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Screwed up Hollywood and Why It Won’t Get Better.

Don - January 10, 2006

I love movies. I hate seeing what’s going on in Hollywood. Here’s some interesting statistics and my personal take on why things are bad and getting worse.

If you love movies like I do then you would probably agree that there was a lot of bad movies this year.  It does appear that others agree: box office revenue was down 4.6%, and attendance was down 7.3%.  Obviously ticket prices were up which didn’t help enough to offset the decrease in attendance.  Hidden in this year’s statistics was the fact that there were 848 more screens. That makes the 7.3% decrease even more devastating.

Films by ratings: G (4%), PG (15%), PG-13 (39%), R (41%). So, 58% of the movies were rated PG-13 or better. Here’s the catch, 9 of the top 10 movies were rated PG-13 or better.  Only one movie "Wedding Crashers" (R rated) was in the top 10.  This consistantly happens.  The top grossing movies are PG-13 or better rated movies yet Hollywood continues to put out a disproportionate amount of R rated movies.

Of those top 10 movies 6 were remakes or sequels and 4 were original comedies. The next 20 top grossing movies actually generated 17% less box office than the same catagory for 2004.  I think that says a lot for the overall decline in quality product from Hollywood.

Theatrical ticket sales generate less than 15% of studio revenues.  Because of this the studios are talking of shortening the window between theatrical release and DVD sales.  This year we will find several tests where theatrical releases for the movie and DVD sales will be the same day.

One last point.  Theaters are now in the begining of a huge transition from 35mm film format to DVD projection.  Carmike is the first major chain to make a committment to change over all their screens to DVD projection. Advantage to the studios – tremendous – 35mm film costs approximately $1500 per print (multiply that by 3,500 screens that a new release opening day = $525,000, compared to $5,000 for DVD copies). Advantage to theater, DVD projection format allows easy pre-show advertising, allows possible satilite programing for special events, sports, concerts etc., format provides consistant quality in presentation – film scratches and deteriorates over time.

My take on all this – Hollywood doesn’t listen to the public, they continue to produce movies they want to produce instead of providing more of what the movie goers want. (Yes, there is a place for the "artsy-fartsy" stuff, documentaries and the like).  If Hollywood makes releases of new movies the same day in the theater and for DVD sales, they will kill the theater business.  The theater owners continue to raise ticket prices and snack-bar making it too expensive for regular theater attendance.  If they would lower their prices so you and a date could see a movie, have popcorn and sodas for less than $20 I think we’d see a change in the statistics…for the better.

I ramble….I wish Hollywood would produce more of what we want, at a price we could afford!


  1. It seems as though Hollywood is more interested in making money than they are in making well-written, quality films. It’s amazing that they didn’t realize the two were connected.

    Hollywood now goes for the kill with lame sequels and remakes because they know people will at least show up the first weekend. They also promote the stars more than the plots, I can’t tell you what “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is about, but I can tell you who is in it.

    There are also a lot more options now for youth to do. When I was young, my friends and I would go to the theatre and see whatever PG-13 movie was playing, whether it looked good or not. But now, video game sales dwarf that of hollywood’s. TV writing has also gotten remarkably better. I cannot remember a time when there were so many solid, well-written TV shows as there are now.

    Comment by Tim J. — January 10, 2006 @ 10:06 pm

  2. Your statistics for numbers of movies by ratings are interesting, but I wonder what they really mean. Casual observation suggests that low budget independent or “artsy” movies tend to be disproportionately R rated. I suspect that the percentage of the money spent to make and market movies that goes to PG-13 or “better” is substantially higher than the 58% you get by just counting movies. Do you have any information on this?

    Comment by ed — January 10, 2006 @ 10:19 pm

  3. There are a lot of crap movies out there, but there are literally hundreds of good/great movies.

    I think a major reason why Hollywood is “losing” money at the box office is because of crap theaters, with terrible service, outrageous prices for food, watch 15 min of commercials before a film, etc…

    While Hollywood “loses” money at the box office, DVD sales are continuing to grow. why? Because, the theater experience is more easily replicated at home, with sound systems, large screens, etc… with out all the crap theater stuff you have to go through just to see a decent movie.

    Comment by Dallas Robbins — January 10, 2006 @ 10:23 pm

  4. from Roger Ebert’s answer man column:

    December 25, 2005

    Q. If this was such a great year for movies, why are box-office receipts so far down from last year, even though admission prices are at an all-time high? Do you feel that there is such a growing disconnect between Hollywood and America that Hollywood had better wake up or face serious consequences?

    Cal Ford, Corsicana, Texas

    A: No, I don’t, because the “box-office slump” is an urban myth that has been tiresomely created by news media recycling one another. By mid-December, according to the Hollywood Reporter, receipts were down between 4 percent and 5 percent from 2004, a record year when the totals were boosted by Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which grossed $370 million. Many of those tickets were sold to people who rarely go to the movies. 2005 will eventually be the second or third best year in box-office history. Industry analyst David Poland at moviecitynews.com has been consistently right about this non-story.

    Comment by first time caller — January 10, 2006 @ 11:00 pm

  5. Don, I agree. And I do think that 2005 has been pretty bad compared to years past, in terms of quality. There are some good films this year, but not as many. And very few great films.

    I’m not entirely sure what to make of the continued R-movie phenomenon. One explanation is that many films aren’t trying to be blockbusters. Often, if producers know that a film has blockbuster potential, they’ll make sure it’s PG-13 or less. But I think most films are such that they realize that the film’s potential is much lower than that and are shooting for lower numbers. Crappy horror movies that are R, for example, I believe usually do better than crappy horror movies that are PG-13.

    Comment by Eric Russell — January 11, 2006 @ 12:42 am

  6. Michael Medved wrote a great book about this called ‘Hollywood VS America’. From what I remember about his points:

    Hollywood types really don’t care as much as we think about making money or pleasing the public. What they really want is to be thought of as artists. If the public likes you to much then you must not be an artist. And if what you have produced is not at least a little ‘disturbing’ then you are not an artist.

    Another point he makes is that the goal of many hollywood types is to ‘change the world’. Particularly with respect to moral and social issues. It is rare for me to see any movie or TV show which does not appear to be promoting some political/moral/social agenda. Sometmes this is subtle, aometimes not.

    To me these points and others make sense from what I observe.

    Comment by Eric — January 11, 2006 @ 8:30 am

  7. Are you sure about the DVD projection thing? I know they are going to digital projection, but I would guess that it would initially be hard drive based. The problem is that DVDs don’t have the resolution to be blown up to movie screen size. They would look horrible. They might be able to project blu-ray content or HD-DVD but a single normal DVD would look like crap.

    As far as the same day release goes, it is already here and it is called piracy. Studios want simultaneous release in order to minimize the impact of piracy. But even more important is the idea that they would only have to market the movie once. Instead of spending money to draw attention to the film twice, and once after everyone is tired of it, they would get a 2 for 1 deal. Market it once and sell it twice.

    Hollywood is going to make huge profits in the near future selling us content that we already own. Why did the original Star Wars trilogy come out on DVD last year? Because they wanted to cash in on selling it on that format before the next format comes around. Once people see the difference between DVD content and HD content they are going to start upgrading their libraries, paying repeatedly for the same movies.

    Comment by a random John — January 11, 2006 @ 11:47 am

  8. arj, you’re right regular DVD like the small disk home version does provide a crappy big screen presentation. The digital format the theater will be using is different. I’ve only seen the original attempts at the digital format a few years ago at the National Theater Owners Association’s convension. At that time there were three different competing projection formats. I’m not exactly sure which format the delivery and projection is taking.

    Since I’m in the “sub-run” theater business, we can’t afford to even look at the new equipment. They are talking of $20K – $30K per auditorium for the new digital stuff. We use $5K – $7K used 35mm equipment.

    Comment by don — January 11, 2006 @ 1:28 pm

  9. Don,

    While prices will come down as more theaters purchase digital projectors, will there be a market for second run movies after simultaneous release? I have noticed that some movies run at the dollar movies after they are released on DVD and I’ve always wondered if ticket sales go down after the DVD comes out.

    Also, if the big theaters all go digital in the next few years will there be a reason for studios to go to the expense of printing a film version just for smaller theaters?

    Comment by a random John — January 11, 2006 @ 1:32 pm

  10. Dallas has a good point. I think it’s problematic to use only theatre ticket sales to determine the success of films.

    Comment by Kim Siever — January 11, 2006 @ 2:20 pm

  11. While most of the biggest hits in history have been PG and PG-13, most of the biggest flops have been as well. The reason is pretty simple: these films, targeted mostly at teenagers, are the all-or-nothing homerun ball of the movie industry. Films like Syriana and Brokeback Mountain are much less risky investments with a much lower potential rate of return: they’re basically guaranteed to fall somewhere in the range of losing a tiny amount of money up to making a moderate profit. So it’s perfectly reasonable for studios to make or buy tons of these smaller, R-rated films for grown-ups as a counterbalance to the major risks involved in a few expensive PG and PG-13 teenager-oriented movies. It’s just portfolio diversification.

    But I agree completely that studios are utterly uninterested in the medium- to long-term health of the theaters. Given the rapidly rising quality of home-theater equipment and the fact that studios make a bigger profit on DVD sales than on movie tickets, this is probably unavoidable. But some theater owners only speed the process along by doing self-destructive things like dimming their projection bulbs or not hiring enough projectionists. (I’m sure nobody in this conversation would stoop to these devious tricks. But I have to gripe, nonetheless…)

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — January 11, 2006 @ 4:32 pm

  12. I think that Eric Russell makes a good point about many R-rated films going for the predictable modest profit rather than taking the risk to try for a blockbuster in the PG category.

    I posted a couple of links back in July to a Medved piece and a rebuttal piece on some of this subject.

    Comment by Bradley Ross — January 11, 2006 @ 10:25 pm

  13. I think Eric’s post hit the nail on the head. (Having lived in the “LA scene” for a bit, here’s my take.) “Hollywood,” especially execs and producers are a very small cliche of like-minded people. They DO see themselves as “artists” and really do think that they can change the world. They are 99% liberals and feed that into the way they make films, TV, etc.

    Take TV for a second. My husband’s favorites were “The Practice” and “Boston Legal.” Every single episode is an attack on conservative values. “It’s just a show,” my husband says. That’s what they want you to think, I say. Truth is they want you to watch those shows and hope it will sway your thinking. Scary.

    Another example: the way Hollywood is up in arms against family-editing companies such as CleanFlicks. They say that by taking out the language, sex, and violence that CleanFlicks is taking away the “artistic and creative rights of the creators.” (That’s a direct quote.) Forget the fact that they make money off of every film CleanFlicks edits and that thousands of people WANT to see the picture that way.

    Bottom line: Hollywood lost touch with mainstream American decades ago and are mainly out to promote their own views and interests.

    Comment by Anelie — January 11, 2006 @ 11:00 pm

  14. My lackof moviegoing has nothing to do with lack of values or crappy remakes (although I don’t usually see those). The theater experience is the reason I watch less movies now. Simple as that. Give me a theater that bans anyone under the age of 21, has reserved seating, and requires cell phones to be turned off, and I’m there every weekend. In other words, make it like my living room, but with a bigger screen, better sound, and a bag of Sugar Babies.

    Comment by jjohnsen — January 12, 2006 @ 10:07 am

  15. Uh, no offense to those under 21 in the post above, teenagers just happen to be the main offenders I’ve noticed of bad behavior in movies.

    Comment by jjohnsen — January 12, 2006 @ 10:08 am

  16. ARJ, ticket sales drop dramatically when DVDs come out. We almost always do not show movies after their DVD date. And no I don’t think the studios will produce 35mm film after the digital conversion is complete for the large chains. Our percentage to the studio wouldn’t even pay for the print copy in most cases. It will either force us to change or force us out of business.

    (dimiing bulbs…bulbs cost $600 and last approx. 2,000 hours. Diming usually happens at the end of the bulb life automatically because the bulb is “wearing out”. Extending the usuage can save money, but it does cause a poorer picture quality.)

    Hollywood does have a liberal agenda and it doesn’t match most of America, nor our church values.

    Comment by don — January 12, 2006 @ 1:30 pm

  17. jjohnsen,
    It’s funny you say that. I agree that i don’t like the rudeness of cellphones and overall bad behavior, but one of the main things I like about going to a theatre for a movie is because I’m there as part of a larger audience. I love when a movie is full where you can hear everyone laugh out loud, applause, scream, cry, etc. It makes the movie that much more entertaining. (one reason I hate these smaller auditoreums nowadays)
    The best movie I ever watched in the theatre was in a 790 seat one screener that was sold out for the old 50s 3-D “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Everyone reacted to everything. Everyone reacted to the 3-d effect, booed when the creature appeared, cheered when he was defeated and even whistled when the hot girl appeared! Those were the days…
    As for Hollywood, I totally agree with the whole “artist” argument. It’s so true. The problem is that they really are (to a degree) changing the world!

    Comment by Bret — January 12, 2006 @ 3:58 pm

  18. Bret point Bret. But my concern with the audience isn’t the types of participation you mention, those are fun. But when the someone in the audience is giving a play-by-play to their cell phone I wish I was sitting on my couch at home.

    Comment by jjohnsen — January 12, 2006 @ 7:42 pm

  19. Moviegoing in theaters… is on its way out — it’s only a matter of time. Very soon, movies will released simultaneously 3 ways, to the theater, to cable, and to HighDef home disks. And soon after that, the theaters will be dropped out of the equation, except for a very few “roadshow” presentations in big cities.

    And in case anybody thinks we’re living at a time when movies are more popular than ever, think again: movies gross more now because of the price, but the very biggest year for ticket sales was 1948, before television got a hold of most viewers.

    Comment by D. Fletcher — January 12, 2006 @ 11:08 pm

  20. jjohnson,
    Yeah. I agree with you there. Of course it can help to pick a different theatre and/or time of day that can help weed some of those out. But there is something to say for a relaxing movie at home, no doubt about that.

    Comment by Bret — January 13, 2006 @ 4:43 pm

  21. Truly Great movies to come out this year:
    Lord of War
    The Constant Gardner
    Good night and good luck
    Batman Begins (such a fresh take on the batman character with great acting, direction, and photography dont lump this in a remake category and speaking of remakes…)
    Charlie adn the Choclate factory – one of hollywoods best directors and best actor (should win some sort of award for Fear and lothing in lv) this version blows the old out of the water.
    Munich (way surprised by this one, but despite one random and cheesy ‘climax’ scene…was excellent)

    So, there were good movies this year. lots of them. Some of the best of seen with some of the best photography I’ve ever seen. They werent all rated R either (though Im sure some of them would have been rated to your liking somewhere else…you should just go to the cinema in Norway and you’ll be fine). Most of the good movies are indie and you wont see tv spots for them. so dont use that for you guide.

    I for one, and…everyone I know (in the age group that spends all its money on entertainment…18-30) went and saw loads of movies in the theater. And we illegally downloaded them. And we bought the dvd. And we bought the xbox game. And we downloaded the xbox game. So…maybe they aren’t so out of touch as you think but maybe…the 35-50 crowd just isn’t who they are making movies for? Just a thought….

    Comment by ArtsyFartsy — January 19, 2006 @ 10:46 pm

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