So last week, Ukraine had a fun time of it. They’ve risen up for the last three months, in the streets of the capital by the tens of thousands. Every few years this happens, as the corruption and dead weight reaches a critical mass and the people stream into the streets. They threw out Yanukovych back in 2005 with the Orange Revolution, but then re-elected him a couple of years ago, only to swarm the streets to push him out of power once again. Ukrainian politics is gorgeous and complicated, but I won’t jump through those details just now.
When the country is in uproar, and the very future of the nation is at stake, with regions breaking away and declaring sovereignty, presidents fleeing to other regions that are rumbling to secede and cede themselves to Russia, the normalcy of life still goes on, and movies are some small part of that. Five new foreign releases were released in Ukraine last week: Robocop, Pompeii, Monuments Men, Nymphomaniac, and Lone Survivor. It was the worst week of Ukrainian box office sales in quite some time, but here are the results nationwide, with non-first week releases removed (only a handful of top films in Ukraine are non-American, you can see the full boxoffice results here):
1. Pompeii: $278,969
2. Robocop: $178,190
4. Monuments Men: $116,226
8. Nymphomaniac: $27,800
10. Lone Survivor: $12,446
Movie tickets in Ukraine cost the equivalent of about $6, and they’ve got a population of 46 million, so their box office figures are really really low in comparison to the West. As point of comparison, the number one movie at the box office in Ukraine this same week last year was Die Hard: Whatever Number at about the same amount. So the box office take is not obviously and egregiously lower than before the crisis.
To see what Ukrainians are thinking with regard to these movies in the context of the events of the country, I downloaded every tweet posted over a three day period last week with latitude and longitude located in Ukraine. It’s estimated that about 4 million tweets originate in Ukraine in a given day, but only about 40,000 of them have GPS coordinates attached so that we can be sure they came from that country. So the hundred thousand or so tweets from Ukraine during the weekend box office?
There were only two tweets that had to do with Pompeii in the entire bunch (and yes, I was looking in Russian and Ukrainian, so I was scanning the data for “Помпеї” not “Pompeii”). So Ukrainian twitter users? Not feeling the Harrington. The first (translated):
“Went to the movies today to “Pompeii.” Film class, and Kit Harrington - just gorgeous.”
Ok fine, one of them was at least feeling the Harrington element. Fair enough, the second:
“Pompeii: a subpar ‘Gladiator’ with a banal story told at the eruption of Vesuvius (in my opinion…)”
There’s some snark, we should hire her as a foreign correspondent.
Robocop got far more attention. And by far more, I mean 11 whole tweets. It’s almost as if Ukrainians had something else on their mind. Six of those tweets were just 4Square check-ins at theaters, but five actually had something to say:
“By the way, [ahem, word I know but my Russian teachers didn’t teach me] your Robocop’”
“Robocop - very dramatic and intense film. Very sobering to think about.”
“Not my day, got two tickets for Robocop FREE. Came … no seats, well [ahem, my Russian teachers didn’t teach me that word either]”
“Who wants to go to Robocop tomorrow?” Sadly, the tweet received no responses. I checked.
“Today at the movies! One of my favorite childhood movies … I hope it’s not sullied.”
That last one, the user has an instagram account hooked up to his twitter account. The last photo on it before going to Robocop was a photo he took of the violence:
There’s something both horrifying and delightful about that picture and that tweet. As the world collapses ten thousand miles away from us, people snap photos of the chaos, and in their next thought go to an American science fiction movie. We’re a strange species, aren’t we? Our world is alternately small and large from moment to moment. And damn, I hope he enjoyed the hell out of Robocop.