Thursday, August 12, 2004

Gross Negligence

You know, I haven't always been a proponent of Adjusted Gross lists over Actual Gross lists. As a young box-office tracker, I clung to the Actual gross in part because I enjoyed the inclusion of movies I'd actually seen, and in part because it allowed for some fluctuation in the Top Ten (before Titanic, the last movie to crack the Adjusted Top Ten was E.T.) I even defended it (to myself, since I didn't have a blog or anybody who cared back then), believing that the modern distribution patterns (defined by home video) as well as more competing entertainment media handicapped current releases in a way that balanced out inflation (in fact, I arugued - again, to myself - the rise of ticket prices themselves presents a hinderance to the potential blockbuster as fewere people are willing to risk ten bucks on a piece of entertainment than were willing to gamble a quarter on Gone With the Wind).

However, now that FOUR of the Top Ten domestic grossers of all time have been released in less than a year, I may have been converted. I might be dating myself here (and sounding like my grandmother), by I still remember a time when movies like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Beverly Hills Cop were in the Top Ten - and it wasn't that long ago, only about a decade. Back then, there were less than a hundred movies that had earned a hundred million dollars - at the time an important milestone, which for some reason has remained one in Hollywood, even as there are now over three hundred such movies and the average cost of producing and releasing a movie has inched closer and closer to that figure.

Now, I'm no economist - in fact, I can barely balance my own checkbook - but it seems to me that in the last seven years, ticket prices have been inflated at a rate much greater than the national rate of inflation, and much greater than the rate at which they had been inflated prior to 1997 (does anybody out there want to back me up on this with actual statistics?). I still have matinee ticket stubs from 1996 that cost me less than three dollars, and I seem to remember this being a fairly steady price for a while before that. Now, I consider eight bucks to be a bargain, and I've spent as much as fourteen bucks on a single ticket (without including parking or refreshments).

The point of all this is that movies that don't really rank, for me, among the classics or cultural phenomena are taking over the Top Ten. True, this perspective could be skewed by my age at the time of their release compared with my age at the time when those earlier blockbusters were released. And I very much enjoyed two of this year's entries in the Top Ten, thought one was pretty good and the fourth... well, let's not get into that now. Yet, I defy anyone to claim that they contain lines as quotable as those in Star Wars, E.T., Forrest Gump, Jaws, Batman, Raiders of the Lost Ark or Ghostbusters; or images as memorable as those in Titanic, Jurassic Park, The Lion King, Independence Day or Home Alone. I will give it to The Passion of the Christ though - it was the only one of the four that captured that feeling of being a true surprise phenomenon that accompanied so many of those earlier blockbusters.

It's also of note that all four of this past year's additions to the Top Ten were franchise pictures(Christianity being one of the world's biggest franchises ever). Looking back at the Actual blockbusters of yesteryear, many were originals, including the still-reigning holy trinity of Titanic, Star Wars and E.T. The Lion King (though part of the Disney animation franchise), Independence Day, Home Alone, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters and Beverly Hills Cop were all originals. And though some lump literary adaptations in with other franchise movies, being based on a novel hardly guarantees blockbuster status (unless that novel features Harry Potter). In this category would be Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump and Jaws, all original in their own rights.

Well, that concludes my old-fogey rant of the day. Now I'll get back to eating Metamucil and watching VH-1.


Blogger The Pop Culture Petri Dish said...

Oh, and the fact that The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement had a bigger opening Wednesday than Mission: Impossible, Godzilla and Back to the Future: Part II should also say something about how skewed ticket inflation has gotten. Either that, or it's a startling reflection of allowance and baby-sitting wages inflation.

August 12, 2004 7:53 PM  

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