If you thought that all it took was one Evil Dead remake, a Django Unchained, a Prometheus or a few mega-hit Hangover films to prove to everyone that R-rated movies can make money, you’d be wrong.
Take theater owners for example. Last weekend at the industry convention CinemaCon in Las Vegas many of them pleaded with the studios for less R-rated movies. Per The New York Times, John Fithian (president and chief executive of the National Association of Theater Owners) pleaded with studios, “Make more family-friendly films and fewer R-rated titles.”
While it’s true that box office revenues are up (due to ridiculously inflated ticket prices), actual attendance is down 12%. I’m sure that piracy is a part of this to some degree, but if there’s an actual content issue I’d say that Fithian is missing his target completely. While it’s true that nothing has the potential to perform commercially like a four-quadrant movie that adults and children can both connect with, plenty of those fail too. And you know which of those really bomb? The bad ones, typically (I’m making an exception here for the awesome and underseen Frankenweenie). Jack, The Giant Slayer, anyone?
Fithian claims that attendance has suffered, “under the weight of too many R-rated movies.” Wrong. It’s a QUALITY issue (in terms of both film and exhibition) – not a ratings issue. Movies today, especially studio movies, are drained of risk, personality and innovation to a startling degree. Studios are wrestling creative control away from all but their highest grossing filmmakers. Not only are audiences disappointed with the product, they’re practically harassed by cell-phone abusing jerks making it even more difficult to wring any kind of enjoyment they can out of whatever mediocrity they just paid $19 (before parking) to go see. There are many times I’m dying to see a film but decide against it because I’m not in the mood to yell at some guy texting in front of me that night. In fact, I’d say one of the reasons family films perform better is that families HAVE to go. What are you going to do with two screaming kids on a Saturday afternoon? They’re a somewhat captive audience. I imagine they don’t mind cell phone use as much because they’re just struggling to keep their kids still.
Mr. Fithian, please stop asking studios to further water down their product. Stop pleading with them to ignore risk and treat films like more of a commodity than they already do. I have another solution for you. Ask the studios to make better movies instead. Then, at the same time, do what you can to improve your end of the bargain. You don’t think you’re culpable in regard to falling attendance? If you’re going to charge those prices you should police your theaters and ruthlessly remove the *ssholes. Someone opens up their phone after the first 2 minutes of the movie? Boom. Kick them out. No second chance. Also, it might help to hire people who actually know how to project your DCP’s and get decent sound in the room. That’s what we’re ostensibly paying for, especially at the “premium theaters.” It’s offensive that you want to peg this issue on a rating. I guess you won’t be playing 21 Jump Street 2* or The Hangover 3* or The Heat, the next Tarantino film or the next R-rated horror film at your theater. None of those make any money, right?
Thanks to Andrew Gonzalez for point the NY Times piece out to us.
*I’m aware that I’m crossing the streams somewhat by adding sequels (especially the likely horrible Hangover 3) to the equation since sequels are “safe bet” thinking personified. Still, they’re R – so they must not be profitable.