Year after year I continue to be stunned by the near omnipotence of familiarity when it comes to ticket purchasing. With so much media noise about "what's good" in the form of blogs, reviews, articles, and whatnot, it's still nearly always marketing dollars and pre-established "names" that determine what people spend their money on. Even when people didn't like one movie in a franchise, they'll go again. I've previously referred to this as The Blockbuster Loop.
Actual conversation overheard in an elevator last weekend:
Movieless Woman: What's that?The conversation continued briefly after this. "Movieless" had not heard of Prince of Persia (or Jakey apparently). So "Bootleg" turned to me (!), the complete stranger eavesdropping, for backup. "It's good, right???"
Bootleg Loving Woman: [Holding a bootleg DVD of Prince of Persia] It's good.
Movieless: [Pointing at Jake Gyllenhaal] Who's that?
Bootleg: The Prince! It's good.
Movieless: You watched it already?
Bootleg: No, we watching it tonight. It's good.
Movieless: How do you know?
Bootleg: [exasperated] I heard of it.
Movieless: [pause] I wanna see that Robin Hood.
Reader, I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders, feigning ignorance. That's what's called a leading question and I don't think she was looking for critical discourse.
What struck me most about the conversation was the equation of "heard of" = "good." Even Movieless, deprived all of these years of Jake Gyllenhaal, confirmed this. Hadn't heard of equalled skeptical. She wanted to see Robin Hood; "Heard of" = "Good". Everyone has heard of Robin Hood. Therefore Good. That's how it works. Honestly, have you ever met anyone who loves that movie? How did it do so well? It wasn't word of mouth. It was the 'I heard of it' [sic] factor.
Top Ten of 2010 Thus Far
- Alice in Wonderland [heard of it x all living things + Johnny Depp]
- Iron Man 2 [heard of it x everyone who was conscious during Summer 2008]
- How to Train Your Dragon
- Shrek Forever After [heard of it x past nine years]
- Clash of the Titans [remake + 3D fad + hey, it's jakesully]
- Shutter Island [heard of x Leonardo DiCaprio + hit book]
- Valentine's Day [heard of x at least a few of the cast members]
- Date Night [heard of x two mega small screen stars]
- The Book of Eli [heard of x Denzel Washington]
- Robin Hood [heard of it x all living things + Russell Crowe]
Some established brands, sequels, adaptations. B.O. rank for 2010 thus far
Once you fall a little further in the box office race, the familiarity begins to fade... a little, with more titles that aren't completely reliant on instant familiarity. But it's still an important factor. Consider the success of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (While it's only earned $7 million here in the States, that's a huge fortune in the current climate for subtitled features where films are lucky to hit the million dollar mark. That's three times what Let The Right One In earned in its US run and that film seemed like a Word of Mouth sensation. It would have easily hit 8 figures a decade ago when audiences were so much more willing to see foreign films). The Girl... is of course based on an international best seller. It's hard to go a day on the subway without seeing someone reading it. Heard of it!
If I were a young filmmaker with a truly original voice, I'd be sorely tempted to "reinterpret" some famous story or adapt a minor success book. Perhaps pre-established familiarity with an original spin is the best way to maintain your creativity and get noticed?