Last weekend saw Kick-Ass underperform at the box office. Critical reviews of the movie have been great, but the public’s interest in the movie hasn’t drawn. Kick-Ass was one of this year’s most highly anticipated films so far, and hopes for its success were high. We are now about to enter the second third of the year, and so far no one film as emerged as a bona fide classic. So what is going on?
Of course, the term classic is difficult to define, and means different things to different people. It can be tied to the box office success of a movie. It can be attributed to the critical success of the movie. It may be better classed as the overwhelming public response to a film, which is very different in some cases to the critical performance of a movie. Many see a true classic as one that holds up in ten, twenty years time and beyond. Everyone has a different and equally valid opinion on this.
I think the definition really has to be some combination of al the above factors. Some of the most successful movies so far this year in respect of box office performance have received a critical mauling. Alice in Wonderland is the highest grosser so far this year, and it has received generally very average reviews, though the public response has been more favourable. Also a big hit at the box office was Clash of the Titans, but in this case the critical and public response was pretty unanimous – it has been almost universally panned. Are these the movies we’ll still be talking about in five years time? Of course not.
Some, like Kick-Ass, have received fantastic reviews across the board. The public reception has generally been pretty positive, though of course the number of viewers who have actually seen it is too low so far for it to be considered classic cinema, and there is a large percentage of cinema audiences who will never respond favourably to its over the top violence and ridiculous storyline.
The films that could have been good, that we were expecting great things from, have failed critically, and some also financially. Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island did pretty well at the box office, but has a very low aggregate review score considering the directors reputation. Paul Greengrass is well respected for films like United 93 and Bloody Sunday, and has enjoyed financial success with his Bourne entries, so expectation was high for his third collaboration with Matt Damon. Green Zone, however, received a very mixed reaction, its political views rubbing some people up the wrong way, and it didn’t even manage to make a profit.
Really, the only movie so far this year that has won out on all fronts has been How to Train Your Dragon. It started off slowly at the box office, but is looking good to break the $200M barrier within the next ten days. Aggregate scores have been very good, and public opinion has been pretty unanimous in its praise, with many movie-goers rewatching it multiple times. An animated film, the big success story of the year so far? It deserves it, and just follows the trend of animated work breaking through into genuine consideration.
So is the Hollywood product really just decreasing in quality? Last year was also considered to be a pretty weak year for quality film. I was watching Zombieland last night, one of last year’s surprise hits. I didn’t watch it last year, i didn’t find the time to go and see what was really just a small, knockabout movie with no huge cultural impact. If it had been released this month, however, it might possibly be considered the film of the year so far by many. Last year didn’t produce many classics, with only Avatar and Inglourious Basterds really meeting the criteria i laid down at the beginning of this article. So if the smaller movies of the previous twelve months are surpassing the best of this year so far, should we be starting to get worried?
Historically, of course, the bigger movies come towards the summer, and the critically appealing movies in the Autumn, so the best movies should still be to come. In fact, the first major contenders may even see the light in the next few weeks.
Gladiator, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe, made a lot of money at the box office, and holds a place in the top 100 films of all time based on the IMDb250 list. Both will hope they can recreate this success with the forthcoming Robin Hood. By the looks of the trailer, it is similar in tone, it has action by the bucket load and it is based on an enduring property. Crowe could never be considered a box office star, he makes too many smaller dramatic films for that. Scott does however have a reputation for making big budget movies, with compelling storylines, filled with great action set pieces and moments of suspense. Backed up by the option of 3D, Robin Hood will almost certainly do well at the box office, and if the story and plot hold up to the quality of some of Scott’s previous work, it could be the biggest movie of the year so far.
The first Iron Man was a surprise hit, making a lot more money than was expected. Why was it such a surprise? Mainly, because from a mainstream cinema point of view, Iron Man was pretty much unknown. Somewhat of a second tier Marvel character anyway, with no previous Iron Man outings on the big screen, he was as far removed from the public consciousness as you can get. Add to this the Robert Downey Jr factor. It’s easy to forget now, but before Iron Man Downey was best known for jail time, a shattered career and a personal life filled with demons. To cast him in a big budget, family action movie was a big gamble. Director Jon Favreau was also a bit of a gamble. He hadn’t directed this kind of movie before, though did have special effects experience from Zathura. Why did Iron Man do so well? It was a well constructed, expensive looking action picture. The trailers showed impressive special effects and the charisma, screen presence and comedy timing of its star shone through. Reviews were good, and word of mouth spread quickly from those who had seen it.
Both these pictures have the potential to become a classic, in every sense of the word. Other forthcoming titles, from Nolan’s Inception to Fincher’s The Social Network have the potential to be huge too. I think when 2011 rolls around, we’ll be able to look back upon a year filled with some great movies. It has been a cinematically uninspiring year so far, but the best is yet to come, and now is the time to be really excited about Friday nights at the movies.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/baz_mann