The 1970s vs. the 2000s (in Hollywood film, at least)

From "Love Story" (1970)...

...to "Avatar" (2009).

Paul’s post “Science in the Ghetto” got me thinking about the infantilizing of Hollywood movies. I wanted to see if reality matches my impression (which is that Hollywood films these days are less oriented toward adult audiences), so I gathered the lists of the top-ten grossing English-language films for each year of the 1970s and the 2000s. Let’s compare.

Method

I took this data from the Wikipedia (I know, I know), but it seemed easiest. Apologies also for how klugey this data-display is—but I think we’ll get the general idea. Also, * = after theatrical re-issue(s). Forgive me not linking to the IMDb for every film, but while I have near-infinite time, I don’t have infinite time. Along the same lines, I left out the actual box-office totals, because unless I win a research grant, there’s no way in hell I am adjusting that for inflation. Suffice to say, these were the movies that most people were going to see:

The 1970s

1970 1971 1972 1973 1974
Love Story Fiddler on the Roof The Godfather The Exorcist The Towering Inferno
Airport The French Connection The Poseidon Adventure The Sting Blazing Saddles
MASH Summer of ’42 Cabaret American Graffiti Young Frankenstein
Patton Diamonds Are Forever Deliverance Enter the Dragon Earthquake
The Aristocats* Dirty Harry What’s Up, Doc? Papillon Chinatown
Woodstock Carnal Knowledge Jeremiah Johnson The Way We Were The Godfather Part II
Little Big Man A Clockwork Orange The Getaway Magnum Force Airport
Ryan’s Daughter Klute Lady Sings the Blues Robin Hood* The Great Gatsby
Tora! Tora! Tora! The Last Picture Show Everything You Always Wanted to Know… Last Tango in Paris The Man with the Golden Gun
Catch-22 Bedknobs and Broomsticks* Sounder Paper Moon Murder on the Orient Express
1975 1976 1977 1978 1979
Jaws Rocky Star Wars* Grease Kramer vs. Kramer
The Rocky Horror Picture Show* A Star is Born Close Encounters of the Third Kind* Superman Rocky II
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest All the President’s Men The Rescuers* Animal House Apocalypse Now
Dog Day Afternoon The Omen Saturday Night Fever Every Which Way But Loose Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Shampoo King Kong The Goodbye Girl Heaven Can Wait Alien
Tommy Silver Streak Annie Hall Jaws 2 10
Three Days of the Condor The Enforcer The Deep Coming Home The Jerk
Funny Lady Carrie Smokey and the Bandit* Halloween Moonraker
Nashville Family Plot The Spy Who Loved Me Hooper The Muppet Movie
The Day of the Locust Marathon Man Julia California Suite The China Syndrome

The 2000s

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Mission: Impossible II Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Shrek 2
Gladiator The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Finding Nemo Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Cast Away Monsters, Inc. Spider-Man The Matrix Reloaded Spider-Man 2
What Women Want Shrek Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl The Incredibles
Dinosaur Ocean’s Eleven Men in Black II Bruce Almighty The Passion of the Christ
How the Grinch Stole Christmas Pearl Harbor Die Another Day The Last Samurai The Day After Tomorrow
Meet the Parents The Mummy Returns Signs Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines Meet the Fockers
The Perfect Storm Jurassic Park III Ice Age The Matrix Revolutions Troy
X-Men Planet of the Apes My Big Fat Greek Wedding X2 Shark Tale
What Lies Beneath Hannibal Minority Report Bad Boys II Ocean’s Twelve
2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End The Dark Knight Avatar
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith The Da Vinci Code Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Ice Age: The Meltdown Spider-Man 3 Kung Fu Panda Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
War of the Worlds Casino Royale Shrek the Third Hancock Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
King Kong Night at the Museum Transformers Mamma Mia! 2012
Madagascar Cars Ratatouille Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Up
Mr. & Mrs. Smith X-Men: The Last Stand I Am Legend Quantum of Solace The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Mission: Impossible III The Simpsons Movie Iron Man Sherlock Holmes
Batman Begins Superman Returns National Treasure: Book of Secrets WALL-E Angels & Demons
Hitch Happy Feet 300 The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian The Hangover

Analysis

I think the data speaks for itself (and confirms my suspicions), but let’s look at it more closely. What broad claims can we make about it?

1. In the 2000s, fewer of the top-grossing films were aimed toward adult audiences than in the 1970s. Looking at the past decade’s top films, I count only seven R-rated movies—Bad Boys II, Gladiator, The Hangover, Hannibal, The Last Samurai, The Passion of the Christ, and 300. We might also include What Women Want, since it’s primarily pitched toward adults, and Hancock, which was originally rated R, but was edited for a PG-13.

So, 9 of the top 100 grossing films intended primarily for adult audiences.

That’s opposed to the 1970s, when 42 of the top 100 grossing films were rated R: Love Story, The Godfather, The Exorcist, The French Connection, Blazing Saddles, MASH, Summer of ’42, Deliverance, Enter the Dragon, Dirty Harry, Chinatown, Woodstock, Carnal Knowledge, The Godfather Part II, A Clockwork Orange, The Getaway, Magnum Force, Ryan’s Daughter, Klute, Lady Sings the Blues, The Last Picture Show, Everything You Always Wanted to Know…, Last Tango in Paris, Catch-22, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, A Star is Born, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Animal House, Apocalypse Now, Dog Day Afternoon, The Omen, Shampoo, Alien, 10, Three Days of the Condor, The Enforcer, Coming Home, The Jerk, Carrie, Halloween, Nashville, The Day of the Locust, and Marathon Man. To which I think we can also add the PG-rated Annie Hall, which is obviously more an adult’s film than a kid’s film. (We might also consider some of the other PG films—such as the Neil Simon adaptations The Goodbye Girl and California Suite—more for adults than for kids, even though I’m not doing so here.)

Now, of course the creation of the PG-13 rating plays a major role in why so few of today’s top-grossing films aren’t rated R. But that’s exactly my point: Hollywood obviously created that rating in the early 1980s (after controversy surrounding Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins) so it could make what once would have been R-rated films, shooting and editing them so they’d be appropriate for younger audiences, then release them to greater box offices. The result has been fewer adult-oriented films.

2. There are also more films geared primarily toward kids in the top 2000s list: The Harry Potter films, the Shrek films, the Pixar films, Dinosaur, that abominable Grinch thing, The Mummy Returns, the Ice Age movies, Shark Tale, Kung Fu Panda, Night at the Museum, Happy Feet. Contrast that with the 1970s, where you have basically Robin Hood, Bedknobs and Broomksticks, The Aristocats, and The Muppet Movie.

3. In the 2000s, more of the top-grossing films were parts of ongoing franchises: 60 by my count—and that’s not counting Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, 300, or The Hangover, all of which are guaranteed to become franchises. That’s compared with 28 in the the 1970s—a number that skews high due to the fact that I counted any film that eventually spawned a sequel, including The French Connection, The Poseidon Adventure, American Graffiti—even Carrie. Note also that most of those 1970s franchise films—Airport, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Jaws, Rocky, Star Wars, Superman, Dirty Harry, Alien, Halloween, The Omen—are the beginnings of their respective franchises. It’s always been true in Hollywood that any successful film is ripe material for a sequel, but today studios tend to design more of their films from the start as ongoing franchises.

…So, according to this data, what many critics say rings true: starting in the late 1970s/early 1980s, Hollywood gradually switched its production model toward creating franchises that appeal to the largest possible audiences. (See also my recent obituary for Arthur Penn, a brief analysis of his 1975 film Night Moves.)

A major result of this, I’d argue, has been not only an infantalizing, but a homogenizing of mainstream Hollywood films. Looking through that list of 2000s films, it seems to me that most of them are generic CGI-laden action movies. In contrast, one finds a far greater diversity in the 1970s lists—which, to be fair, contain plenty of action schlock. But it isn’t entirely action schlock.

I would also argue that Hollywood’s strategizing has had a broader effect on the culture at large. Cinema (and television) have been the dominant artistic media in our culture for the past seventy years or so, and any trend in those media is necessarily going to have an impact on all other media. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the same infantilization has been occurring in literature, comics, theater, music—even the visual arts.

…For a somewhat different perspective on 1970s and 1980s cinema, I’d recommend this essay by David Bordwell. I actually agree with his arguments, none of which I think directly contradict anything I’ve presented here. As I noted above, there was plenty of schlock in the 1970s. And since the 1970s, there have been many great 1980s Hollywood films, both major and minor, all the way through until today. But I do think there has been a shift in the films we see being made—in their content and structure—and that has been driven by which films have consistently been the most successful. Hollywood has always been a business.

Also, while I’ve tried to stay away from qualitative judgments in this post, because people will like what they like, and it often takes time to see how great something really is, I do think it’s worth noting that there are fewer great films on the 2000s list than there are on the 1970s list. Or, put another way, even though I enjoy many of the films on the 2000s lists, and think that some of them are wonderful films (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I’ve argued is Generation Y’s Time Bandits), I don’t see anything that strikes me as the equal of Chinatown or Last Tango in Paris or Nashville or The Last Picture Show or Annie Hall.

Which is to say, I guess, that film artists could get away with a lot more, and still be commercially successful, in the 1970s—hence Woody Allen, Hal Ashby, Robert Altman, John Boorman, Peter Bogdanovich, John Carpenter, Francis Ford Coppola, Richard Donner, William Friedkin, Mike Nichols, others. Even George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are very stylized artists, in their own ways. (I think American Graffiti and Jaws and Star Wars all terrific films.) The only comparable 2000s directors I see represented on the above lists are Alfonso Cuarón, Ridley Scott (more of a great 80s director, I suppose), Steven Soderbergh, some of the Pixar folk…and arguably Mel Gibson and the Wachowskis (who are certainly…idiosyncratic, if nothing else). But time will of course tell…

Again, that isn’t to say there aren’t great, highly artistic Hollywood films now—but that they don’t seem to be as popular with mainstream audiences as they were in the 1970s… (It seems to me they’ve been crowded out by the franchises.)

Your thoughts?

26 thoughts on “The 1970s vs. the 2000s (in Hollywood film, at least)

  1. I can’t believe it but it’s true. Out of the 100 top grossing films of the 2000’s there are exactly none worthy of being called a great film, in my opinion. But I’m a hard-ass.

    • Have you seen all 100 of them? I’ve seen only about 70 of them myself, compared with ~60 of the ones on the 1970s lists.

      I would call Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban a great children’s film. And some of the Pixar films—Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, WALL-E—are very, very good. Are they “great”? …I still don’t know. Certainly they’re not Last Tango in Paris…but very little is. And greatness can take many forms.

      If nothing else, the 2000s was a great decade for kids’ films. Which the 1970s certainly wasn’t! (The Aristocats, total ugh.)

      • Ok, a laughable 10 in 2000’s vs. 78 in 1970’s, but I saw the previews for all those 2000’s films so I feel like a saw them! And I would seriously contend Smokey and the Bandit is better than all of them!

        Wait…is the Antz movie there? I liked that.

        • You know I mostly agree with you, though. If someone who had never watched a film asked me, “Which 100 movies should I watch? The 100 most popular from the 1970s, or the 100 most popular from the 2000s?”—I’d have to tell them to watch the ones from the 70s.

          I suppose it’s worth noting that these 100 1970s movies were the 100 most popular in the 1970s. I wonder which 1970s films are most popular now?

          Antz was a 90s movie, believe it or not (1998). How time flies.

  2. It’s strange… looking at those two lists, my mind automatically performed a kind of distillation of aesthetics from each period. It’s probably too abstract to put into words, but I definitely see a general aesthetic theme obtain across the 70s, and a different aesthetic obtain across the 00s.

    If I had to give a shot at it I’d say, it has to do with lighting, color palette. For the 70s: murkier lighting, more earth tones, grittier shots… vs. high contrast, bright colors in the 00s.

    Since I’m out on a limb with this anyway I might as well go all the way and make the perhaps unsupportable claim that this has a lot to do with the audiences the movies are being for. Grittier visuals reflect the grittier nature of the stories being told, same goes for brighter, more delineated images.

    Some of it of course has do with improvements in film technology. But I also think it is a comment on the narrowing of our moral vision (at least, as it is reflected in the top-grossing Hollywood films). Many of those films from the 70s offer stories with resolutions which are not clearly good or bad, whereas the stories from the 00s generally end with little moral ambiguity.

    Since this could easily turn into an essay, and I don’t have time for that right now, let me just link it back to Shklovsky, who I’ve been reading based on your recent articles about him. Many of the 70s films defamiliarize us with our own morality, whereas the 00s films tend to confirm what we already think. Which is consistent, after all, with the latter films being aimed at younger audiences.

    • Hey, John, thanks for the comment. Lots to chew on there.

      One huge factor that resulted in a change in the way the films looked is that the film stock of the 1970s is entirely different than that used today. Back then (in the first half of the decade), they were still using Technicolor stock, until about 1974 or so. And even after that, the stocks, and the ways in which they used them, allowed for very saturated color effects.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technicolor#The_introduction_of_Eastman_color_and_decline

      Another factor was that Gordon Willis, who shot the two Godfather films, was amazingly influential in the 70s among his fellow cinematographers (who follow trends and fashions like anyone else). Here are his 1970s films (I’ve italicized the ones that were top grossers):

      1979 Manhattan
      1978 Comes a Horseman
      1978 Interiors
      (1977 “The Godfather: A Novel for Television”)
      1977 Annie Hall
      1976 All the President’s Men
      1975 The Drowning Pool
      1974 The Godfather: Part II
      1974 The Parallax View
      1973 The Paper Chase
      1972 Up the Sandbox
      1972 Bad Company
      1972 The Godfather
      1971 Klute
      1971 Little Murders
      1970 The People Next Door
      1970 The Landlord
      1970 Loving
      1970 End of the Road

      After the first Godfather in particular, that very dark look became quite fashionable.

      I think this was also a reaction against the poppy, bright colors of the 1960s. Which seem to be back in vogue today.

      Maybe the 2010s will be darker? Christopher Nolan’s popularity might inspire other directors toward darker, less saturated imagery…?

      • That’s interesting. Thanks for pointing out the change in the technology — I had a suspicion/vague recollection that something had taken place in the 70s. And I wasn’t aware of Willis’ contribution.

        This post, plus the post about sf you refer to, have me thinking along Foucauldian lines about the ways in which power seeks to preserve itself. Specifically, it seems to me that the ‘infantilization’ you refer to concerns not just the aesthetics of these films (as I focused on in my earlier comment), but also the arguments they make, implicitly or explicitly, regarding what kind of lives are worth living, by way of making statements about what kind of stories are worth telling.

        Since I haven’t all of the films in the lists, I can’t make an absolute statement here, but it seems to me there are many more morally ambiguous stories present in the 70s list: The Godfather, Chinatown, A Clockwork Orange, almost every Woody Allen movie, to name a few. I admit there’s a certain risk of selection bias there — but I just don’t see those stories present in the 00 list. As you say, those movies still get made, they just have much less of the cultural mind share.

        In short, the stories we are telling ourselves have much clearer values, in line with the sort of education given to children learning societal value systems, rather than the sort of stories we might tell ourselves which are suitable for provoking questions regarding the established value systems.

        Regarding the Foucault reference above… I see this as serving the ends of society which is deeply concerned with preserving a certain value-system, and thus feels the need to bombard itself with stories about how life should be lived.

        And I should note that I have enjoyed many of the movies from the 00s, and am trying to elaborate on a dynamic rather than make value judgments myself. Although perhaps a few crept in.

  3. re: my above question (“I wonder which 1970s films are most popular now?”), here are the 1970s films on the IMDb Top 250—an imperfect metric, to be sure, but some indicator of what’s currently in vogue. I’ve italicized the top grossing films:

    Rank, Rating, Title (Year)
    2. 9.1 The Godfather (1972)
    3. 9.0 The Godfather: Part II (1974)
    9. 8.8 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
    14. 8.7 Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
    38. 8.6 Apocalypse Now (1979)
    41. 8.5 Taxi Driver (1976)
    44. 8.5 Alien (1979)
    50. 8.5 A Clockwork Orange (1971)
    62. 8.4 Chinatown (1974)
    69. 8.4 Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
    98. 8.3 The Sting (1973)
    106. 8.3 Jaws (1975)
    132. 8.2 The Deer Hunter (1978)
    137. 8.2 Annie Hall (1977)
    152. 8.1 Life of Brian (1979)
    168. 8.1 Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
    189. 8.0 The Exorcist (1973)
    206. 8.0 Rocky (1976)
    208. 8.0 Sleuth (1972)
    209. 8.0 Network (1976)
    230. 8.0 Patton (1970)
    232. 8.0 The Conversation (1974)
    234. 8.0 Barry Lyndon (1975)
    236. 8.0 Manhattan (1979)

    15/24, or 62.5%.

    And here are the 2000s films on that list:

    Rank, Rating, Title (Year)
    11. 8.8 The Dark Knight (2008)
    12. 8.8 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
    19. 8.7 City of God (2002)
    20. 8.7 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
    29. 8.6 Memento (2000)
    31. 8.6 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
    47. 8.5 Amélie (2001)
    48. 8.5 WALL·E (2008)
    52. 8.4 The Departed (2006)
    53. 8.4 The Pianist (2002)
    54. 8.4 Spirited Away (2001)
    58. 8.4 The Lives of Others (2006)
    60. 8.4 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
    61. 8.4 Requiem for a Dream (2000)
    70. 8.4 Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
    71. 8.4 The Prestige (2006)
    80. 8.3 Inglourious Basterds (2009)
    84. 8.3 Downfall (2004)
    89. 8.3 Up (2009)
    93. 8.3 Gran Torino (2008)
    96. 8.3 Gladiator (2000)
    100. 8.3 Sin City (2005)
    108. 8.3 Batman Begins (2005)
    109. 8.3 Oldboy (2003)
    112. 8.2 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
    114. 8.2 Hotel Rwanda (2004)
    117. 8.2 No Country for Old Men (2007)
    124. 8.2 Avatar (2009)
    126. 8.2 District 9 (2009)
    130. 8.2 Donnie Darko (2001)
    131. 8.2 Snatch. (2000)
    136. 8.2 Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
    142. 8.2 There Will Be Blood (2007)
    144. 8.1 Into the Wild (2007)
    148. 8.1 Million Dollar Baby (2004)
    151. 8.1 The Wrestler (2008)
    155. 8.1 Finding Nemo (2003)
    158. 8.1 The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
    167. 8.1 Amores Perros (2000)
    171. 8.1 The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
    172. 8.1 V for Vendetta (2006)
    173. 8.1 Ratatouille (2007)
    177. 8.1 Star Trek (2009)
    186. 8.0 The Incredibles (2004)
    193. 8.0 In Bruges (2008)
    196. 8.0 Children of Men (2006)
    202. 8.0 The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
    203. 8.0 Big Fish (2003)
    205. 8.0 Let the Right One In (2008)
    212. 8.0 Mystic River (2003)
    213. 8.0 Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
    216. 8.0 Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
    222. 8.0 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
    227. 8.0 Crash
    240. 7.9 Monsters, Inc. (2001)
    242. 7.9 Infernal Affairs (2002)
    245. 7.9 Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
    246. 7.9 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
    247. 7.9 Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
    248. 7.9 Mulholland Dr. (2001)

    15/60, or 25%.

    Interesting: the 1970s films have held up better. I suppose that could be read as an argument that the more popular films of that decade were indeed the “better” movies (of that decade).

  4. Is it possible, since you’re working from box office figures, that moviegoers in the 2000s are more likely to go to the theater to see big, effects-laden movies–the kind that aren’t all that interesting on a TV screen–and wait to watch the “good,” or at least more adult-oriented, movies on DVD? I notice that the imdb list from the 2000s veers significantly more “adult” than the box-office list. I wonder to what extent DVDs and better home televisions have made movie theaters into entertainment for a niche audience, primarily made up of kids and fans of explosions.

    • That’s certainly possible, and it might be a factor. I think a bigger factor, though, is the model Hollywood uses these days, which is to advertise the hell out of their bigger pictures, planning on having one huge opening weekend, then making up the rest in DVD sales. One unifying theme behind all 100 of the films on that set of lists is that they all had absolutely massive promotional campaigns—7-Eleven tie-ins and the like. (The only exception, I think, is The Hangover, which was something of a surprise breakout hit.)

      Movies like Donnie Darko and The Wrestler had much more modest ad campaigns, and opened on far fewer screens (limiting their potential box office take). The Wrestler‘s widest release was 776 theaters; it grossed $26.2 million domestically. X2, by comparison, opened in 3,741 theaters; it grossed $215 million domestically. The distribution companies were following different business models. (Both films were in theaters the same amount of time: 147 days for X2, 149 days for The Wrestler.)

      Donnie Darko‘s widest release was in 58 theaters, grossing $1.3 million domestic. It never had a shot at grossing much more than that, at least not theatrically. It’s since become a cult hit through midnight screenings and DVD sales.

    • You’re definitely right that the Top 250 list is much more adult than the box office lists. Adult-oriented films are still being made. They’re just being financed by smaller production companies, and earning less at the box office—i.e., selling fewer tickets, i.e., being seen by fewer people (contrasted with in the 1970s).

      I think that it’s relevant to consider overall exposure, though. X2 earned $214,949,694 domestically; at $8.50 a ticket, that’s roughly 25,288,199 viewers. There Will Be Blood earned $40,222,514, or roughly 4,732,060 viewers. And I think we can assume that X2 has sold many more DVDs than Blood. Overall, more people are seeing X2, and I think that has an effect on the culture—especially when it’s magnified over so many top-earning films… That also translates into many more dollars being earmarked for projects like X2 at the expense of projects like Blood, more pressure on film school students to make films like X2 rather than Blood, etc. It also means X2 earns more time in the cultural consciousness than Blood—Hugh Jackman is on more talk shows and magazine covers than Daniel Day Lewis. (Just think about how much X2 merchandise and tie-in campaigns there are! Comics, Burger King meals, Slurpee cups, lunch boxes, action figures, T-shirts, etc. As opposed to, what, the new copy of Oil! with a movie cover, and the blurb “Now a Major Motion Picture!”?)

      There is, over time, a widespread and deep infrastructural effect, and I think the result is a juvenilization, if not infantilization of the culture. And, looking beyond the scope of this article, I think that translates indirectly into more small press writers writing stories about Wolverine—even ironically—or at least writing action-type fantasy stories—rather than writing like Upton Sinclair.

      As for whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

  5. Pingback: David Foster Wallace, on Television, on Television as the Dominant « BIG OTHER

  6. This is so true and it sucks. I hate movies made just for kids, and I always have–even when I was one. (Thank god my parents took us to PG-13 and R-rated movies and weren’t such pussies, the way so many parents today are.) There are a few exceptions, of course–and I don’t mean movies made for families, like Star Wars or Indiana Jones, which kick ass (original Star Wars)–but I don’t want to take my (as yet unborn) kids to movies made just for them, because I think it’s pointless. What do they learn? What do their parents learn? How much do we dumb down everything and everyone in the process? (It’s like when Shrek came out and everyone and their mother thought it was such brilliant commentary just because it weakly sort of/kind of skewered Disney. As if that was so subversive by then. )

    The vast majority of movies my kids see will probably end up being from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, and some from the 80s, too. Stuff that kids and adults can enjoy, like adventure movies, Marx Bros, Universal Monster Movies, Bond films, historical dramas, etc, etc. But I can’t think of much I would want my kids to see that’s come out in the 2000s or even in the 1990s and markets itself as “for kids.” Maybe the Harry Potter movies, Wall-E, a few others. But not much at all. Hope the trend doesn’t continue, but I’m pretty sure it will. Sigh.

    Also, since Disney closed down its hand-drawn animation studios, art has not exactly been the byword for children’s animated film. Just about everything Pixar and Disney put out these days features exactly one style of animation–that bouncy, roly poly sort of 3-D computer animation that you find in Up and countless others. It’s not that it’s bad, but with the Disney animated classics, they used to get these terrific artists to do the storyboards and each film had a different animation style. (Like Alice in Wonderland, which is really an artistic masterpiece.) Kids could enjoy the film, their parents could enjoy the art. But now there isn’t much art. Again, Wall-E, and a few others buck the trend, but by and large it’s just about product and roly poly fat kids and stale cultural references and fart jokes in animated stuff now.

    Also: Get off my lawn!

  7. Have you ever considered that your data maybe incomplete. That your research doesn’t include the sell/rentals/VOD of DVDs (a much larger factor now in determining the success of a film now since the 70’s). I know several people who would much rather see a “small” film in there house than at a theater where they are not allowed to cry.

    Also, keep in mind that that list you compiled makes up about one-sixth of all film that were given a wide release in the 2000’s where as 1970’s top grosses barely make up a 50th.

  8. Have you ever considered that your data maybe incomplete. That your research doesn’t include the sell/rentals/VOD of DVDs (a much larger factor now in determining the success of a film now since the 70’s)? I know several people who would much rather see a “small” film in there house than at a theater where they are not allowed to cry.

    Also, keep in mind that that list you compiled makes up about one-sixth of all film that were given a wide release in the 2000’s where as 1970’s top grosses barely make up a 50th.

    • I totally agree. Viewing habits have changed between the 70s and today, no doubt. If you wanted to see a new release in 1977, you had to go to the theater; now you can wait six months and rent the DVD. …Although I also think that became more common later in the 2000s than earlier in the decade. And I do think there’s some value in comparing top grossing films.

      I figured this was a good starting point. I welcome any and all suggestions about how to improve this study. …Thanks for your comments!

  9. I think the Hollywood studios are riding the same kid-friendly gravy train that our culture as a whole has swallowed (I note that the richest musical act here in Australia by a large margin is…the Wiggles.) I think the culture affects Hollywood’s choices as well as the reverse.
    I might also note that the movies and TV have switched places in that movies are now franchised, with the expectation of a sitcom-style variations on a (morally translucent) theme in subsequent films. Whereas TV (or cable anyways) is now freer to sprawl long narratives over many seasons without clearly designating which “guys” are which. So the outlet for “serious adult” themes is there, it’s just moved.
    I also agree that maybe folks would watch a “serious” flick on their laptop and go see Avatar et al on the “big screen”. The last film I saw at the cinema was yr fav Inception, and the sound was so awful I barely noticed how annoying the film was til later. I think the problem with Christopher Nolan (since you asked) is that he doesn’t do either intellectualism or emotion and has a small man syndrome going about that, which he hopes to divert attention from with all the handwaving.

    I initally found this site via a David Bordwll link and have been enjoying yr posts a lot.

    • Thanks for the comments, Leon!

      Speaking of Bordwell, I came across this over the weekend, and it seems relevant. It concerns how studios responded to the “record-breaking hits” of the New Hollywood, from The French Connection (1971) and The Godfather (1972) to Star Wars and Close Encounters (both 1977):

      The studios’ decision makers realized that the market for a movie was much bigger than anyone had suspected, and they settled on a business strategy to exploit the “megapicture,” or blockbuster. This was a must-see movie very different from the road show attraction. Budgeted at the highest level, launched in the summer or the Christmas season, playing off a best-selling book or a pop-culture fad like disco, advertised endlessly on television, and then opening in hundreds (eventually thousands) of theaters on the same weekend, the blockbuster was calculated to sell tickets fast. By the early 1980s, merchandising was added to the mix, so tie-ins with fast-food chains, automobile companies, and lines of toys and apparel could keep selling the movie. Scripts that lent themselves to mass marketing had a better chance of being acquired, and screenwriters were encouraged to incorporate special effects. Unlike studio-era productions, the megapicture could lead a robust afterlife on a soundtrack album, on cable channels, and on videocassette.

      —David Bordwell, The Way Hollywood Tells It (2006), pages 2–3, emphasis mine

  10. Pingback: A Guide to My Writing Here at Big Other « BIG OTHER

  11. despite having lived most of my life in the 2000’s, i would sooner record one of the gritty, R-rated movies on TV than go see something like ICE AGE

  12. Pingback: A Guide to My Writing Here at Big Other (reposted) « BIG OTHER

  13. Pingback: An inventory of all my writing on cinema | A D Jameson's Blahg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s