When Martin Scorsese takes the time to write a critical piece on legitimating film culture disguised as a reflection on the language of cinema, not only do you read it, but you read it twice for good measure. That’s precisely what happened this past week, as Scorsese joined Steven Soderbergh to deliver the second, excellent “state of cinema” address of 2013. Scorsese’s prose is packed with an expected degree of passion, reverence, and Romanticism, such as when he lovingly calls cinema “the invocation of life…an ongoing dialogue with life,” and on that premise, he laments the decline of cinema associated with cinephilia, a lack of visual literacy being taught in schools, and the rise of box-office culture as “a kind of sport—and really, a form of judgment,” where “the cycles of popularity are down to a matter of hours, minutes, seconds, and the work that’s been created out of seriousness and real passion is lumped together with the work that hasn’t.”
To Scorsese’s claims I say: absolutely. Box office is indeed used as a form of judgment to determine what films audiences are interested in seeing. Thus, studios act accordingly and try to replicate success through like-minded projects with stars that have a proven pedigree. Nevertheless, the cinema, as a form of popular culture has, more or less, always been a democratic medium, contingent on viewers showing up in support. I think of Mario Van Peebles’s Baadasssss! when reading this argument; in that film, Van Peebles plays his father Melvin, whose new film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, is opening in a single Los Angeles theater. A dejected Melvin sits in the theater as no one fills the auditorium on opening night. Suddenly, the doors burst open, and people start flooding in. He’s elated because people want to see his film.
Box office necessarily has an ugly side in its capital-driven core—the side that, as Soderbergh spoke about in his address, keeps certain interesting films from being made or being made well. Yet when the “cycles of popularity” fade and a mega-budgeted film such as R.I.P.D. will likely have a lesser domestic total (roughly $38 million) than Soderbergh’s micro-budgeted Magic Mike made on opening weekend ($39 million), the death knell for cinema still seems at a distance. Or take Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, whose $102-thousand-per-theater average this past weekend marked the highest of Allen’s career. Does that make it his best film? Of course not, but it certainly speaks to the continued presence and interest in more personal filmmaking. Fear not, cinephiles: The independent pulse still pumps.
If these arguments are not convincing enough, here’s another: In one of the TV spots for 2 Guns, Mark Wahlberg’s character is interrogating a suspect. He says to him: “You look like a Mexican Albert Einstein—minus the genius factor.” Because of box-office results, we will all get to find out this weekend if Americans deem that a punchline worthy of their time and money, which is a good enough reason for me.
Expect 2 Guns to open around Inside Man territory with $28 million, since Denzel Washington’s films don’t normally break out unless he plays the baddie (American Gangster and Safe House being his two highest openers). The film’s premise looks rather basic, so the team-up of Washington/Wahlberg likely won’t yield the $30M+ opening many will predict. Meanwhile, The Smurfs 2 should, like most sequels to other live-action/animated adaptations of beloved ’80s cartoon properties, make less than the original. Expect this one to take five days to reach the $35 million opening of The Smurfs, with roughly $23 million for the three-day weekend.
Box Office Weekend Predictions
1. 2 Guns: $27.5 NEW
2. The Smurfs 2: $23.2 NEW
3. The Wolverine: $20.7 -61%
4. The Conjuring: $13.1 -41%
5. Despicable Me 2: $9.9 -40%
6. Turbo: $8.4 -39%
7. Grown Ups 2: $6.7 -42%
8. The Heat: $4.6 -33%
9. Red 2: $4.4 -53%
10. Fruitvale Station: $3.7 -20%