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Box Office Rap Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

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Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster
Box Office Rap: Thor: The Dark World and the No-Marketing-Required Blockbuster

Although Thor: The Dark World doesn’t hit North American theaters until this Friday, it’s already amassed $109.4 million from 29 overseas territories in just its first weekend. Opening Hollywood films internationally before debuting them stateside is a trend that’s existed in some capacity for a number of decades, but it’s only become a more common practice in the last few years, beginning with Iron Man 2 in 2010, which saw release in nearly 70 foreign territories weeks before domestic theaters.

The prevalence of American films in foreign markets has existed essentially since the start of World War I; as film scholar David Cook tells it, European studios were forced to shut down production since the same chemicals being used to manufacture celluloid film were needed to make gunpowder, while the American film industry faced no such problems, making over 90% of the world’s motion pictures by 1918. Nearly a century later, little has changed, with mega-budget, Hollywood actioners now dominating the global marketplace. Lynda Obst discusses these trends in her recent book Sleepless in Hollywood with what she calls the “New Abnormal,” where Hollywood studios are heavily reliant on foreign markets to see profits and now produce content with dozens of marketplaces in mind. Thus, international casts in spectacle-driven vehicles are preferred, while U.S.-specific blockbusters are becoming a rare breed (look to White House Down, The Lone Ranger, and R.I.P.D. for recent failings on this front).

Box Office Rap Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

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Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam
Box Office Rap: Elysium and the Summer Traffic Jam

Jacques Tati and Jean-Luc Godard would undoubtedly be amused with the August traffic jam Hollywood has made for itself, as 14 wide releases will debut within the next four weeks. June 2013 saw just eight new releases, but even then, a mega-budgeted film such as Man of Steel only managed to stay in theaters for seven weeks, so the likelihood of any August films sticking around for longer than a month becomes a near impossibility. Has the summer market always been so saturated? Looking back to June 1993, seven major studio films saw wide releases, only one less than 2013. However, Jurassic Park played in theaters for 71 consecutive weeks. Even Last Action Hero, a film that brought a studio to its knees, lasted 12 weeks during that 1993 summer.

The casualties this summer have been numerous. Most notable is, perhaps, The Lone Ranger, a $215 million production that fell to just 553 theaters in its fifth weekend and is likely to be out of theaters by Friday by the time this week’s four mega-wide releases drop. What’s an onlooker to make of these developments? On the one hand, from a cultural capital perspective, these are dire days. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an excellent, and spot-on, positive review of Gore Verbinski’s film, in which he bets that, like Steven Spielberg’s 1941, 20 years from now The Lone Ranger will be “re-evaluated” and discussed as “misunderstood.” Seitz’s thoughtful and contemplative review shuns much of the mob-mentality demonstrated by the film’s embarrassing Rotten Tomatoes score and reveals the underlying problem with such an adopted critical system: emphasis on scores and figures over ideas and commentary. Yet his perceptive insights are lost amid this contemporary climate because, in turn, the marketplace cannot hold such a product long enough to receive honest feedback and critique; the “critical consensus” passes immediate judgment on The Lone Ranger to expedite the film’s financial (and cultural) execution. On the other hand, a neo-Marxist couldn’t help but delight in Mouse House miscalculation, as the film appears unlikely to match its budget through even its worldwide haul, which currently stands at $175 million.

Critical Distance: The Avengers

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Critical Distance: <em>The Avengers</em>
Critical Distance: <em>The Avengers</em>

For 10 years, comic-book superheroes have permeated popular movies. After the mega-success of Spider-Man in 2002, costumed white fellas saving the world became multiplex staples. Once all the iconic heroes were accounted for, studios found continued success with second-tier characters, from the previously obscure (Iron Man) to the uncomfortably jingoistic (Captain America: The First Avenger). The circuit escalated into the late 2000s, spawning remakes, reboots, sequels, and prequels with a frequency that only the most ardent fans could keep up with. A few X-Men spinoffs, a Superman hybrid, and two Hulk films later, we now arrive at a moment of superhero saturation, wherein each new release affirms the general consensus that these films represent a creatively dry enterprise.

On Armond White’s “Discourteous Discourse”

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On Armond White’s “Discourteous Discourse”
On Armond White’s “Discourteous Discourse”

Armond White always begins with himself and ends there too; like T.S. Eliot, the end of all his exploring is to arrive where he started and let us know he was the destination all along. Twice this year he’s written “essays” that boil down, essentially, to how he’s film’s grail-keeper and everyone else is a fraud. The first was March 17th’s “My Greenberg Problem—And Yours,” in which White, among other things, promised—in terms worthy of a HUAC friendly witness—to “no longer keep silent” on the conspiracy (“a racist lynching of a black critic by white critics,” he noted) to throw “personal brickbats my way.”

It wasn’t really a subject he’d “kept silent” on; Armond vs. the world is a perennial motif of his writing. Still, enough was enough; he was going to dismantle the whole rotten system once and for all. The subject was a Gawker blip on the screen: White had been denied access to one of the earliest screenings of Greenberg, though he was allowed into an early enough screening to draft a review for print. The publicist was none too thrilled about White calling for Noah Baumbach’s retroactive abortion in print, or indeed just calling him an asshole; White denied the latter, the proof was uncovered, and he issued another blustery statement about how his prose, having approached the interpretative complexity of late Foucault, had been misinterpreted.