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What 2011’s Movies Have Taught Us About Box Office, Cinema and Ourselves

by  in Comic News, Movie News Comment

As we prepare to say goodbye to 2011 for good, let’s take one last look back and see if there’s anything we can learn from the movies that made it big this year – and the ones that really, really didn’t. What lessons can we learn from 2011’s box office?

Moviegoers Love Sequels
For all that we may complain about movies being too unoriginal and reliant on franchises these days, it’s worth noting that the top 7 movies of the year were all sequels, with the remaining movies in the top 10 all being part of an existing franchise. When it comes to movies, it seems that familiarity breeds anything but discontent. Could it be that audiences are that eager to ensure that they get their money’s worth out of expensive theater tickets that they’re looking for repeat performances of old favorites? Possibly – or maybe it’s just a coincidence, and we should be paying more attention to the advertising budget of each of these movies, instead. Then again…

There’s No Such Thing As A Sure Thing
…This was also the year that proved that you can advertise and hype certain movies all you want, but if the audience doesn’t want to go, then they won’t. On paper, both Green Lantern and Cowboys and Aliens were almost-guaranteed hits, with well-liked stars, big budget special effects and high concept ideas that seemed in tune with the cultural zeitgeist, but both bombed so badly they made Hollywood Reporter’s list of the biggest flops of the year. Is this a case of the good will out, an example of audience revolt against being told what they should like against what they do like, or just more proof that no-one knows anything in Hollywood? You decide.

The Nerd Dollar Is Over
I know, I know; when you consider that eight out of the ten highest grossing movies of the year were genre movies (You could probably make the case that the remaining two, Fast Five and Cars 2 are also genre-centric), it sounds a little strange to suggest that the nerd demographic is receding at the movies. But how else to explain the failure of movies like Sucker Punch, Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens, Conan the Barbarian, Super and the like this year? It’s possible that the mainstream audience has reached its limit for genre fare, and isn’t looking for anything new anytime soon. We’ll see if this is the case next year; if Prometheus flops, then I think we can assume that Hollywood might want to consider backing off the genre movie for awhile for everyone’s sake.

Don’t Ignore Women
True, neither Bridesmaids or The Help made it into the top 10 movies of the year, but they’re not far outside – Something that’s really rather remarkable, considering the low expectations both movies faced before their release. 2011 might, if we’re lucky, become the year when moviemakers realized the power of the female demographic outside of the traditional romcom/”chick flick” offerings (See also Twilight, for that matter). It’s unlikely that we’ll see studios denote as much effort and attention to movies aimed squarely at women as they do boy-centric offerings like Transformers (or even The Hangover, Part II anytime soon, but these things take time. Let’s see what 2012 does for gender imbalance.

Some Movies Need To Be Seen In Theaters
Something that’s fascinating; the top movie of the year was only the tenth most torrented bootleg of the year, with the second and third most popular movies not appearing on the torrent top 10 at all. After years of trying to find a way to combat movie piracy, an answer may have been found: sheer scale. After all, Transformers: Dark of The Moon is a movie that demands to be seen on the big screen, and while The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 may not have the same visual scale, culturally it’s off the charts. Is the response to movie piracy trying to take full advantage of the scale and scope of the big screen, while also aiming to enflame your audience so that it becomes as much about the sense of community as it does just seeing the movie? Possibly – but if so, how many movies are really going to be able to manage that?

Now it’s your turn. What were the lessons of 2011’s movies – good and bad? And do you think 2012 looks to have learned some of them, or not?