fooled by big stars in big budget period pieces.
This was the year that the box office dipped from the year before. And all the articles about the decline in films started The top twenty films grossed 3.706 billion dollars and the average Tomatometer rating for them was 61.75 % For all the talk about Hollywood dropping the ball, the top 8 grossing films all had high Tomatometer ratings. Revenge of the Sith had 82%, Goblet of Fire 89%, Batman Begins 83% etc., etc.
This year had at least three big stories about surprisingly high movie grosses. The first was Farenheit 9/11, which became the most successful documentary ever, grossing 118 million dollars. The second was The Passion of the Christ, (not a studio film) which grossed a massive $370 million dollars. The third was Shrek 2, which became the third-highest domestic grossing film of all time, taking in a mind-boggling $441 million. The top twenty films grossed 3.937 billion dollars and the average tomatometer rating for them was 60.55%. That's right, LOWER than 2005. Most people realize that The Passion of the Christ was a non-repeating phenomenon. It wasn't well-reviewed, getting only a 51% from the Tomatometer, but, by itself, put 2004 over the top.
The top twenty films grossed $3.604 billion and their average tomatometer rating was 60.55%. This was sort of a franchise-light year: no Spiderman movie, no Harry Potter, no Star Wars. There were two Matrix sequels, but they pissed off people so much that they earned ultimately disappointing grosses.
The top twenty films grossed $3.939 billion and the average tomatometer reading was 66.9%. This was a franchise-heavy year, but also a year with very well reviewed blockbusters. Spielberg had two well liked moneymakers in Minority Report ($132 million, 92%) and Catch Me If You Can ($164 million 96%). The year saw a Spiderman film, a Star Wars film, a Harry Potter film and a LOTR film - all which got overall positive reviews. But perhaps the biggest box office story was My Big Fat Greek Wedding coming out of nowhere and making $241 million, despite so-so reviews.
The top twenty films grossed $3.617 billion and had an average tomatometer rating of 58.85% (the only "failing" year so far). I guess my point is, if this year was disappointing artistically, a few critics darlings wouldn't have yielded a substantially bigger gross. A Passion of the Christ or My Big Fat Greek Wedding would have.
If you ask me, if the box offfice is hurting it's because of DVDs and maybe to a lesser extent, bootlegs.