It’s been a lackluster summer, not in terms of box-office dollars (the summer is expected to be another record breaker), but in terms of the quality of films, although this is not unusual for a summer season more concerned with spectacle than quality. What is upsetting to me, however, is that for all the complaints about the tired, recycled movies, unoriginal premises, and formulaic plot lines, when Hollywood finally provides us with what we want, audiences fail to show up. We will spend the next two years gnashing teeth and showing our terrible claws at the casting of Ben Affleck in a movie that the Internet (including us) will devote 10,000 articles to and that will, in all likelihood, come and go in 2015 and be forgotten — save for the occasional best, worst, or most disappointing superhero film lists — the month after its release, and yet we ignore the very movies that we so desire to see.
Four of the best movies of 2013 were released this weekend, and their collective box-office fell nearly $10 million below what Fast and Furious 6 made in its third weekend. Granted, one of those films was released in only New York City and Los Angeles, while another has been on VOD for a month and only got a token theatrical release, but even if both of those films had been released wide, neither would’ve opened with more than $5 or $6 million, tops.
Over the course of the summer, people have complained loudly that Star Trek: Into Darkness was a weak sci-fi film and that Elysium was hugely disappointing in the wake of District 9, and yet those movies opened with $70 million and $30 million, respectively. The World’s End — an amazing, original sci-fi comedy with heart and humor, and everything that people say they want in a sci-fi movie — opened with $8.9 million this weekend. It scored a 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but Simon Pegg and Nick Frost don’t have the good looks of Joseph Gordon Levitt and Channing Tatum, so people stayed home and waited around for the MTV VMA’s.
People bitched incessantly about World War Z from the day they saw the very first trailer until weeks after its release, but when a good horror movie comes out like You’re Next, few care. World War Z has made $200 million at the box office; You’re Next opened with $7 million this weekend. Turns out, people would really rather watch and complain about Brad Pitt fighting off piles of wall-climbing CGI zombies while drinking Pepsi than a watch great horror movie made by great horror movie people. I guess there’s less to bitch about when it’s a good movie. Moreover, people have been SCREAMING that Hollywood film’s don’t feature enough kick-ass female characters, and You’re Next has the best horror-movie heroine since The Descent, but she’s not Charlize Theron, so f*ck it.
The Heat ($155 million), Grown Up 2 ($128 million), and We’re the Millers ($82 million and growing) were of varying levels of quality (I liked the first and the third, and hated the second), but none of the three had the creative spark, the chemistry, or the energy of Drinking Buddies, which was made for $47, some belly button lint, and a beer keg. But, you know: It didn’t have Sandra Bullock, Adam Sandler, or Jennifer Aniston, so why bother, right? Sandler and Aniston are two of the most maligned celebrities in Hollywood, but people would still rather pay to see their movies than to see the lovable, adorable Jake Johnson and the cute as a button if a button had sex appeal, Anna Kendrick, as well as the wildly sexy Olivia Wilde.
Short Term 12, which is currently sporting a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been anointed the best movie of the year by many (including myself) opened in select theaters, and if it’s lucky, at the end of its run, it will make $10 million at the box office, even though the movie essentially has everything that audiences complain is missing in Hollywood: Heart, thoughtfulness; intelligence; great acting; and a good, small scale-story that doesn’t result in entire cities being wiped away. It will also make you cry buckets in a sweet way (rather than the traumatizing way). What it doesn’t have, however, is a comic book hero. Or a zombie. Or fast cars. Or Leonardo DiCaprio.
You’re Next, Short Term 12, Drinking Buddies and The World’s End were made by filmmakers driven by the desire to make great films, and not great profits. That’s what I loved about this weekend: That there are still directors, and actors, and screenwriters out there who prioritize filmmaking over the bottom line, even if the audiences don’t fully appreciate them for it. The World’s End was made by one of the geekiest directors on the planet, and the geekiest folks on the Internet (like Patton Oswalt) were pushing it, but the majority of “geeks” were too busy complaining about Ben Affleck to bother supporting their greatest champion. You’re Next not only had the support of, but starred such cult filmmakers as Ti West, Joe Swanberg (who directed Drinking Buddies), and Amy Seimetz, and it had the support of basically every horror and gorehound in the critical community, but horror geeks had better things to do than support originality. They’ll just wait until The Conjuring 2 comes out, I guess.
It’s encouraging to see that people with real talent are still allowed to make original, thoughtful movies that are distributed (kind of), but it continues to be disappointing to me that audiences that crave their movies don’t support them they way they should be supported. It must be so frustrating for guys like Edgar Wright, Joe Swanberg, Destin Cretton, or Joe Cornish (Attack of the Block) to peruse the Internet and see so many people decry the lack of a certain kind of film when they are filling that exact void. “What about my film? What about me?” I hear them screaming into their laptops. “We gave you exactly what you wanted, and you chose to go see Fast and Furious 6 instead.”
Don’t blame the filmmakers. Blame the audiences.