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David Poland

By David Poland

Box Office Year & Originality

I don’t understand what Brooks Barnes smokes before writing up his pieces on the film industry. Today’s bit of absurdity is about how a wave of originality is taking over Hollywood because of this year’s box office.

My sides are hurting from laughing.

I’ll keep the response simple.

There were twenty-two $250 million worldwide grossers in 2010 (counting Tangled, which is just short of the figure and will be there this week).

Ten of them were sequels or direct remakes.
Three of the “originals” were children’s cartoons.
One was based on a videogame. One was based on a children’s TV series. One is an standard-issue Adam Sandler comedy. One is an action movie based quite overtly on the premise of going to the movie to watch a parade of action stars from the last 3 decades, including Governor Schwarzenegger. Robin Hood was a new version of a classic story.

We’re up to 18 of 22. What’s left?

Knight & Day, explicitly noted as the movie Hollywood won’t be making anymore.
Salt, a terrific return to Angelina Jolie kicking ass… a three-times successful franchise.
Shutter Island, a truly terrific, original piece by Scorsese.
Inception, a hat tip to The Nolans doing more Batmans that ended up being a huge (and expensive) success.

How many of these Top 22 grossers have rankings of 80% or better on Rotten Tomatoes? 3.

How many 70% – 80%? Another 2.

The cut-off for Rotten is 60%.

And don’t get me started on the complete lack of (recent) historical perspective when it comes to such claims that hiring “edgy” directors to do seemingly mainstream properties is a new phenomenon. This is an article that calls out Chris Nolan for originality. Has anyone at the Times heard of Bryan Singer?

If Disney’s model for success is Burton doing Alice, great… just make sure the combination of the director and the classic, completely familiar source material make people go, “Of course,” when they hear the combination. I love Guillermo del Toro, but only a small percentage of the audience knows him by name or is clamoring for a Haunted Mansion movie. (I’m sure it will be great and the marketing will, as it must, sell it.)

Sony bet on Sam Raimi for the first Spider-Man film. Great choice. And I hope Webb is one too. But the Spider-Man movies remain Raimi’s only $100m worldwide grossers in his career. (500) Days of Summer did a terrific $33 million… terrific for what it is. A blind monkey with all the movie channels on his satellite could open the next Spider-Man to $100 million. The success of the franchise will not prove the value of an edge director. Marc Foster made the worst Bond movie in many years… but it still beat Casino Royale domestically (not worldwide), made by second-time Bond director Martin Campbell. I am rooting for Webb. I LOVE Andrew Garfield for this job. Tobey Maguire is one of the great characters actors of his generation. Garfield is heading that way and can be a bigger movie star than Tobey is ever likely to be. He’s got that gear. Great! But it proves little.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller are great guys and Cloudy was absurdly brilliant… but the “daring choice” is to remake a 80s TV show. Wow. Edgy. (Don’t even get me started on Sony dumping Soderbergh on Moneyball… though I am very much looking forward to Bennett Miller’s version of the project.)

“Animation is not as infallible as it has been.” A record FOUR animated $200 million domestic grossers in one year… doubling the previous top of two. Huh?

The audience most certainly has NOT pushed back. The “rejected” Tom Cruise and Sex and the City 2, each to the tune of over $250 million worldwide. Julia Roberts was rejected to the tune of $203 million. Nice rejection. Disappointing vs expectations? Absolutely. But a little sane perspective please.

Whipping Boy The A-Team grossed $15 million less than The Social Network. It also cost more. But again, perspective. Paranormal Activity 2, Jackass 3D, and The Other Guys are all modestly reviewed retreads that will be more profitable than The Social Network.

God bless The Social Network. Huzzah. Really. But you can’t take the odd man and try to claim it’s a trend. That goes for Inception as well, a movie that could have been delivered by ONE filmmaker and only one… from his (and his brother’s) mind… and it would never have been greenlit ANYWHERE if it weren’t for the success of The Dark Knight. The success of Batman Begins would not have gotten that film greenlit. Great… but not a standard that any studio can work under.

I am all for originality. It is my belief that the biggest successes come out of the unexpected. Twilight was dumped by Paramount. Slumdog MIllionaire dumped by Warner Bros. Fox sold off 60% of Avatar with less than a year to go before release. Due Date and Shutter Island are great examples of films that were not expected to do as well on paper… any by the way, were director and star driven. There are plenty of good stories.

I love Pixar… very original… yet, a franchise with a history of quality that people follow closely. DWA is out there working it too.

But let’s not delude ourselves. The only original thing about Alice in Wonderland was Burton’s visuals… and they were, in many ways, expected and anticipated, which made the film such a massive hit. But not a great film. Iron Man 2 is a terrible film. The Twilight series is famously horrible (except to the obsessed fans, 50 million strong). Clash of the Titans? Prince of Persia? Resident Evil: Afterlife, the fourth in the series? The horror… the horror…

You know what’s original? Making the right choices and having it all work out. The Karate Kid… fifth in the franchise… but from that first trailer, you knew they made the right choices… the kid is great… Jackie Chan as an old guy… make it international so the alienation is real and not just teen angst… all great choices. Is it the best movie of the year? No. But it really, really works for its audience.

And the same is true of The Social Network, which is pretty much a perfect film within the boundaries of the script Aaron Sorkin wrote. And yeah, $192 million is great for a straight drama. It’s not the best gross in that niche this year. And the film that did better for Sony but got killed as a disappointment? Eat Pray Love… a bad movie that did really strong business worldwide… but still not seen as enough.

Trend. Stories. Suck.

(Edit, 12/27, 1:27p – There were four previous Karate Kid films, not three.)

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35 Responses to “Box Office Year & Originality”

  1. PastePotPete says:

    Christopher Nolan was the sole writer on Inception. And incidentally, Inception was a far better return on investment than the other DiCaprio film, Shutter Island. But I guess that gets a pass because you liked it more?

    If you’re going to write a piece trashing another writer for writing junk articles, you should at least try to not get your facts wrong and certainly try and keep your own prejudices at bay… otherwise your point kind of becomes lost.

  2. IOv3 says:

    Triple P: I got pissed at his Inception slam until I scrolled down a bit and caught his intention. He’s making a good point that Inception is an original film but it does not exist without TDK, and you just cannot base a model around how Inception was made.


  3. Joe Leydon says:

    Isn’t the new Karate Kid actually the fifth, not the fourth, in the franchise?

  4. IOv3 says:


  5. Matthew says:

    That article is like what I would write if someone told me to take a collection of random press releases about a variety of subjects and somehow make it into an opinion piece.

  6. anghus says:

    problems with this article.

    I don’t know who Marc Foster is. I know who Marc Forster is. I don’t know how Forster and Campbell work into the Spiderman/Webb thing. Are you referring to Green Lantern as another franchise? That paragraph needs a lot more sentences to have any shot at making sense.

    Why do you keep referring to Inception as ‘expensive’. If a movie is expensive and you make all it’s money back, who cares? Why is that still a tag you have to place on the film? You’ve been going on forever on this subject, and you always claim as if you have no ill will towards the movie. And yet, every time you bring it up you find a way to put an asterisk on it.

    You say the only original thing about Alice in Wonderland is the visuals. But didn’t they do a revisionist sequel of sorts to the original story?

    And yes Joe, it’s the fifth film. Apparently the Hillary Swank one didn’t count.

    I suppose this proves the theory: There are 2 things you should never do while angry

    1. Call an ‘ex’
    2. Write a response piece

  7. matt says:

    “Shutter Island, a truly terrific, original piece by Scorsese.”

    Good joke.

  8. Anghus says:

    I liked shutter island a lot. It wasnt a masterpiece but was a great little piece of creepy cinema.

  9. Reposted from elsewhere, but relevant none the less:

    Barnes misses an obvious issue (shocker, I know). Had any of the films he mentions cost what they damn-well should have cost, they would have been break-even and/or token profit makers. Had Little Fockers, Sex and the City 2 and The Tourist cost $60 million, had Wolfman and A-Team cost $70 million, had Killers cost $40 million, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The problem is that everything cost around $100-$150 million, so everything, even little star vehicles like The Tourist, need to do blockbuster numbers to break even. That’s long-form suicide. Studios need to realize that tentpoles are supposed to be a few big pictures that ‘hold up the tent’ for the rest of the production slate. When every film is a tent pole, then the big hits merely soften the crash landing of the big flops, and no one makes money in the long run.

  10. cadavra says:

    Exactly. Even since CLEOPATRA, the studios yammer about controlling costs, and then having patted themselves on their backs, resume their free-spending ways. Whether or not a film is “expensive” boils down to one question: Is the money on the screen? INCEPTION, yes. HOW DO YOU KNOW, not so much.

  11. Geoff says:

    Right on about Inception having the money on the screen and I don’t get either why David keeps harping on about how expensive the movie is – it cost $180 million (higher-end estimate) and made over $800 million worldwide. How did they overspend (top-flight cast, top flight effects, extensive sets and locations), exactly? And was there money left on the table at box office?

    It’s a success without any qualifications – honestly, couldn’t you even say that Warners probably made almost as much profit on this as most of the Harry Potter movies??? They generally cost over $250 million a pop and gross between $850 million and $950 million worldwide.

    You can say that sure, this MIGHT be an aberration, but honestly…..this film’s influence will have legs. We have to think that Warners is now clamoring for sequels, heady thrillers like Source Code are going to get much more confident marketing pushes, and wow….a major star like DiCaprio now has his established movie star persona/niche all set.

    Like Cruise had the cocky up-and-coming hot shot in need of guidance or Bullock had the clumsy/endearing girl next door, DiCaprio has now mastered the widowed tormented crime specialist looking for redemption.

    What a year for DiCaprio – how is he not in the running for an Oscar nod? As written, his roles in Shutter Island and Inception could not have been pulled off easily by just any one.

  12. David Poland says:

    Pete… what the hell are you on about? Who said Shutter Island was more profitable than Inception? The reason Shutter’s finances were not a piece of my commentary is that they were not held up by Barnes as a key example of The New Thinking. Please lower the paranoia meter.

    The reason I keep “harping on” about Inception’s cost is that, a) completely relevant to this particular discussion, b) not a template for ongoing originality in movies.

    And starting with PPP, I have to say, you guys are the ones who can’t get over the facts and have a conversation that somehow is about something other than how much you liked the movie or think I am not being fair. The issue is NOT whether Inception was a success!!!

    If you read what I wrote, I simply pointed out the fact that a $200 million movie that is as unusual as Inception could not have been made at anything close to that price were other business with Nolan not on the table. It’s not a slam on Inception or Nolan or profitability.

    Using Inception as an example of original movies and how they can work in The System is like claiming Ice-T can be the next president because Obama was elected.

    And note… I didn’t bring Inception up. Mr Barnes did.

    This is not a year ender in which I lauded every high grosser and then stuck it to Inception on cost. Toy Story 3, Alice, Potter, Iron Msn 2, and Prince of Persia all seem to be more expensive than Inception. So what? Different issues were brought up with each film in the context of THIS conversation, not some old rage you boys want to have over me not sucking hard enough on Inception’s teet.

    Anghus… sorry you had a rough Christmas. Please use the Bond franchise as a comparison to the Spider-Man franchise. It’s not that complicated.

  13. Krillian says:

    I’d like to see Nate Silver write a box-office trend piece, see what he comes up with.

  14. IOv3 says:

    David, I saw where you were coming from man. No love man? Damn, man. Damn.

    You also have to realize that you still, rather you intend to or not, come across as a man with ulterior motives whenever you discuss certain films and this makes many of us question the fairness of your box office critiques.

    If you want us to stop playing favorites. You really need to stop playing favorites. It all starts at the top, man!

  15. christian says:

    “not a template for ongoing originality in movies.”

    You have been pretending that INCEPTION was not a hit nor a sign of originality when the facts are just plain otherwise.

    Otherwise, carry on.

  16. chris says:

    To me, the most important piece of the cost-benefit analysis on “Inception” is that it bought WB the continued loyalty of Nolan, who does not need to make another (enormously profitable, inevitably) “Batman,” but who is now doing just that. They could have lost money on “Inception” (and they’ll probably claim that they will lose money on it, anyway) and it still would have been more than worth it. Oh, and WB also got a great, prestigious movie out of it.

  17. David Poland says:

    Christian… you got it exactly right… that is exactly an ass backwards take on what I said, coming by taking it completely out of the context of the conversation.

    If that is what you choose to believe – and it’s so on-the-nose wrong, perhaps I you were saying it ironically – you just aren’t reading carefully. I have NEVER said that the film was not original. And once it became a hit, I have never accorded it anything less than the respect it earned on a business level.

    And IO.. yes, thanks for actually reading what I wrote. But the “favorites” thing is, in most cases, a projection. Sorry, but it DOES matter what I intend. And unless I am going to shut myself away, write as though everything I publish is The Bible, and not take any chances of people, as Christian just did, taking me completely out of context to try to make his point, which is not my point, I can’t control the willing manipulation of what I am quite clear about – my thoughts – by people who would wish to put words in my mouth every time they think they have the chance.

    It’s very, very frustrating when I’m as verbose and open as I am here to then have to contend with people who just want to tell me what I really think. Fuck that. For all of my disgust at certain people and outlets, I attack the content of the articles, not the people. People love to turn everything personal. But it’s not. And you’ve never seen me attack anyone for a minor factual error like how many Karate Kid sequels there have been. Yeah, places with fact checkers shouldn’t mess those up. I have no excuse for messing them up either. But it’s not a real issue. It’s just a way to derail the conversation without actually making a serious argument about anything. Cheap and lazy. (And I don’t mean Joe for pointing out the error… though it would have been nice for him to actually add something constructive as well.)

  18. IOv3 says:

    David, I would imagine that it’s frustrating, sort of like everyone giving you shit because you apparently cannot accept someone else’s opinion, but yeah totally frustrating. However, David, there is too much evidence against the point of the above post.

    If you are not getting snotty about a movie you do not like, you are giving a film like Inception shit for months now about it’s COST, and totally ignoring it made 800 million plus at the box office. Seriously man, you spent 2008 trying to prove each week why TDK is not a phenom, why it was not as profitable as Mamma fucking Mia, and then you kept going on about freaking Hancock being better than TDK! Seriously, we know you pretty well and know when you are on the warpath.

    Now, if you are stating that all of us are misinterpreting you, then I apologize for not appreciating the intent of your verbosity. Still, when you go on about Inception as you do, it makes us think, and wonder if there are ulterior motives to your analysis of said film.

    Oh yeah, Karate Kid III and Swank Karate Kid suck. That’s why no one brings them up.

  19. LexG says:


  20. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Okay folks, think of it like this:

    You walk into the offices at WB, sit down in front of an exec and say, “I’ve got this great idea for a movie. It’s completely original, has no existing audience base, no corporate partnerships, limited opportunities for ancillary revenue streams, no characters that would make for good Happy Meal toys, skews away from the lucrative youth market, and is extremely cerebral and dialogue heavy so audiences are going to have to fucking pay attention. Oh yeah, and it’s going to have a $200mil production budget.”

    If your surname is not Nolan, how many seconds do you think it’ll take before security comes to escort you off the lot?

    Now change the budget to $40million. Can you imagine a different response?

  21. RedTeaBurns says:

    Geoff, most Potter films generally cost between 100 million-150 million, not over $250 million.To date only two of the six Potter Films release, Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, have had production budgets of more than 200 million.

  22. hcat says:

    Barnes had the future trend right in the middle of the article and couldn’t see it. Kids, Kids, Kids. Being generous seven of the top ten domestic films are kid movies (not counting Iron Man and Twilight, and the cases could easily made to include them). Leaving Inception the only huge adult blockbuster. Sure, family movies have done well in the past two decades but they have never dominated to this extent before. And far from leaving the middlebrow as Barnes seems to think these future efforts by Toro, Fincher, Farv etc… will do, Live Action Disney has never aspired to more than “fun” for the middlebrow audience. Disney is incapable of making the next Inception, or Raiders, or Lord of the Rings and these huge paydays is going to take serious talent away from the pool and keep the next Inception even farther in the future.

  23. anghus says:

    so im reading and they have an article about a stuntman injured on the set of Hangover 2. Here is a snippet:

    ” Australian newspapers have identified him as Queensland-raised Scott McLean, who in 2007 described himself as close to Australia’s top 10 stunt drivers and is now descibed(sic) as in a coma.”

    It read to me like this:

    “President John F Kennedy, who once described himself as a principled man of faith is now described as a bullet ridden pez dispenser.”

  24. movieman says:

    With all the chatter about Andrew Garfield playing Spider-Man, I’m surprised that nobody has commented on Garfield’s remarkable similarity to Jim Sturgess. I just watched “The Way Back,” and was reminded of the fact that I probably couldn’t tell these two (fine) young British actors apart if they passed me on the street.
    Garfield’s swell in “Social Network,” but he’s even stronger in a film that too few people saw (“Never Let Me Go”). I think that his “So-Net” Oscar buzz is perhaps attributable to the fact that he plays the film’s only genuinely likable/sympathetic character. Sturgess’ “Back” (lead) perf is actually more impressive than either of Garfield’s 2010 (supporting) turns. But since he’s not playing Spider-Man, nobody seems to care. Oh, well. Maybe Sturgess will finally get his due starring opposite Anne Hathaway in Lone Scherfig’s “One Day” next year…a movie that I’m personally a helluva lot more interested in seeing than Webb’s (yawn) Spidey reboot.

  25. Joe Leydon says:

    Geez Louise, David. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. It’s just that, at 2:55 am my time, I was wondering whether my memory was playing tricks on me.

  26. David Poland says:

    As I noted, it wasn’t about you, Joe.

  27. Joe Leydon says:

    But you have to remember: At my age, you’re very sensitive to any sign of incipient Alzheimer’s.

  28. Krillian says:

    Wasn’t 21 supposed to be Sturgess’s breakout role?

  29. Joe Leydon says:

    Testing, testing.

  30. Joe Leydon says:

    OK, I have tried to send this twice already — maybe the third time will be the charm.

    Movieman: Have you seen Jim Sturgess in Heartless? It’s available as VOD right now. I know it got, at best, mixed reviews. But Sturgess is pretty damn good in it.

  31. chris says:

    … and Garfield, despite being fine in “Social Network” and great in “Never Let Me Go,” did his best work this year in “Red Riding.”

  32. movieman says:

    Yeah, Garfield was very good in the “RR” trilogy, Chris.
    I wasn’t dissing him (“two fine young British actors), only commenting on his remarkable similarity to Sturgess. I gotta believe that I’m not the only one who has trouble telling them apart.
    Haven’t seen “Heartless,” Joe. My local cable provider doesn’t offer the IFC channel (or any IFC v.o.d. titles). Dammit.

  33. chris says:

    Didn’t think you were, Movieman. I just thought it was worth noting his best work of the year (in a great film I wish more folks had seen).

  34. movieman says:

    Glad you reminded me about “RR,” Chris.
    Maybe it was because I saw it so long ago, but I somehow managed to leave it off my (10 best) runner’s-up list. Thanks to your memo I made a hasty last minute addition just in time to make Thursday’s paper.

  35. 3000ways says:

    In my opinion originality is totally overrated. Don’t get me wrong, it is refreshing to see original material, but seriously what is truly original? Every story can be linked to some other story in some way, even when the writer wasn’t even thinking about the compared story in the first place. I’ve written a couple of stories (which I thought were original) only to have some one tell me, “It kind of reminds me of…” Also the Media can talk all they want about Hollywood putting out more original or edgy material and people will continue to not watch them. I thought 2010 actually had more original (as original as it can get) movies than usual, and 2010 turned out to be one of the worst attended years since 1996. 2011 movie year is full of sequels, reboots and remakes and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if both attendance and gross smash 2010 and maybe even 2009. People say one thing and do another. If people really want more original material, then support (watch) more original like material.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon