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The current state of Hollywood blockbusters (aka "franchises")


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The problem is that current blockbuster movies have NO LASTING IMPACT. You can enjoy them as you watch them (I still do) but you can forget them as fast as your can. When you had movies like Star Wa

I can't completely agree with him Maurizio, He makes it sound as if all these summer films are bad, and they are not. He fails to point out that in the past there were many formulaic films being made that were essentially cookie cutter films. It's easy to put the good ole days on a pedastal because you remember the really good films, and you forget the very bad films. It's easy to remember 1980's The Empire Strikes Back and to forget Xanadu.

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I don't think Lukas is making a point about older films being better, Joey. In the end, he says that Hollywood is still making good movies. The problem lies within the concept of the so-called "franchise", which is basically selling a brand before anything else. Anyway, the recipe used today by studios to make their franchises is beginning to show limitations and maybe a potential point of no return (especially if a movie that opens with a $80 million gross is "underperforming"). So the risks must be reduced to the very minimum, which is something that makes studio executives going for well-established, already-tested stories, characters, ideas and so on. Today's technology allows to see things with incredible photorealism, so there is the excuse of using the "you've never seen it like this before" concept, which helps to sell the movie, but in the end you can see shortcomings in it. Lucas and Spielberg used the same concept in many cases, but there was a strong idea of cinema at the core of their big successes of the 1970s/1980s which is what makes those films last even today. A Star Wars film was something special back then because there wasn't really anything like that. On the contrary, today's blockbuster franchise movies are competing with each other as the "event of the year", when instead there is a worrying sameness all throughout them.

If you're treading water with umpteenth versions of Star Trek, James Bond, comic book superheroes and so on, my sensation is that you'll reach an impasse sooner or later.

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I read this article last night and was going to post it today myself. It was a very interesting read. I'd definitely enjoy reading more of Lukas's articles, I enjoyed all his posts about the FSM titles last year.

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I don't think Lukas is making a point about older films being better, Joey. In the end, he says that Hollywood is still making good movies. The problem lies within the concept of the so-called "franchise", which is basically selling a brand before anything else. Anyway, the recipe used today by studios to make their franchises is beginning to show limitations and maybe a potential point of no return (especially if a movie that opens with a $80 million gross is "underperforming"). So the risks must be reduced to the very minimum, which is something that makes studio executives going for well-established, already-tested stories, characters, ideas and so on. Today's technology allows to see things with incredible photorealism, so there is the excuse of using the "you've never seen it like this before" concept, which helps to sell the movie, but in the end you can see shortcomings in it. Lucas and Spielberg used the same concept in many cases, but there was a strong idea of cinema at the core of their big successes of the 1970s/1980s which is what makes those films last even today. A Star Wars film was something special back then because there wasn't really anything like that. On the contrary, today's blockbuster franchise movies are competing with each other as the "event of the year", when instead there is a worrying sameness all throughout them.

If you're treading water with umpteenth versions of Star Trek, James Bond, comic book superheroes and so on, my sensation is that you'll reach an impasse sooner or later.

I also find his concept of the point of dimishing returns not completely thought out, if not completely wrong.

In the end each film must stand on it's own. As to the point of financial success we've seen films that bomb at the boxoffice gain new life on home video. The ability that Hollywood has shown to restore a "franchise" has been remarkable.

Take Star Trek for example, Star Trek Insurrection earned 70 milliion dollars, Star Trek Nemesis earned 43 million dollars. With the proper repackaging Star Trek 2009 grossed 257 million, more than the last 3 Star Trek films combined and only the 2nd Star Trek film to break 100 million dollars, that is until Into Darkness with is already over 200 million dollars.

Or you could take James Bond, the longest running film franchise in history. It's previous incarnation did well at the Boxoffice, Die Another Day with Brosnan but it grossed 160 million. Rebooted with a new and very different Bond in Daniel Craig the film series looked to be in the right footing. Casino Royale became the biggest Bond yet with 167 million. Nice but not true blockbuster numbers in this day and age. Then there was the disasterously made Quantum of Solace which also did well at the bo with 168 million but artistically it was a misstep. Thanks to financial troubles it took awhile for Skyfall to be made, and it was both a critical and financial success. The first true Blockbuster for Bond in the modern age. It not only broke the 200 million mark, it broke the 300 million dollar mark and it's success overseas was beyond huge.

Sure Hollywood wants the franchises. WB lucked out in that Harry Potter was successful financially but also critically on the page and screen, but at the starting point they had no idea how it would go. It was a blind risk that paid off. Same for twilight. Other films take advantage of franchises successes, and each studio want's that next franchise.

But not every potential franchise is a success, not every reboot or remake is a hit, but that doesn't mean it's a failure either.

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That was definitely an interesting read, but I can't say I agree 100%, either. A franchise can always be rebooted in a fresh and interesting way. A perfect example of this is Casino Royale, which took us away from campy and overblown to gritty and somewhat more realistic. It was just about a tough-as-nails, imperfect guy doing his best not to get killed by his job, but it was still James Bond. Quantum aside, I am ecstatic about the new Bond movies.

The issue with Star Trek is that a reboot was promised and not delivered. I had hopes that there would be new directions after the first film. "Star Trek" was good only because it had the underpinnings of a first act - we need to see how all of the characters get together, why continuity is no longer an issue, etc. So it was fine that it didn't have a very interesting story. And it expressly stated in its script, "whatever our destinies may have been, they have been forever altered." Great! I'm on board! Let's explore strange NEW worlds! Now here comes Into Darkness, and it says "hey, let's re-hash as much as we possibly can and continue to bank on nostalgia above all else. Let's completely ignore what we said last film and instead try to shoehorn those destinies back in the same direction." This doesn't mean Star Trek as a franchise is dead, it means that Into Darkness screwed up in exactly the same way that Quantum of Solace did: it failed to deliver on the promise that it's predecessor made and plopped itself back into its old habits. I'll continue to watch Star Trek (and Bond) movies until I'm old and grey, as long as there is a reason for me to.

That's the thing about this article: it fails to realize that there are only so many stories, so many characters, so many notes on a scale...coming up with something new is not really coming up with something new anymore. It's just synthesizing something in a new way. That's exactly what franchises are trying to do, same as every other movie in Hollywood. It's just that some are failing and some are succeeding.

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I blame Blockbuster Video and how they failed to get studios to delay selling DVDs at reasonable costs like VHS with a 6-month waiting period. New release VHS was $99.

As a consequence, windows were cut to 3-4 months and cheaper, meaning people went to the theatre less for smaller films. Thus the reason why studios don't make a lot of mid budget films. Remember 1993? Holy Moley that was an awesome year and summer.

With the removal of a lot of smaller and mid budget films in Theatres, studios rely on tent pole movies, and the most reliable ones are franchise films. So there is a lot of meddling from all sort of suits, leaving us with bland films that don't take a lot of risks.

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It was a very nice read. Kendall makes a great point about the mild insanity of continuing to bank so much on characters created from the 40s to the early 70s and inventing so little new material (with exceptions like Harry Potter). These characters carry uncomfortable social legacies or are based on nonsensical science, and the attempts to update them are usually problematic.

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it's also not a new trend by Hollywood to have film frachise. Sure the boxoffice dynamics have changed dramatically, but film series have been around since the beginning.

Andy Hardy Series, the Bowery Boys, Old Mother Riley, Rathbones Sherlock Holmes series, Jungle Jim, Tarzan, Marx Brothers, Dr. Kildare, Keystone Cops, Ma and Pa Kettle, Abbott and Costello, and all the Universal Classic Monster films.

The more Hollywood changes the more it stays the same.

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It was a very nice read. Kendall makes a great point about the mild insanity of continuing to bank so much on characters created from the 40s to the early 70s and inventing so little new material (with exceptions like Harry Potter).

Yes.

I have nothing against film series, I enjoy the concept if it's well done. I just want new classic characters and concepts.

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The market doesn't appear to be getting any better with movies being announced on Blu-ray the same day it's being release in theaters. I think we're just moving towards a home video market that will be on par with the theater experience. Stuff like Netflix and Hulu and other VOD services will eventually have brand new movies available from Day 1.

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I'm surprised it hasn't imploded already.

Too many films being released and it seems most of them come and go quickly. I'm not even sure $200 million means that much for domestic BO given the ridiculous budgets.

Studious must be making a killing in DVD sales.

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From wiki. 1993 was the last year that I remember where there were so many interesting movies to see. The big tent pole movies were limited, just jurassic park and last action hero I think. Franchise films Wayne's world 2, sister act 2 and stakeout 2 were just ok.

But look at the variety of films and budgets. No way would we see a slate like this again in a single year. And these films stuck around for a while in Theatres.

Why? Because of a 6-month window to rental and another 90 days to buy used.

Sure, some of these were bad, but as a kid I enjoyed going to the movies every week and having lots of choices

At the theatre near me last week, with 16 screens, there were only 6 movies playing!! And 4 were sequels.

The Age of Innocence, directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder

Alive, starring Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, Josh Hamilton

Amos & Andrew, starring Nicolas Cage and Samuel L. Jackson

Another Stakeout, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Emilio Estevez, Rosie O'Donnell

Army of Darkness, directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell and Embeth Davidtz

Benny & Joon, starring Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, Aidan Quinn

Blood In Blood Out (aka Bound by Honor), directed by Taylor Hackford, starring Damian Chapa and Benjamin Bratt

Boxing Helena, starring Sherilyn Fenn and Julian Sands

A Bronx Tale, directed by and starring Robert De Niro, with Chazz Palminteri, Lillo Brancato, Jr., Francis Capra, Joe Pesci

Carlito's Way, directed by Brian De Palma, starring Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzmán, John Leguizamo

Cliffhanger, starring Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner

Coneheads, directed by Steve Barron, starring Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin

Cool Runnings, directed by Jon Turteltaub, starring John Candy

The Crush, starring Cary Elwes and Alicia Silverstone

Dave, starring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Ving Rhames, Charles Grodin

Dazed and Confused, starring Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich

Demolition Man, starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock

Dennis the Menace, starring Walter Matthau and Mason Gamble

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, starring Jason Scott Lee and Lauren Holly

Falling Down, directed by Joel Schumacher, starring Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Frederic Forrest, Tuesday Weld

Fearless, starring Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rossellini, Rosie Perez

Fire in the Sky, starring Robert Patrick and D.B. Sweeney

The Firm, directed by Sydney Pollack, starring Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Holly Hunter, Wilford Brimley, David Strathairn, Ed Harris

Free Willy, directed by Simon Wincer, starring Jason James Richter, Michael Madsen, Michael Ironside, Lori Petty

The Fugitive, directed by Andrew Davis, starring Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pantoliano, Jeroen Krabbe, Sela Ward, Julianne Moore

Geronimo: An American Legend, starring Wes Studi, Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall, Jason Patric

Gettysburg, starring Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, Martin Sheen

The Good Son, starring Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood

Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell

Grumpy Old Men, starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Ann-Margret

Heart and Souls, starring Robert Downey, Jr., Charles Grodin, Kyra Sedgwick, Alfre Woodard, Elisabeth Shue, Tom Sizemore, David Payme

Heaven & Earth, directed by Oliver Stone, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Joan Chen - (U.S.A./France)

Hocus Pocus, directed by Kenny Ortega, starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, narrated by Michael J. Fox

Hot Shots! Part Deux, directed by Jim Abrahams, starring Charlie Sheen and Lloyd Bridges

In the Line of Fire, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, starring Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo

In the Name of the Father, directed by Jim Sheridan, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite, Emma Thompson - (Ireland/U.K./U.S.A.) - Golden Bear Award

Indecent Proposal, directed by Adrian Lyne, starring Robert Redford, Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson

The Joy Luck Club, directed by Wayne Wang, starring Rosalind Chao, Lauren Tom, France Nuyen

Judgment Night, starring Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Denis Leary, Stephen Dorff and Jeremy Piven

Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight

Kalifornia, directed by Dominic Sena, starring Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, David Duchovny, Michelle Forbes

Last Action Hero, directed by John McTiernan, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Austin O'Brien

M. Butterfly, directed by David Cronenberg, starring Jeremy Irons and John Lone

Mad Dog and Glory, directed by John McNaughton, starring Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Bill Murray, David Caruso, Kathy Baker

Malice, directed by Harold Becker, starring Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, Bill Pullman, Anne Bancroft, Peter Gallagher, Bebe Neuwirth, George C. Scott

The Man Without a Face, directed by and starring Mel Gibson, with Nick Stahl

Manhattan Murder Mystery, directed by and starring Woody Allen, with Diane Keaton, Anjelica Huston, Alan Alda

Matinee, starring John Goodman

Menace II Society, starring Tyrin Turner, Larenz Tate and Jada Pinkett

Mr. Jones, directed by Mike Figgis, starring Richard Gere and Lena Olin

Mr. Wonderful, starring Matt Dillon, Annabella Sciorra, William Hurt, Mary-Louise Parker, Vincent D'Onofrio

Mrs. Doubtfire, directed by Chris Columbus, starring Robin Williams, Sally Field, Pierce Brosnan - Golden Globe Award for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy)

Much Ado About Nothing, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, with Michael Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington - (U.K./U.S.A.)

Naked, directed by Mike Leigh, starring David Thewlis - (U.K.)

Naked in New York, starring Eric Stoltz, Mary-Louise Parker, Jill Clayburgh, Ralph Macchio, Kathleen Turner, Tony Curtis

The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick

Glenne Headly - (Canada)

The Pelican Brief, directed by Alan J. Pakula, starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington

A Perfect World, directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Kevin Costner, Eastwood, Laura Dern, Bradley Whitford

Philadelphia, directed by Jonathan Demme, starring Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Antonio Banderas, Joanne Woodward, Jason Robards

The Piano, directed by Jane Campion, starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin - (New Zealand/Australia/France) - Palme d'Or award

Poetic Justice, directed by John Singleton, starring Janet Jackson and Tupac

Point of No Return, starring Bridget Fonda, Gabriel Byrne, Dermot Mulroney, Anne Bancroft and Harvey Keitel

The Program, starring James Caan, Halle Berry, Omar Epps, Craig Sheffer and Kristy Swanson

The Remains of the Day, directed by James Ivory, starring Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, James Fox, Hugh Grant, Christopher Reeve - (U.K./U.S.A.)

Rising Sun, directed by Philip Kaufman, starring Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes

RoboCop 3, directed by Fred Dekker, starring Robert John Burke and Nancy Allen

Robin Hood: Men in Tights, directed by Mel Brooks, starring Cary Elwes, Dave Chappelle, Amy Yasbeck, Roger Rees, Richard Lewis

Romeo Is Bleeding, directed by Peter Medak, starring Gary Oldman, Lena Olin, Annabella Sciorra, Juliette Lewis, Roy Scheider

Rookie of the Year, directed by Daniel Stern, starring Thomas Ian Nicholas, Gary Busey, Albert Hall

Rudy, directed by David Anspaugh, starring Sean Astin, Ned Beatty, Charles S. Dutton, Jason Miller, Jon Favreau

The Sandlot, directed by David M. Evans

Schindler's List, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes - Academy and Golden Globe (drama) Awards for Best Picture

Searching For Bobby Fischer, directed by Steven Zaillian, starring Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne

The Secret Garden, starring Maggie Smith - (U.K.)

Shadowlands, directed by Richard Attenborough, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger - (U.K.)

Short Cuts, directed by Robert Altman, starring Tim Robbins, Robert Downey, Jr., Julianne Moore, Madeleine Stowe, Chris Penn, Lori Singer, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits

Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, directed by Bill Duke, starring Whoopi Goldberg

Six Degrees of Separation, directed by Fred Schepisi, starring Stockard Channing, Will Smith, Donald Sutherland

Sleepless in Seattle, directed by Nora Ephron, starring Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Bill Pullman, Rosie O'Donnell, Rita Wilson, Rob Reiner

Sniper, starring Tom Berenger and Billy Zane

So I Married an Axe Murderer, starring Mike Myers, Nancy Travis, Amanda Plummer

Sommersby, directed by Jon Amiel, starring Richard Gere, Jodie Foster and Bill Pullman

Son in Law, starring Pauly Shore

Swing Kids, starring Christian Bale and Robert Sean Leonard

The Thing Called Love, starring River Phoenix and Samantha Mathis

Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould - (Canada)

This Boy's Life, directed by Michael Caton-Jones, starring Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, Leonardo DiCaprio

The Three Musketeers, directed by Stephen Herek, starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O'Donnell, Oliver Platt, Rebecca De Mornay - (U.K./U.S.A./Austria)

Tombstone, directed by George P. Cosmatos, starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Dana Delany, Michael Biehn, Powers Boothe, Billy Zane

True Romance, directed by Tony Scott, written by Quentin Tarrantino, starring Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, Michael Rapaport, Brad Pitt

Undercover Blues, starring Kathleen Turner and Dennis Quaid

The Vanishing, starring Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, Nancy Travis

The War Room, directed by Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker

Wayne's World 2, directed by Stephen Surjik, starring Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Christopher Walken, Tia Carrere, Kim Basinger

The Wedding Banquet, directed by Ang Lee - (Taiwan/U.S.A.) - Golden Bear and Golden Space Needle awards

What's Eating Gilbert Grape, starring Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenburgen, Leonardo DiCaprio

What's Love Got to Do With It, directed by Brian Gibson, starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne - Nominated for 2 Oscars, won the American Choreography Award

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You can probably dig up such a variety today, but you have to actively search and they're much much harder to catch at the theater (where they stay much less time and the tickets cost more), leading to actually seeing that stuff in the following years instead of through that year.

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I'm surprised it hasn't imploded already.

Too many films being released and it seems most of them come and go quickly. I'm not even sure $200 million means that much for domestic BO given the ridiculous budgets.

Studious must be making a killing in DVD sales.

you do see the occasional misfire. Battleship failed. Hangover 3 has failed to live to it's first two.

I suspect we'll see Lone Ranger bomb, but then again I may be wrong. I'm getting a vibe that Man of Steel will underperform. Maybe WB should do a muppet babies films instead of JLA

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you do see the occasional misfire. Battleship failed. Hangover 3 has failed to live to it's first two.

John Carter...

It think they should make a bigger variety of films, and have them be on theaters for a longer time with a less cost of the tickets. That way way people would go to the cinema to see more films.

I don't know, make three 50 million films instead of a boring 150 million film nobody really cares about because it tries to appeal to everybody at the same time.

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I think studios need to rethink their "smaller slate with four $200M films" (like Disney is doing) and the microbudget pictures that Paramount's churning out every year (the Paranormal Activity films). There needs to be more modestly-budgeted films in the $25-45M range as well.

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I think studios need to rethink their "smaller slate with four $200M films" (like Disney is doing) and the microbudget pictures that Paramount's churning out every year (the Paranormal Activity films). There needs to be more modestly-budgeted films in the $25-45M range as well.

Like District 9.

A budget that allows freedom to the filmmakers, that isn't far too expensive and hard to recover, and that still allows for showing off the filmmaking talent. Then market them well and have them in cinemas for longer without blowing up the ticket prices.

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Not exclusively, but yes. There's a number of different factors that go into it. Those are two of them.



Ticket prices rise because budgets rise and studios wants higher and higher profits.

But in terms of ticket price all profits go the the studio. The actual theater showing it makes pennies to the dollar.

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And as Steven Soderbergh's recent speech at the San Francisco International Film Festival illustrated the film industry has become more and more show Business with capital B as the number crunchers and accountants rule the Tinseltown now. Tentpole films spend huges sums on advertising and they have to recoup both the cost of the film and the money thrown into marketing around the world and then some to make decent profits in the eyes of the studio. Just cold arithmetic. I am sure there is a bit hyperbole and generilization in Soderbergh's essay but it seems like a pretty accurate account from a person, who has been in this business for a long time and seen how it revolves and evolves. And his description applies very much to the summer blockbuster movies and franchises if anything.

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Movie Theatres get a share of the ticket prices a few weeks after the initial release. So that's part of the reason why studios want gigantic openings.

Piracy has little affect on the overall attendance rate at the movies.

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No their share of the ticket price just goes up the longer the movie performs.

That would explain why at my theater, movies like Inception, Stardust, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and The Dark Knight played until October or late September.

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yes but the answer is ET. with 16 weeks at the top spot.

tied for 3rd is Beverly Hills Cop and Tootsie with 14 weeks each.

this bit of trivia speaks volumes about Hollywood and how the dynamics have changed.

Outside of Avatar which held the #1 spot for 7 weeks, no other film of the 21st century has lasted more than 4 weeks, Passion of the Christ, Dark Knight, Return of the King and Fellowship of the Ring.

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Much of Titanic's success was built on word-of-mouth, with people genuinely falling in love and awe with the movie, almost to the point of seeing it an absurd number of times on the big screen. I still remember very well that the film arrived in theaters with a very bad reputation among film journalists and insiders, which were all quite sure the film would bomb badly, mainly because of the many horror stories about the problems during shooting and Cameron's megalomaniac approach.

It's probably the last time a movie built its own success and audience the old-fashioned way, with masses of people going again and again to the theater for a quite long period of time.

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One of our theaters here had Raiders of the Lost Ark playing for 36 weeks.

Raiders stayed forever it seemed in Little Rock, same with Star Wars and ET.

but the movie that I remember staying the longest was Walking Tall. It stayed at one theatre at least 54 weeks. that was one terrific movie back then, I would like to see it now and see how it holds up. It's been years.

another remarkable thing about Titanic, if you adjust it's gross for inflation it's still in the top 5 all time. Gone with the Wind Star Wars, Sound of Music, E.T., Titanic.

As huge as the Avengers seemed last year it sits at #27. It's rare that I attend a movie that's a sellout. But to it's credit opening night of Iron Man 3 was a sellout.

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