Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reading through oversimplified blurbs

Yesterday in USA Today, there was a blurb that read as follows:


"Matt Damon is filmdom's sexiest moneymaker. His The Bourne Ultimatum outgunned The Simpsons at the box office ($131.6 million for Bourne in its second week vs. $128.1 million for The Simpsons). The under-the-radar leading man was named most bankable actor by Forbes. Maybe Ocean's Thirteen co-star George Clooney had the inside track last year when he said Damon should be People's next Sexiest Man Alive?"

The main takeaway from this is that Forbes Magazine really needs to stick to non-movie analysis.

It's true that the "Bourne Ultimatum" is successful but to be considered a bankable actor over the course of your career, you should have to show two hits in a row on your resume. The last movie that starred Matt Damon (an ensemble piece like "Ocean's 13" doesn't really count) was "The Good Shepherd" which netted only $59 million domestically. Not too long before that, "Syriana" netted in just $50 million despite high critical praise and Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm" earned $37 million.

Box Office Mojo calculates the average gross of a Matt Damon film to be $80.4 million dollars. If we remove the four films (not including cameos) he appeared in prior to his breakout role in Good Will Hunting ("School Ties", "Geronimo", "Courage Under Fire", and "The Rainmaker") that's adjusted to $90.2 million which is still not as good as the unadjusted figures for Jim Carrey ($102 million), Steve Carell ($108.6 million), Tom Cruise ($99.9 million, although he's averaged $120 million since his breakout role in Top Gun), Harrison Ford ($106 million), or Orlando Bloom ($207 million).

One wouldn't expect a Matt Damon movie to necessarily do well because he usually chooses roles like "Bourne Ultimatum", "Syrianna", and "Good Shepherd" with political subtexts that could tend to polarize audiences like Sean Penn. This is not to say Matt Damon is not a truly gifted and admirably intelligent actor because he is. Damon is not a bankable actor but that is because he chooses not to be: He chooses roles carefully and diversifies his challenges.

The problem is to prematurely label him as the new "It boy" in Hollywood and pin lofty commercial expectations on him and his future projects.

Lastly, who's to say "The Bourne Ultimatum" is successful? It's only been out 2 weekends, and it had a 52 percent falloff rate on the second weekend whereas 40-45 percent is considered the average drop off. The article also says it beat the Simpsons movie's 10-day total, but who cares? "The Simpsons" movie was only the sixth highest ten-day total of the summer. "Bourne Ultimatum" didn't beat "Transformers" or "Harry Potter" which didn't have the advantage of being the back-ends of trilogies.

The lesson: Do not read too much into oversimplified blurbs that are written by people with short-term memory. They're created out of little more than a need to throw a couple of facts together into a paragraph to make copy look interesting

Another case in point: USA Today's movie round-up on the front page of the Life section in this very same issue:

"Transformers at No. 11 this weekend, becomes the fourth movie to cross the $300 million mark this year, a record number. This summer is on par to become the largest of all time, with ticket sales up 6% over 2004, the current record holder."

On the contrary, this summer is highly disappointing if ticket sales are up only 6% over 2004. Transformers is the fourth movie to cross the $300 million mark but considering that past installments of the "Shrek", "Spiderman" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series have each grossed over $400 million* the third installments were in a position to easily sleepwalk their way into $300 million grosses, which is precisely what they did. The critical consensus is that "Shrek the Third" was an entirely unnecessary tack-on, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" was incomprehensible, and "Spiderman III" was arguably decent with some definite cringeworthy moments. The fact that the back-ends of the three most successful summer movie trilogies of the decade were all premiering this summer and none of them grossed more than $340 million is an indication of how they disappointed audiences. "Transformers" is an unabashed success but it's still too early to tell if "Bourne Ultimatum" or "Harry Potter" will join them.

*Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Shrek II, and Spiderman are among just seven movies to gross over $400 million. Spiderman II grossed $373 million which places it among the top 10 all-time




4 comments:

Mark said...

You make many good points and observations. It seems that the oversimplification stems from the poorly-defined term "bankable." You define it as "ability to have two hits in a row," and your subsequent analysis is thorough. But perhaps a definition that is of more concern to the industry is the "potential for future earnings." In that regard, certainly factors such as age must be taken into consideration. Someone like Matt Damon is going to have a longer future career and a greater range of roles available to him than, say, Harrison Ford.

Other important factors probably include things like "true ability" and "reputation" (whether an actor has established himself in the minds of the public as a "true talent" or if the actor is merely perceived as a flash in the pan). For example, Steve Carell has managed to ride the success of The Office and a couple critically-acclaimed films, but will material like "Evan Almighty" keep him in the game?

OKonheim said...

Indeed, Mark. It is very important that we understand exactly what the term bankable means as millions of dollars are riding upon it.

I wasn't making a judgement call for Harrison Ford, however.

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