2011: What Have We Learned?

I like to think of this title as being spoken the way it’s spoken in that episode of Family Guy, when Stewie is at the baseball game and has a ball in his hand, and he turns to the kid next to him who has a bat and tells him he’ll trade one for the other. And then he gets the bat and knocks the kid out with it and goes, “What did you learn?” That’s how I picture this article. What have we learned?

I like to sit down at the end of each film year and just reflect. See if things are getting any better (or any worse), see what the trends are, what’s changed, you know the deal.

It is 2012 now. So this is my way of, with a little bit of distance (granted, it’s been three days, but still) from 2011, just going over what the trends were. The big things that happened. There’s a really big thing I want to talk about, but I feel like, once I do that, the article is anti-climactic after that. But on the other hand, I don’t really have the strength to sit there and layer this like an essay that builds to a big point. I’m just not that academic. Honestly, what I’m going to do is just make my points in a rambling, bullet-point manner, and hopefully they’ll speak for themselves.

So let’s, one last time, take a look at what 2011 had to offer.

So what have we learned from 2011?

R-Rated comedies are hitting.

  • The Hangover Part II, Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses, Bad Teacher. All three grossed over $100 million. Friends with Benefits was a relative hit. And (I guess it’s technically a comedy) Crazy, Stupid, Love also made money. (They didn’t all work. The Change-Up didn’t do that well at all. Neither did Hall Pass.)

Meanwhile, PG-13 comedies are failing.

  • The only real PG-13 “comedies” to make significant money was Just Go With It and No Strings Attached, both of which were in January. Everything else was a relative to severe disaster. Tower Heist, Jack and Jill, The Dilemma, Arthur — they all did horribly. I guess they realized how bad the first two were and stopped going.

3D Failed miserably.

  • Fake 3D, that is. Those dumb conversions studios tacked on. I don’t have exact numbers, since people have pretty much stopped talking about 3D since the summer ended, but I remember them saying how the 3D grosses for films were becoming less and less, as audiences stopped giving a shit about it. Thank god. Not a moment too soon. Leave it to the professionals. (So far, only Bay, Scorsese and Cameron have made 3D movies worth anything.)

Adam Sandler continues his plague upon cinema.

  • Self-explanatory. See my Unforgivables list for a full update on this.

Tyler Perry continues his string of successes.

  • Never fails. Spends $25 million, makes $50 million. Every time.

The ‘Liam Neeson beating the shit out of people’ film has now become a genre.

  • This year, we have The Grey. (Not to mention Taken 2.)

Nicolas Cage is still going strong.

  • Four films last year. Three more on tap this year.

The old stalwarts continue to have success by not overstepping their boundaries.

  • Fast Five, Final Destination 5, and even Paranormal Activity 3 — they don’t spend more money than they normally do, they put out the same quality product each time, and they all come back with moderate to strong returns. This is how you do a franchise right, for the long run. (Sure, they’re not classic franchises, and won’t be watched in thirty years — probably — but they’re successful now. That should be enough.)

Three times and it becomes a motif — the end of the summer “middle-aged woman” movie is now a thing.

  • First Julie & Julia, then Eat, Pray, Love, now The Help.

Sometimes a trailer is the best thing about a movie.

  • See: Your Highness

If you make a $50 million movie about bird-watching, no one will go see it and you’ll lose a lot of money.

  • See: The Big Year

One does not simply try to recreate a phenomena by assembling general pieces.

  • Red Riding Hood wanted to be Twilight. It had the same director, the same general atmosphere — it wanted to get that kind of money. And nobody went, and the film sucked. What have we learned? Don’t fucking do that. Some films are okay if they’re the Marshmallow Treasures version. Most times — nothing but Lucky Charms will do. Just make a different kind of cereal and it works out better for everyone.

Disney can still wow an audience with gorgeous hand-drawn animation when they want to.

  • See: Winnie the Pooh

Simply putting big stars in a movie means nothing if the story is for shit.

  • See: Larry Crowne

Also — the “nerd” phase is also wearing thin.

  • Remember 2008 and 2009 when Hollywood went apeshit over Comi-Con and were like, “These people are a gold mine!”? Yeah — not so much any more. All those films they seemed to make for the comic book geeks have bombed. (Not a moment too soon, either.)

Woody Allen is still going strong.

  • Midnight in Paris was his best overall effort in years.

The original concept is still alive.

  • Rango, Bad Teacher, Bridesmaids, Crazy Stupid Love, Super 8 (original in actual story, but not in concept or execution), Source Code, 50/50 — all based on original scripts. All made more money than they cost to make (and in some cases, much, much more). (Don’t worry, though, it’s still on life support.)

A director still manages to elevate the source material:

  • Hanna, Drive, Hugo even Transformers — Sure-handed directors can take ideas that most people would immediately scoff at, and in certain cases, really make the material better.

What ever happened to the classy, mid-level adaptation?

  • The Adjustment Bureau, The Lincoln Lawyer, even Limitless — these mid-level adaptations, to me, are really what make up cinema. Not these dumb genre films that populate everything in between the big months nowadays. When I was growing up (so, basically — late 90s/early 2000s were my prime moviegoing years. That is, when we’d go to the movies every weekend and sneak in and see two or three movies a trip), there would always be those kinds of movies — the John Grisham adaptation, these $40 million thrillers and paperback literary adaptations that turned into solid films. Those, to me, made up a year. I feel like we lost that. Now it’s exorcism movies and low-budget horror shit. Damn shame what they did to that dog.

Too many goddamn superhero movies.

  • Green Hornet, Thor, X-Men, Green Lantern, Captain America. Too much. You know how many of those were actually good movies, outside of the bubble that is May through July? One. Maybe two. You know how many I’ll actually watch again? One. You know why? Because they started that franchise a decade ago. It’s overkill.

Kids movies still perform.

  • Cars 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots, Rio, The Smurfs, Rango, Hop, Gnomeo and Juliet — all made $100 million. Not only that, they all did double that overseas. Plus, The Lion King — in rerelease! — made $95 million. Alvin and the Chipmunks — almost $100 million. The Muppets — $80 million. Zookeeper — $80 million. A Justin Bieber concert film — $73 million. Mr. Popper’s Penguins — $68 million. (Which again points to — who fucked up that Happy Feet Two only made $60 million?). If it’s for the under 10 crowd — they’ll go. Apparently Hollywood hasn’t figured this out, yet, because once they do, they’ll be everywhere.

Okay. Enough of this. Onto the one point I really wanted to make here. And in order to make it, I need to point out the top-grossing films of the year. So…

Here were your top ten grossing films of 2011, domestically (totals gotten before weekend numbers were in):

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II — $381 million
  2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon — $352 million
  3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1 — $273 million
  4. The Hangover Part II — $254 million
  5. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides — $241 million
  6. Fast Five — $209 million
  7. Cars 2 — $191 million
  8. Thor — 181 million
  9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes — $176 million
  10. Captain America: The First Avenger — $176 million

11-20 were these films, also, just because I’ll be bringing them up: The Help, Bridesmaids, Kung Fu Panda 2, X-Men: First Class, Puss in Boots, Rio, The Smurfs, Super 8, Rango, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. (Though, Mission: Impossible will probably have jumped up and knock Rango off by the end of the weekend.)

The big thing to note here is how #1, #2 and #3 are tried and true franchises that have always made money. Know what else they have in common? They’re all over.

No more Harry Potter. No more Twilight after one more. Transformers is done for at least three years.

I truly believe the franchise era is coming to an end.

To me, Harry Potter was always the key. If you notice, before Potter (BP), you didn’t see studios scrambling to make sequels all the time. All of it came in the same year — 2001. That’s when Potter came out. Rings. Shrek. Ocean’s Eleven. These were four of the top five grossing films of that year (the fifth was Monsters, Inc.). That’s what led to them making all these big blockbusters.

And if you look — of all the top ten grossers of the past decade:

2001: Sorcerer’s Stone, Fellowship of the Ring, Shrek, Monsters Inc., Ocean’s Eleven, Rush Hour 2, The Mummy Returns, Pearl Harbor, Jurassic Park III, Planet of the Apes. (#11? A Beautiful Mind.)

2002: Spider-Man, Two Towers, Attack of the Clones, Chamber of Secrets, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Signs, Goldmember, Men in Black II, Ice Age, Chicago

2003: Return of the King, Finding Nemo, Curse of the Black Pearl, Matrix Reloaded, Bruce Almighty, X2, Elf, Terminator 3, Matrix Revolutions, Cheaper by the Dozen

2004: Shrek 2, Spider-Man 2, Passion of the Christ, Meet the Fockers, Incredibles, Prisoner of Azkaban, Day After Tomorrow, Bourne Supremacy, National Treasure, Polar Express

2005: Revenge of the Sith, Lion Witch & Wardrobe, Goblet of Fire, War of the Worlds, King Kong, Wedding Crashers, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Batman Begins, Madagascar, Mr. & Mrs. Smith

2006: Dead Man’s Chest, Night at the Museum, Cars, X-Men: Last Stand, Da Vinci Code, Superman Returns, Happy Feet, Ice Age 2, Casino Royale, Pursuit of Happyness

2007: Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Transformers, At World’s End, Order of the Phoenix, I Am Legend, Bourne Ultimatum, National Treasure 2, Alvin and the Chipmunks, 300

2008: Dark Knight, Iron Man, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Hancock, Wall-E, Kung Fu Panda, Twilight, Madagascar 2, Quantum of Solace, Horton Hears a Who

2009: Avatar, Revenge of the Fallen, Half-Blood Prince, New Moon, Up, Hangover, Star Trek, Blind Side, Alvin and Chipmunks: Squeakuel, Sherlock Holmes

2010: Toy Story 3, Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2, Eclipse, Deathly Hallows Part 1, Inception, Despicable Me, Shrek Forever After, How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled

2011: Deathly Hallows Part 2, Dark of the Moon, Breaking Dawn — Part 1, Hangover Part 2, On Stranger Tides, Fast Five, Cars 2, Thor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America

Looking at those, you can see just how it happened. (Because before Potter (BP), there weren’t that many franchises out there. You had Phantom Menace, you had Mission: Impossible, and the first X-Men movie came out. There were a few, but they were really only reserved for stuff that made big money.) You can see the seeds being planted in the late 90s, and then Potter goes and kickstarts the whole thing.

That’s my big point. You can see trends build before they happen. And I truly believe we’re seeing one build right now. And it surprises the hell out of me that no one is talking about it.

But let’s go back to those top tens of the past decade.

2001: Outside of Pixar — whose franchises are much different from other franchises — all but one film on that list had sequels (I’m counting Jurassic Park on that simply because you know there will be one at some point. And I’m also counting Apes, since that property is a franchise, and this new one technically does count as a follow-up). Three films on the list were sequels themselves. And not one of them were really standalone films.

2002: Surprisingly, three standalone films on this list (because they were getting it out of their system, I guess. Kind of like when they transitioned to sound and there were still a year or two worth of silent pictures left). But — five sequels, and two beginnings of franchises.

2003: One Pixar, one standalone film (Elf), six sequels (two Matrix sequels!). And the last two is where you really start to see how things are changing. One remake that made money that then spawned a sequel. (I guess Ocean’s Eleven counts as that too.) Not to mention a standalone film that got a sequel because it made money.

2004: Two standalone films (though one Christmas film. Well, technically two. I mean…Jesus.), one Pixar, one pseudo-standalone film (Day After Tomorrow is standalone, but it’s also part of that Emmerich disaster trilogy. Mostly standalone though), five sequels, and the start of a franchise (National Treasure).

2005: Here’s where things took a slight turn. Only two sequels. Unless Batman Begins counts as a sequel. Technically it does. So three. Then — the start of two franchises. Madagascar and Narnia. The rest? All pretty much standalone films. But? Three of them remakes. King Kong, War of the Worlds, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And even Mr. and Mrs. Smith is kind of a remake. But not really. We pretty much just treat that as its own thing. The only truly standalone film here is Wedding Crashers.

2006: One Pixar, five sequels, the start of three franchises (though it must be pointed out that Happy Feet and Da Vinci Code — those franchises can stop easily enough. They were built as franchises of sorts, but they can very easily just stop), and one standalone film. Though that was a Will Smith film.

2007: Ready for this? Six sequels, the start of two franchises (don’t even act like there wasn’t going to be more than one Transformers or Alvin and the Chipmunks movie), 300 and I Am Legend. One of which is getting a sequel, and the other of which would have if they didn’t fuck up the ending. Amazing, right?

2008: This year is great because you can see them starting the cycle over again. Four sequels, one Pixar, one Seuss animated movie. One Will Smith movie (that will certainly get a sequel at some point. Just you wait). The other three? Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, and Twilight. Yeah.

2009: This is the year where I started seeing some hope. Four sequels — a Potter, a Transformers, a Twilight and a Chipmunks. Okay, fine. I can live if those are the franchises. I can. None of them are reboots. Star Trek is a reboot, but actually an acceptable one. And Holmes, I guess, is also a franchise starter. The other four are kind of surprising. Well — Avatar. Four are surprising. You have Pixar — Up, too. Which is just great to see on there. Then: The Hangover and The Blind Side. Which, actually, one of those has a sequel and will have a third entry. So, maybe not. And yet…I still think seeds might have maybe been planted. (?) I don’t know.

2010: This is another year that might point to where things are headed, if not specifically in the way I’m talking about. Five sequels (one of which was a Pixar sequel, so, again, not really). Now, three of the remaining five films are animated: Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled. Kids movies are making more money than franchises. The other two are Inception and Alice in Wonderland. Both of which are kind of standalone. Inception will only get a sequel if either Nolan feels there’s something there or in like fifteen to twenty years when they figure, “Why not?” Alice will totally get a sequel. You know Disney’s been trying to figure out how to do that since it made money.

And this year — EIGHT SEQUELS! EIGHT! And the other two are SUPERHERO MOVIES!

Honestly, the reason I think we’re in for a change simply has to be because it’s always darkest before dawn. Right?

And also because of some legitimate reasons.

Ticket sales have gone down steadily for the past — who knows how many years. And even now — overall box office has dipped too. Normally they’ve been able to get by on these big films keeping them afloat. But even this year, the box office was down something like 5% from last year. And more big budget films are failing. (I’m only including films with budgets over $80 million. Sure, films like The Big Year were failures, but a $40 million movie about birdwatching — that’s just a bad idea.)

Sucker Punch (of course I started with this one) — $82 million budget, $36 million domestic gross

Mars Needs Moms — $150 million budget, $21 million domestic gross

Green Lantern — $200 million budget, $116 million domestic gross

Cowboys & Aliens — $163 million budget (where’d they come up with that number?), $100 million domestic gross

Conan the Barbarian — $90 million budget, $21 million domestic gross

The Green Hornet — $120 million budget, $98 million domestic gross (admittedly, it made $129 million more worldwide, but I still feel like this is considered a disappointment)

Happy Feet Two — $135 million budget, $61 million domestic gross (thereabouts. It’s still out.)

Tower Heist — $75 million budget, $76 million domestic gross (definitely considered a major disappointment)

These are big failures, people. That’s not to say they’re still not staying afloat by big films making big money, but when you don’t have any more Harry Potter, Twilight and Transformers to cushion the fall, what will you hide behind then?

This year, they’re gonna hide behind Twilight and The Dark Knight Rises. Which is why I don’t think you’ll see major bombs going off just yet. But those franchises are also gone after next year.  If Spider-Man fails (not gonna happen, but it’s still worth a question) — what then?

Of all the franchises on the list of top ten grossers of the past decade, you know which ones are still going? (Not counting Pixar, and taking off Batman and Twilight, since one is ending and the other will certainly not reboot within several years after Nolan’s done.)

These are the ones that are definitely still on: Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Men in Black, Ice Age, Bourne, Madagascar, Superman, Bond, Iron Man, Fast and the Furious, Thor, Captain America.

Okay, of those — take off Bond. That’s it’s own entity. Then — Iron Man, Thor, Captain America — superhero movies. How much of a shelf life do you think those have? We’ll see. Plus you have your Avengers this year. I really don’t see how anyone is gonna be interested in any of those individuals except Iron Man after this movie comes out. But whatever. People are dumb. They flock when they’re told to flock.

Ice Age, Madagascar — kids films. They always make money. But how much longer do they continue past these next entries? You don’t know.

The rest? Superman? Who’s to say this won’t be another disaster like the last one was? You sold on Zack Snyder? I’m not.

Spider-Man? It’ll make money, but how many films does it have?

Men in Black? Something tells me they’re gonna be done after this one.

Fast and the Furious — still going strong.

Bourne? We’ll see what happens with this new one.

Pirates? How’s everyone feeling after that last entry into the franchise? Ready for two more?

So how many can we safely say are strong? One, two? Minus the kids films, since you can plug in pretty much anything there and it’ll work.

Though, of the rest of the franchises — they’re still trying to get another Hangover off the ground. And another Transformers. I know they’re working on another How to Train Your Dragon as well. Plus, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Kung Fu Panda will definitely have sequels, just because they made money. Despicable Me? Maybe they fit in another one to make money. Again — kids film. (This is why I’m saying they’re gonna have to transition to nothing but animated kids films if they really want to stay afloat with this blockbuster thing.)

What else can they dust off? Austin Powers? I know they want to. How you think that’s gonna work out? Fockers? You think that’ll make money after that last entry? Pretty sure they just ruined Happy Feet with this past one. Da Vinci Code is subjet to how many books there are (and I think there are only three). Narnia? They haven’t been making money since the first one. They’re trotting one out every three years anyway, and it’s only really doing international business. Another Night at the Museum? Just gonna run the same play again and expect people to show up? (Plus, aren’t they doing a Disney version of that with Jon Favreau?) National Treasure? You think Cage has another one in there? Terminator? I’m sure people are dying to go see that.

There’s nothing. Nothing to pick up the slack that Batman and Harry Potter are leaving.

So this year, when Battleship fails. When Total Recall, Bourne Legacy, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Jack the Giant Killer, Wrath of the Titans, Men in Black III all underperform (probably, or possibly. It’s all hypothetical) — well, you’ll still see them come out okay, because the really big guns are out for next year. You’ll see them once again convince themselves things are going okay, because of Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Twilight, Skyfall, The Hunger Games, Spider-Man (I just named more than half your top ten for next year already). But I’m telling you — these patches aren’t cure-alls. (Not even those rereleases you’re trotting out aren’t gong to do it. You can only mask leprosy so much.)

I really think we’re getting to the point where big changes are happening. Even if these franchises next year succeed — you can only put them out once every 2-3 years. You can only remove so much water from the boat with only one bucket. Is it gonna be enough to keep it afloat with the amount of holes that keep popping up?

That’s just my two cents.

So that’s what I’ve learned from 2011. I’ll also probably (just because this doesn’t feel like a real article) write up some sort of Oscar update to go up later today.

2 responses

  1. BlueFox94

    For 2006, u typed ‘CARS 2″.

    5 years ahead, just saying’ :)

    January 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm

  2. I also wrote “Revenge of the Fallen” on my Top Ten list this year. Actually kinda surprised I got away with that one for as long as I did.

    January 2, 2012 at 5:55 pm

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