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July 08, 2013


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At least you bothered to shave.


I think that most people, when they consider whether or not they're going to see a movie, especially a summer blockbuster, especially one that's not a sequel, don't make the decision so much based on the genre or the stars as whether or not they have a reasonable expectation they will enjoy it; i.e. word-of-mouth. I, too, remember when Pirates of the Caribbean came out. People didn't like pirate movies. People especially didn't like movies based on Disney theme park rides. But despite how bad it sounded, the movie was entertaining and people talked. Same thing with Star Wars. And Iron Man. And countless others.

So I don't think "people don't like westerns anymore" or "people are sick of Johnny Depp's schtick" has much, if anything to do with it. It's more that people don't like blockbuster westerns that suck and they base whether or not they think it's gonna suck on what they hear, mostly from people they know. And in these days of $13 tickets and not long to wait until it's out on DVD or some pay service, it's become quite a financial gamble for a lot of us -- or more pertinently, our kids -- to see a 2 and a half hour movie that we have reason to believe will suck, and possibly to an excruciating degree.

Josh Z

@mw. The problem with your theory is that opening weekend is make-or-break time for all of these blockbusters and wannabe blockbusters. They make the majority of their income in the first week. People have to decide whether or not to see a movie before word-of-mouth has time to spread. And given that nobody listens to critics anymore (apologies, Glenn, but that's the culture we live in these days), a movie's buzz is based on trailers and prior familiarity with the IP.

Pirates of the Carribbean and Iron Man had huge opening weekends. They didn't start small and grow over time. The days when that could happen are over.

This is how movies like Transformers 2 or Spider-Man 3, which seem to be almost universally hated by everyone who saw them, still managed to gross many hundreds of millions of dollars. That money poured in before the toxic word-of-mouth got out. By the time anyone told their friends how bad the movie was, it was too late. Their friends had already seen it too.

To your point, however, I agree that the failure of Lone Ranger doesn't have much to do with disliking Westerns or being sick of Johnny Depp. I'm sure that the next Pirates movie will gross another billion dollars, the same as the last 7 or 8 of those (however many there have been at this point). People just watched the trailers for Lone Ranger and thought it looked dumb.


Who would have guessed in 1968 that a movie based on the Disneyland ride The Pirates of the Caribbean would make tons of money?
Um....Roman Polanski?


@ Josh Z, regarding Transformers 2 or Spiderman 3, I did include the caveat exempting sequels. Good points though, otherwise, and I considered them as I wrote. Subjectively, there are a lot of movies I, or more importantly , my kids and their friends want to see based on the pre-release publicity; but if they don't see it on opening day, they hear about it on Saturday morning and based on that decide if they're going to see it Saturday night or Sunday. I'd be curious to see a breakdown of opening weekends for Blockbusters. How do the days immediately following the opening go? And then of course there are some (cough cough Cowboys vs. Aliens) that just sound so stupid that no one cares. The kid's out of town for the summer so I'm a bit in the dark on The Lone Ranger. Maybe that demographic has no interest in westerns and Johnny Depp has become some boring old guy they liked when they were stupid little kids. but have definitely outgrown? What do I know? Not much, imho.

Peter Labuza



"Django Unchained" was a hit. So was the "True Grit" remake a few years ago. It's not that people don't want to see Westerns. They don't want to see Westerns that don't look interesting.

Glenn Kenny

Under different circumstances I'd say "point taken" to George and leave it at that. But I don't agree, at all, and if the mass market did not want to see ANY genre films that "don't look interesting" we would have far better blockbusters out there. "Django Unchained" wasn't sold as a Western: it was sold as a freed-slave-revenge movie. And "True Grit" was sold as a Coen Brothers picture, and it turned out to be one of those Coen Brothers' pictures that stuck around a long time and got a grip on the public imagination—it was a hit because it grew into one. They were Westerns people arguably saw IN SPITE of being Westerns, is my assessment.


Nice discussion, Glenn. I daresay you're really getting the hang of this TV thing.

As for the theories, I hold with those who say that word-of-mouth still matters. Certainly trailers and marketing play into it, but especially in the blitzkrieg world social media, opinions matter, and they travel very quickly. There is always a significant drop-off from the first to the second weekend, and so on down the line, but the really big successes, the ones that the studios insanely expect to achieve every time out of the gate, have really long tails. That's how you cross the billion-dollar mark. The reason the first weekend matters so much is that that's when the biggest audience concentrations are, and that's when they have the chance to capture, for a few fleeting moments, the popular imagination.


Glenn Kenny said: "They were Westerns people arguably saw IN SPITE of being Westerns, is my assessment."

I'll go along with that. Maybe a Western today needs a quirky auteur, like Tarantino or the Coens, to draw an audience.



BTW, Glenn, looks like you've slimmed down from a few years back.


Funny thing is, people who are going to RANGER seem to like it very much and are posting as such on the 'net. It will never recover from its dismal opening, but it may hang around longer than initially thought.

And yes, I loved it. So sue me.


Josh Z (and anyone else):

I've always been curious: from a business standpoint, why does a movie have to be biggest on its opening weekend? Is it because they get a higher percentage of theaters' ticket sales then? They get booked on the most screens then? I always thought that focusing solely on one weekend of release, and then forgetting about the movie in favor of next weekend's big opening, was a weird self-imposed handicap that studio marketers put on themselves. On the other hand, they're not idiots, so there's probably a good explanation.

Josh Z

@Joel. Yes, those factors play into it, but I think the biggest reason is simply our culture's terrible ADD. After opening weekend, audiences forget all about a movie and move onto the next shiny thing that catches their eye. By the time they remember about that movie they kind of wanted to see a few weeks earlier, it's already on DVD, Blu-ray and digital streaming for them to watch at home or on their iPad.

Jeff McMahon

Of course, that cultural ADD is part of a self-reinforcing feedback loop in which the studios are breathlessly marketing their movies for that opening weekend and then abandon them once they flop (After Earth has been out for six weeks and already it's virtually impossible to find a screening in southern California.)


Now that I think of it, "Django Unchained" and "True Grit" weren't Westerns as much as they were "Southerns."

"Django" takes place mainly in Mississippi and Tennessee, while "True Grit" is set in Arkansas, with an epilogue in Memphis. The Old South seems to have replaced the Old West as the site for popular shoot-em-ups.



Crybabies Depp, Bruckheimer and Hammer blame mean old critics for hurting Lone Ranger with unfair reviews.

Critic responds: "If film critics could destroy a movie, Michael Bay and Adam Sandler would be working at Starbucks."


Some of the desperate comments accompanying that delicious article..! Where's David Manning when you need him?

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