Week Year in Box Office History
TWBOH takes a look at the last 30 years of top grossing movies. Usually. This week we ring in the New Year by looking back at all of the trends at the Box Office, celebrating the good, and hurling obscenities at the bad. We’ll lie and tell you there were as many good things as bad, just so you can start 2014 without wrapping your lips around your car exhaust in a bitter attempt to forget that Justin Bieber had another movie this year.
The Trends: Good, Bad, and Ugly
The Good: Getting 3-D Right.
This year we finally managed to surpass our ancestors, overcome stupendous technological hurdles, and usher in a new era. Oh, and we landed on Mars. But what I’m really talking about is that we managed to make 3-D movies that were actually good movies, first and foremost. Like a budding chef, Hollywood realized that 3-D was a spice, not a main ingredient. For the first time, we got movies that integrated their visual effects as a total package, instead of slapping the new technology onto a finished product and hoping a few pies flying at the camera would wow audiences into spending the extra 5 bucks.
I chart the start of this trend back to 2012’s sorely overlooked Dredd, and the criminally not overlooked Prometheus, but it only came to full fruition this year. Despite my other reservations, Star Trek into Darkness looked lovely, and really took advantage of its technical chops, as did the slightly reheated Elysium, and the wonderfully fluffy Pacific Rim. These films only set the table for the stunning main course, Gravity, which may have just re-defined how to use 3-D techniques to highlight tension, create atmosphere, drive the narrative, and look really really frigging good. That’s a technical term. Look it up.
I wish I could mention Peter Jackson’s Hobbit in this list, since he has spared no expense in creating films for 3-D. I have to admit that I thought the trailers alone looked more sophisticated than many movies I had seen before them, when viewed in 3-D. But unfortunately, Jackson bought the costliest salt, with which he tried to hide a rotting mess. Which brings us to…
The Bad: Getting CGI So Very Wrong.
Despite all of our technological terrors, we have yet to conjure up the location of the rebel’s base nor return the stolen plans…er…I mean, we have yet to traverse the Uncanny Valley. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the Uncanny Valley is computer specialists term for a valley that is uncanny, into which we pour horrifyingly bad computer animation which attempt to look animate and life-like. Four years of science at a major university folks. OK, four and a half, and I switched to Creative Writing when Physics got too hard. Jeeze, you sound like my mother, internet.
The rub of the Uncanny Valley is that the closer you are to solving the problem of making realistic imagery, they worse your imagery will look. Right up until it is solved, the dead, soul-less mannequins we jig around the stage will look even more horrifying because they are so ALMOST correct. It’s a feedback loop, where until you break it, you get exponentially more terrifying results. This is the bind that studios find themselves in. For some reason, we have decided practical effects, puppetry, and model work are all forbidden, so we must soldier on through the valley. No matter that it balloons budgets and requires that every use of CG become a world shattering blockbuster to support, or that it often creates shambling horrors easily replaced by a dude in a gorilla suit.
Peter Jackson managed to make a very competent fantasy trilogy using a blend of CG and practical effects with Lord of the Rings, yet has spent most of his time in the Shire bungling around with silly plastic versions of Legolas and a wizard on a bunny sled. The Hunger Games got into the monkey business, quite literally, and Will Smith decided his annoying brat of a child needed to wave a sword-stick at silly looking rendered flora and fauna in After Earth. The zombie hordes of World War Z were pretty stale and lifeless…which I guess means good job? The worst offender was the super hero genre. Amidst the generic ice-trolls and space invaders, the worst of the worst was Man of Steel. In order to cover up the fact that 80% of the action scenes were rendered instead of shot (my estimate), the color palette of the movie was a muddy brown or grainy grey. Yet still it didn’t work, and we ended up with atrocious action sequences where a bouncing blue blur attacked a bouncing black blur sporting facial hair. It was like an acid trip through Sonic the Hedgehog. No thank you.
Perhaps studios in 2014 will remember that all film techniques work best in moderation, and that fantastic model and suit work still exists, before both are lost to the reaches of time.
The Ugly: Animated Turkeys
Animated. Fucking. Turkeys.
The Good: Revitalizing Old Genres.
This year we saw a fantastic resurgence of neglected film genres. The nautical genre received two excellent entries with Captain Phillips and All is Lost. The space adventure was fertile ground this year, with the stellar Gravity, the commendable Elysium and Star Trek, and the forgettable Oblivion and After Earth. Even Asian genres saw a bountiful harvest, as The Grandmaster and Man of Tai Chi attempted to reinvest the Kung-Fu film, and 47 Ronin threw a sizable rock into the pond of the samurai movie.
That was all well and good, but no movie typified the everything old is new again style as much as Pacific Rim. Taking a genre that apparently died with the latex rubber monster suit, Del Toro breathed fresh life into the genre, and made the only decent live action anime to boot. All with an original property. If the movie seemed to be an adaptation of some Japanese series, somewhere, it was because the loving attention paid to the tropes of the genre that make the giant mecha/giant monster movie great. It even added a splash of lucha libre glory from the 60’s and 70’s. A love song to the best the Toho DaiKaiju movies had to offer, it added fresh visuals, solid acting, and memorable creatures to a brand new mythology, and may have put this type of film back on the map. Here’s hoping the Godzilla reboot in 2014 continues the trend. And ditches Mothra.
The Bad: Repeating Tired Franchises to Death.
Every year sees it’s slew of ill advised sequels. We may never reach the point of human enlightenment where we finally cast off the bondage of Scary Movie sequels. I mean seriously. Stop making them. They ran out of funny by the trailer to the second one.
So that being said, we got another Scary Movie this year. Hooray. We also got some mandatory sequels to rather boring horror movies like Insidious. The super heroes trotted out their sequels and remakes. Vin Diesel took another stab at his only non-Fast and Furious role. And the Fast and Furious surprised me by still being a thing. Apparently it has a shelf life similar to beef jerky and just won’t die. I can’t wait to see how they “honor” Paul Walker’s death in F&F 7, which is pretty much now mandatory. Boy we lost a leading light there, people. How will we ever know how to sit in a green screened car and look bland while it flips over sixty times while jumping a jumbo jet full of sharks without this luminary to guide us? Good thing we didn’t lose anyone important like a Mandela or something. Wait…what? Shit.
The worst offender for series that just won’t die is aptly Die Hard. A Good Day to Die Hard is so bad it had to leave the country. Bruce Willis’ character has made the complete transformation from an unlucky and likable everyman who swears and pouts and bleeds and sucks wind, into a full fledged Rambo clone, mowing down generic Russian baddies while spouting sanitized one liners. Yippee Ki Yay Mister Falcon, indeed.
The Ugly: Aging Stars Who Can’t Let Go.
We get it, Stallone. You just have to be in front of a camera. That or you owe the Russian mob a ton of money for Oscar. You gave nice swan songs to your most iconic characters, and managed to celebrate the best of the worst of the action genre you made famous in your Expendables movie. And then you made a second one. And Escape Plan. And Grudge Match. It’s no longer a swan song if you won’t get off the fucking stage. So get off the fucking stage. And take that mummified corpse that looks vaguely like Arnold with you.
The Good: Idris Elba.
It’s good to see a talented actor get his due, and it is always kind of amazing to see that due always means a million movies in the same year. From a minor bit in Thor 2 to a kick ass stint in Pacific Rim, and finally a starring role as Mandela in the biopic, Mandela Long Walk to Freedom, Elba has had a good year. Now just pace yourself. Don’t want to see your pretty mug on the negative list next year with Stallone.
The Bad: Teen Lit Overload.
Hollywood is like a monkey with a mallet when it gets its hands on a new source. We saw the graphic novel genre get absolutely strip mined in the early decade, and even Marvel is having to go further afield to find juicy material now that the super hero machine is in full swing. I mean, a movie with a talking raccoon is in the pipe, people.
This decades bette noir is the teen fantasy genre, fueled by the Harry Potter and Twilight juggernaughts. The Hunger Games is going strong, while other properties such as Mortal Instruments, Percy Jackson, and Ender’s Game struggled to find an audience. Not for lack of trying. Expect another raft of adaptations next year as studios desperately search for the next big thing by copying the last big thing.
The Ugly: Tyler Perry.
Tyler. Fucking. Perry.
And that’s all I’ve got. Stay tuned as next week we look into what to expect in the coming New Year. And after that maybe I’ll make some predictions. You like predictions, right?