The Coen Brother’s Burn After Reading starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt is an awful movie that, despite being awful has been critically acclaimed (for the most part; my opinion notwithstanding). The budget for the picture was $37 million and as of this writing, has already grossed over $57 million during its theatrical release. The picture stands to make substantially more when (and if) it goes into wider theatrical release internationally and through ancillary exploitation on video and pay/free TV.
This disconnect of a mediocre film doing well at the box office got me thinking of my UK client Fred Hogge’s post on his blog cinelogic about how box office success builds audience interest regardless of the merits of a particular motion picture. With respect to the interest in the latest Batman sequel, Fred said:
The Dark Knight, just won big. Sure, it helps that they opened on over 4000 screens, but people are excited to see it. The reports coming back from those that have are overwhelmingly positive. So more people will go. And this is regardless of all the side-bar hype, largely focused on the late Heath Ledger, his death having, sadly, been turned into a marketing tool.
I responded that:
The general public follows weekend B.O. performance like a Wall Street stock index for one simple reason. People like horse races and the weekend box office is just that. This isn’t about quality pictures; it’s about “who’s winning now.” B.O. stats used to be restricted to Variety and other trade publications. Now they’re found in virtually every major news source around the world (at least those in countries that distribute motion pictures from the West).
To be sure, more people will buy tickets to a movie based on a horse race mentality because they “heard” the movie was good (just based on the initial B.O.). The fact that the horse race might be a fiction or, to be more charitable, of limited use as a barometer of [sic] quality picture is largely irrelevant to most of them.
There really is no accounting for taste. Which is why bad movies with “bankable” stars are easier to finance and distribute than high quality, material-driven pictures with little or no recognized talent attached. Indeed, that why Beverly Hills Chihuahua was – as Variety put it – “top dog at the box office” this weekend.
Then again, it might be really, really good despite the bad reviews. I’ll have to see it and get back to ya on that.