When many of the so-called “specialty” film units were shut down by the major studios a few years ago, we were told that the future belonged to the tentpoles, not to art movies.
But then how does that explain the box office results of several of this year’s Oscar nominees — movies like “The King’s Speech,” “Black Swan,” “The Social Network,” “The Fighter” or even “True Grit”?
One of these pics — “The Social Network” — has already passed $200 million worldwide on the dead run, and together these five films represent a potential take of well over $1 billion at the box office. And that’s before they mobilize their potential Oscar publicity after any wins.
I realize we’re going to get into arguments over definition,but by my book these are art pictures, not tentpoles. They’re not based on comicbooks or videogames, they’re not sequels and most were pasted together through complex co-financing schemes. And I am not including that anomaly titled “Inception,” a studio movie that clearly reflected an arthouse sensibility (and grossed $800 million worldwide).
So has something happened out there among filmgoers? Why would a talky movie about two middle-aged men like “The King’s Speech” be hurtling toward $200 million while on-the-nose commercial movies like “Gulliver’s Travels” or “The Dilemma” struggle for air?
Now, I realize that not all the art movies are hitting the sweet spot with audiences. “Winter’s Bone,” made on a budget of $2 million, will not be a worldwide hit — but it’s marshalled $10 million, which is remarkable unto itself. Last year’s Oscar winner, “The Hurt Locker,” never reached the $25 million mark worldwide — a vivid reminder that war is hell, even for film distributors.
So consider this: If there’s a billion-dollar market out there for art pictures, that might provide a good reason to reassess the audience and realign studio spending.