Sunday, March 8, 2015

"$uccessfu! Films": Billion-Dollar Babies

March 8, 2015

During the last quarter of the 20th Century, it was every few years that a particular movie would claim the title of "Most Popular Film of All-Time." From "Jaws" to "Star Wars" to "E.T." to "Jurassic Park" to "Titanic" and now to "Avatar," there have been significant moments in the history of filmmaking and filmgoing that were, in a way, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Nowadays, unfortunately, it seems like anything can be popular.
~Facebook post by B.e. Kerian (01/14/2015)

In the twelve years between James Cameron's voyage on the Titanic and his trip to Pandora, only three films (all of them sequels) have become billion-dollar hits in theaters. And all three were action/adventures--one based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, another on a Disney theme park ride, and one other on a comic-book icon.

Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings) readies for battle in The Return of the King (2003).
Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean) sets out to find the Dead Man's Chest (2006).
The Dark Knight roams Gotham City (2008).
Following the unprecedented success of Avatar, the number of films to gross over $1 billion has exponentially increased for the next three years.

2010:

Alice (Alice in Wonderland) and Woody & Company (Toy Story 3) are strangers in strange worlds.
2011:
Jack (Pirates) sets sail again, this time On Stranger Tides.
Shockwave (Transformers) unleashes destruction in Dark of the Moon.
The boy wizard dukes it out in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--Part II.
2012:
The Avengers suit up for the first time together.
Batman makes his final matches (for now) in The Dark Knight Rises.
James Bond (Skyfall) and Gollum (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) have missions of their own.
Thanks to its 3D re-release at the beginning of the year, Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace surpassed the same mark. And Titanic surpassed the $2 billion mark for the same reason, as well as the same 3D conversion. The same went for the IMAX 3D re-release of Jurassic Park in April the following year, cumulatively becoming the most successful film in the history of Universal Pictures.

2013:
Robert Downey Jr. suits up again in Iron Man 3.
Elsa works her magic in Frozen.
2014:
Optimus Prime (Transformers) looks heartless in Age of Extinction.
So what do we learn from all this? Is it that a movie has to be a big action/blow-'em-up extravaganza or an animated romp in order to be successful? Some would argue, yes.

But here's the thing. It used to be every few years that a certain movie would claim the title of "Most Popular of All-Time." And it seemed like a special time, as each movie created (and continues to create) memories for audiences around the world. Truth be told, what matters is not merely how many people go to see a movie (which continues to be a misconception among the norm nowadays), but how that movie impacts them over time, whether it holds up or not, and how it inspires and speaks to them, for better or worse.

Though 2014 was a disappointing year for movies in retrospect (and the only BIG moneymaker consisted of smashing CGI robots and Michael Bay action), 2015 looks to be a nostalgic and progressive one in terms of the opportunities today's filmmakers and storytellers have in breathing new life and significance to classics and to ongoing studios. Whether it's a galaxy George Lucas first took us to in 1977, a slice of childhood Charles Schultz first entertained and enlightened us with in the 1950s, or heroic adventures that Marvel illustrated in comic books in the 60s, it can, as James Earl Jones said in "Field of Dreams," "remind us of all that once was good, and could be again."

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