Sunday, March 25, 2012

What does the success of "The Hunger Games" mean for Hollywood?

The first four months of the year are typically not viewed as great movie-going months, therefore the studios constantly release films in these few months that they funded but are not satisfied with, so they just wanna sweep these movies under the rug till Summer rolls around and their real product emerges. It tends to happen every year, and it's how we got Eddie Murphy's A Thousand Words this year. However, recent years have shown an uptick in box office numbers in the first four months of the year, to where now, with the success of movies like Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, The Vow, and The Hunger Games, can studios really write these months off as a dumping ground for less than stellar movies?

I for one love movies, and to be honest, there have been many years where I didn't see my first movie in theaters till May of that year, because there was nothing out till Summer that was above a sub-par quality. Looking back over movie history, there have been a few early year successes, such as The Silence of the Lambs or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but beyond the occasional genre movie that surprises and the kids' movies that tend to surface near spring break, there was nothing that most people felt that they had to see in theaters. However, in recent years there seems to have been an uptick in larger scale movies released in the first four months of the year. While people like Disney and other animation companies try to use these first four months as a breeding ground for spring break box office (i.e. The Lorax or Horton Hears a Who), and the other studios releasing a glut of romance movies around Valentine's Day (i.e. The Vow), it seems Hollywood is starting to take the first four months of the year more seriously.

Just last year, Fast Five did bang up business at the box office in April, a traditionally dead month, similar to a few years before when Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland did so well in March. The thing is, it used to be unheard of for movies with such large budgets to be released outside of Summer, but now the studios are releasing movies like John Carter and The Hunger Games in March rather than in the heat of the Summer, and after The Hunger Games' $155 million opening weekend gross (third best of all-time, by the way) capping off what has been one of the best first three months at the box office in probably my lifetime, things will certainly change in the future.

Never has a movie released in March been as successful as The Hunger Games. The movie is pulling in box office numbers that have only ever been seen during the Summer or Holiday movie season in Nov. and Dec. Though, as mentioned, this type of success seems to have been building up for years. It all sort of started with the month of March becoming such a hot ticket for studios to release kids' movies. Then there has been the success in recent years of mid-budget action flicks like Taken, like the hits from this year: The Grey and Safe House. Not to mention, these months have become a hot breeding ground for horror films and niche movies, like the found footage superhero movie Chronicle, which clearly went for that high school demographic and succeeded.

What I feel is happening is that the studios accidentally realized that people don't just want to see movies in the Summer or the Holidays, they'd like to have something to go and do on weekend nights every week of the year. The thing is, even if certain movies released this year haven't appealed to me, the studios seem to be striking a chord with the casual moviegoing audience right now and know what type of movies are trending. For instance, with the exceptions of Safe House with Denzel Washington and The Vow with Chaning Tatum and Rachel McAdams, none of the major movies at the box office this year were star vehicles. Chronicle had no names in it, nor did Act of Valor or even The Hunger Games. While the stars of The Hunger Games have done other work, and have been recognized critically for it, like Jennifer Lawrence's Oscar nod for Winter's Bone, she has never been the star of a large studio produced motion picture, having only played a supporting part in X-Men: First Class before her leading role as Katniss in The Hunger Games. Perhaps audiences are tired of stars, but there and again I think it is simply that audiences want to be entertained and these movies are doing that.

So what does this mean for the future? Well, I personally feel that the studios will finally find validation that these early months are worth the release of top tier productions and not just filler. They're going to want to deliver more Hunger Games and less A Thousand Words. They've realized that they can release large scale movies in these early months and not just find critical success doing it, but huge money as well. Maybe I am being optimistic, but the way Hollywood works, is if one type of movie comes out and does bang up business at the box office, then in the following years the studios will release a movie in the same genre in the same timeframe to try and recreate the former's success. While The Hunger Games is a phenomenon that has been growing in popularity for years now, just next year the first film adaptation of the sci-fi kid's classic, Ender's Game will be hitting theaters at a similar point in March next year.

As a fan of movies, I only see this as a good thing. I want to see good movies year round, I want to see big Hollywood blockbusters not just in the Summer, but in January, February, March, and April, as well (heck, even September and October). The Summer and Holiday months are typically so bloated anyways with big scale productions, perhaps if the studios stagger the release of big movies better, like releasing a blockbuster in mid-March rather than in Summer, like they did with The Hunger Games, then these pricey epics maybe wont be lost in the shuffle and less flops will be on their hands because audiences no longer have to pick and choose which $200 million movie they want to see on a given weekend. Right now, The Hunger Games is really the only good choice if you're going to the theater, which is why it made $155 million.

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