EDITORIAL: New Year's Resolutions for the Movie Industry in 2015
As I say every year, plenty of regular everyday people make New Year's Resolutions, but I think bigger entities, namely movie makers and movie moguls, need to make them too. Over the life of this website, this is my absolute favorite editorial to write every year. I have fun taking the movie industry to task for things they need to change. I'm sarcastic, but I'm not the guy to take it to the false internet courage level of some Twitter troll. This will be as forward as I get all year.
Some resolutions come true, while other get mentioned and reiterated every year. Much like what was mentioned in a recent io9.com article by Charlie Jane Anders, 2014 taught us some things, both good and bad. You would hope Hollywood would learn from those lessons going forward. They probably won't, but they are fun to point out. Here are some "New Year's Resolutions for the Movie Industry for 2015." Enjoy!
1. Be careful what you call "freedom of speech" violations that are really just bad business decisions and missed opportunities for cash grabs. I might as well start off with a true rant and a true lesson to learn. I wasn't shy on social media last month voicing my feelings about all of the controversy surrounding Sony Pictures are their botched distribution of "The Interview." People shouted from the mountains-made-out-of-molehills about terrorists winning over America. I was not one of them. The cold feet, marketing stunt, buyers remorse, industry pressure, safety fears, theater owner beef, or whatever you want to call the storm that happened was nothing more than a crappy business decision, plain and simple. Sony was put in a no-win situation. If they release the movie and someone gets hurt from hackers' threats, then they get crucified in the media in a "how could you let this happen" kind of way. If they don't release the movie due to theater business denials, then panties get bunched and people call it censorship. This wasn't censorship. This was about money every step of the way. You were never not going to get to see "The Interview." Well, guess what. The movie got enormous press attention, still got released, and was quickly dismissed. I ask was it worth all that? Was that the torch to bear or the champion to crown? Choose better battles, folks. There is far worse and real censorship in the world of art and film than some Seth Rogan and James Franco movie that still got your $6 anyway.
2. Clean up your leaks and messes, Hollywood. Let's fix the actual problem that started the Sony Pictures ruckus. Movie studios apparently need to renew their McAfee subscriptions, clear out the spam folders, or come up with better passwords that the combination to the airlock on Druidia from "Spaceballs." Also, have you read some of those e-mails? Jeez. The celebrity and movie business is ugly and embarrassing and it probably shouldn't surprise us. Passive aggressive and petty differences will eat at you all day. Play nice. As one of my teacher colleagues always says, you get more bees with honey.
3. Speaking of Sony Pictures, it's time to let Marvel Films fix the "Spider-Man" film franchise. Here's one piece of business advice for Sony: SELL. You tried with "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" in 2014 and made the same mistakes as you did the first time with Sam Raimi. You've now built a loser with the "Spider-Man" franchise TWICE. The audience is screaming at your for it and the character can't afford another instant reboot. If George Lucas can sell "Star Wars" to Disney for a little over $4 billion dollars, I bet you could put a $2 billion price tag on "Spider-Man" and Disney could and would pay it. Sony gets substantial money to save face and Marvel gets to put its flagship character in the universe where it belongs and in better hands. Everybody wins.
4. Speaking of cash grabs, "The Hobbit" is over and "The Hunger Games" is not far behind. Let those be the last two-part, split-film sequels, please. Audiences are seeing through this ticket-milking strategy. It really hasn't worked anytime it's been done, going back to "The Matrix." The profits from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" are the plenty, but the lowest of the series. The same goes for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1." Filmmakers and studios, please do a better job streamlining your product to maximize the significance of your event instead of over-saturating limited potential. This resolution won't change and will be put to the test in a few years with Marvel's "Avengers: Infinity War" two-part sequel. Marvel is printing money and can probably be the one studio that could overcome this negative ploy. Their lines won't get shorter.
5. In yet another annual cry for help, please stop letting Adam Sandler make movies and please stop paying to see them. Slowly, people are coming around to his hack and hypocritical brand. This past year, Sandler went as far as to call his films "paid vacations." Was that enough to turn off his audience? Somewhat, but not quite. "Blended" was, supposedly, one of Adam Sandler's worst openings ever, a $14+ million dollar third place finish. The problem was, even as a flop less than half of "Grown Ups" or "Grown Ups 2," it still earned $46 million dollars domestically and $77 million overseas to triple its $40 million budget. Sandler still gets to take his paid vacation all the way to the bank. Even when he went serious for "Men, Women, and Children" later in the year, no one listened. Maybe that all stands as evidence that we are approaching a tipping point. We're almost there. We're close to shipping Sandler to the comedy graveyard where Eddie Murphy's repetitive flops live. So, for one more year, for the love of all cinema gods, please stop giving this man your money. If you have to and still love him, give him a Redbox buck-fifty. Don't give him your $9 and bring your family to his crap. Keep his arrow pointing down until he changes.
6. Before it's too late, someone tell Melissa McCarthy she's going to be the next one-note repetitive joke like Adam Sandler if she doesn't stop playing the same character in every movie. As loved and Oscar-nominated as Melissa McCarthy was for "Bridesmaids" four years ago, I feel (and I don't think I'm alone) like her act is the same and wearing thin. Her gift for sarcastic and physical comedy is unique, but she really needs to diversify her roles. I feel like she's playing a version of the same character every time, whether it's "The Heat," "Identity Thief," or "Tammy." She is risking entering that boring territory of repetitiveness. I've already turned her off as a headliner. Later in 2014, she did play it straight alongside Bill Murray in "St. Vincent." Melissa needs to do more of that and show her range. She's so talented that there's no reason she can't be the female equivalent of Robin Williams with a wide range than another Murphy or Sandler.
7. Stick a fork in Johnny Depp. He's done. He's dead to us now. Depending on what Johnny Depp does going forward (balanced with a little sliver of difference in "Black Mass" from Scott Cooper and a heap of more of the weird usual with "Mordecai" and an "Alice in Wonderland" sequel), we might look back on 2014 as the year Johnny Depp's popularity took the fatal blow that led to its eventual demise. "Transcendence" was a huge critical and commercial flop, "Into the Woods" is not winning over anyone, and no one saw "Tusk." I, for one, have put him on my Sandler list of performers that are not stealing my money. I'll wait for Redbox or cable and remember the old pre-"Pirates" Johnny until he proves me wrong.
8. Keep Matthew McConaughey on the roll he's on. Don't let him regress to Old Matthew. Between the end of 2013 and the stretch of 2014, no actor is on a bigger roll than Matthew McConaughey. He even made TIME magazine's "The 100 Most Influential People" list. His Oscar win for "Dallas Buyers Club" was a colossal turning point and "Interstellar" was a strong follow-up that needs to continue. Someone or something needs to keep him focused. We can't let the decadence get him fat with love again and bring him back to bad rom-coms. He needs to keep his edge and keep delivering big-time performances.
9. It was Benedict Cumberbatch in the resolutions last year. This year, please don't overexpose Chris Pratt. Benedict Cumberbatch has capitalized on his coming out party. He is in line for an Oscar nomination for "The Imitation Game" and just signed on with Marvel for "Doctor Strange" which will greatly raise his already high Q-rating. Without the awards prestige, we're in the midst of that this year with Chris Pratt. 2014's "The LEGO Movie" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" were his "Back to the Future" springboards equivalent to the star-making transition Michael J. Fox took from TV to film a generation ago. He's an A-lister now. His next step is the big stage as the hero of "Jurassic World" coming this June. After that, Chris needs to make his choices wisely. He can't sign up for everything, anything, and risk overexposure. Coming back to Marvel and LEGO for more is fine, but Chris needs to balance that with a dramatic or ensemble role or two to stretch his range and spread his appeal smartly. Smartly doesn't mean pulling a Vince Vaughn and trying villains like Norman Bates on for size. That's too far. Smartly means not ending up like Melissa McCarthy where your only play is the "cool dorky/clowny do-gooder" part that is working right now.
10. "Jurassic World," please don't suck. Two years ago, I placed my annual "please don't suck" tag on "Man of Steel." Last year, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" got that honor. Both were chosen because the ramifications of their failures outweighed their benefits of success. If either film flopped, entire promising and multi-layered franchises would die before they ever got started. Neither disappointed and both got their proverbial balls rolling. "Jurassic World" doesn't have that kind of franchise size at stake, but it's a triumphant return of an old favorite that deserved better than "Jurassic Park III" back in 2001. More than "Terminator: Genisys," this one can't suck. The new "Terminator" is going to suck. We can see that coming, but "Jurassic World" needs to be good. Did you hear that Universal Pictures?
11. Speaking of Universal Pictures, please justify that "Furious 7" will be worth the delay, trouble, and mourned feelings. When Paul Walker tragically died in an auto accident, I was one of the people who wanted the "Fast and Furious" franchise to end right there. "Fast and Furious 6," other than the planned introduction of Jason Statham as a new villain, gave us the happy ending we were waiting for, in the form of the original gang back in L.A. sitting at the old picnic table with expunged records and their lives back. That was the ideal bow to tie it all up, but more was coming. I know each of these films make more money than the last one before it, but, for decency's sake, that was enough for me. I voted to let Statham loom and end it quietly. This year, after a lengthy delay to correct and rewrite things, "Furious 7" will keep the cruise ship going but also be our goodbye to Paul Walker. This can't be a cash grab. This has to work honorably and justify its existence. This is one of the trickier challenges of any film this coming year and, so far, the level of respect has been there.
12. I was right about the bad 80's and 90's remakes. Stop already. It sure wasn't difficult or a very risky limb to stand on, but I called this a year ago. Let the 80's and 90's stay in their decades. Times have changed and the themes then that made these movies their own classics don't match to today. "Robocop" and its social commentary, "About Last Night" and its adult relationships, and "Endless Love" and its pining youth don't work the same today and didn't at the box office. Let that trend be a lesson to "Terminator: Genisys" and, more importantly, Paul Feig's planned "Ghostbusters" remake. They are both going to screw it up and we can see it coming. Stop and quit before you break something that you can't fix.
13. I was right about big budget Biblical adaptations too. That io9.com article mentions this failure in the same way that I predicted a year ago. The Christian audience wasn't swayed by blockbusters in 2014. They can see through a bloated fake. Both "Exodus: Gods and Kings" and "Noah" greatly underperformed with audiences compared to their immense budgets and expectations. Heck, they were both shown up by two little films. Right or wrong in their themes of faith versus entertainment, "Heaven is For Real" and "God is Not Dead" earned over $101 million and $62 million respectively versus budgets of $12 million and $2 million. Those are real hits. Leave the Christian stuff to the little guys, Hollywood. Paging Alex Kendrick. It's time to follow-up "Courageous." The landscape is ready.
14. Dear Disney, please limit yourself to one, or preferably no, live-action reboot/remake of an animated classic each year. I know, going all the way back to Glenn Close's "101 Dalmatians," that the likes of Tim Burton's "Alice and Wonderland" and 2014's own "Maleficent" make money, tons of it, but they also tread on history and warp what made the original animated classics endearing and timeless. The reboots are forgettable, at best. These films feel like bloated cash grabs, but, again, I get the draw of dollar signs. That said, slow your roll, Disney. Match the decades-long pace and formula of your animated films and just do one a year. That's plenty. When it's one-a-year, the event is special and more important. In 2015, you have both "Cinderella" and "The Jungle Book" on top of two Pixar films that get your Disney name as well. That's too much. Pace yourself and spread the wealth.
15. Speaking of Walt Disney Studios, after turning the D-list into gold with "Guardians of the Galaxy," give Marvel Films a blank check for whatever it wants. Alright, Marvel Films. You win. You proved that the $4 billion Disney paid in 2009 to acquire you was worth every penny. You're the unquestioned king and can turn any pile of s--t into chrome with your brand recognition, industry dominance, and sharp eye for talent. I doubted you this time last year with "Guardians of the Galaxy" and I was wrong. Someday, you might fly too close to the Sun and turn into Icarus, but it's not going to happen anytime soon. Roll out whatever you want and take my money now for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Ant-Man" this year. Your Phase 3 calendar going forward is perfect.
16. Speaking of Marvel, watch out for Fox's burgeoning mini-Marvel universe. Sony might be ruining their Marvel properties with weak "Spider-Man" efforts and terrible "Ghost Rider" films, but Fox is turning their fortunes around with their "X-Men" and "Fantastic Four" franchises. 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past" was the perfect reclamation project for the wayward series and won big at the box office. Bryan Singer's "X-Men: Apocalypse" future looks bright and Channing Tatum is a nice get at "Gambit." That section is fine. Fox's true big test is whether it can reboot "The Fantastic Four" this August. They are daring to go a different direction, which will either be a tough sell or a breath of fresh air. Either way, keep an eye on Fox.
17. It's put-up or shut-up time for Pixar Animation Studios in 2015.-- "Sequel-itis" has struck Pixar hard. Due to production delays and filmmaking changes, Pixar missed its first box office year since 2005 in 2014. Its last impression was the forgettable "Monsters University" sequel from 2013. It needs to gain its good will back. What made Pixar the cradle of creative perfection for so long was their original efforts and ideas. 2015 appears to be their next best chance to get back to that level of artistic integrity with two original works, "Inside Out" in June and "The Good Dinosaur" in November. After 2015, they are back to trotting out likely lesser sequels like "Finding Dory" in 2016, the completely unnecessary "Toy Story 4" in 2017, and future inevitable plans for "The Incredibles 2" and "Cars 3." This will be their last opportunity for a while to get their mojo back.
18. MoviePass is getting closer to becoming viable, but it must find the right price point. AMC Theatres made some headlines at the end of 2014 by partnering with MoviePass to offer two unlimited admission plans, one for $35 covering regular shows and a $45 premium plan for 3D and IMAX tickets. With the average movie ticket price hovering just below $8 as of 2014, MoviePass is approaching feasibility and value, but it's not quite low enough yet. Smaller theaters and matinee pricing still win. At that average price, to get your money's worth out of either $35 or $45, that requires dialing up one movie a week for each of the typical four weeks in a month. Any less and you're wasting money that month, especially compared to how far your $35 or $45 could go elsewhere on Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, or even a straight-up cable subscription. I don't think the casual moviegoer is ready to dedicate another regular $35 monthly commitment and bill just to meet the average. I could see it working for the summer months of May, June, July, and August where there's something awesome and must-see every week, but then you're bleeding money in the slow spring, winter, and fall seasons the rest of the year. To be a must-have deal, MoviePass needs a better price point or more incentives to feel like a better idea. If that number was closer to $20, I think you would get a lot more casual interest, my own included.
19. More Video On Demand offerings please. Speaking of buying options, Hollywood continues to undersell and underestimate the viability of the Video On Demand (VOD) market for their theatrical features. If there's one positive thing the trainwreck of "The Interview" has just shown us, it's that a popular movie at a fair price (right around $6) will bring people to your service in droves. Priced a buck or two less than dragging yourself out of the house on a cold day, "The Interview" made over $15 million in VOD sales in just its first weekend online. That's as good as the film probably would have gotten anyway debuting in limited theaters against full competition. I know there are still drawbacks for studios going the VOD route. Similar to the pitfalls of sports pay-per-views, one household only pays $6-10 once instead of $10-a-head, lowering maximum profit potential. Once online, the torrent and piracy window opens and kills even more possible earnings. In the same time frame that "The Interview" made that $15+ million in legitimate VOD buys, it was also downloaded illegally a reported 200,000+ times in a single weekend. That's $1.2 million of missed purchases, which has likely doubled by now. I get those negatives, but a $15 million debut and a loss of $2 million is still a pretty decent take. That and I bet the studios see a better cut back to them from Google Play and YouTube than it does the strife they've had with theater owners and distributors over the years.
20. In a repeat from 2013, someone tell Disney not to overexpose and ruin the "Star Wars" franchise before it even gets started. I made this resolution two years ago and it feels like it's been unheeded. In our scoop-filled, gossip-fueled, and studio leaked world, we already know too much about 2015's most anticipated film and it's a small miracle we don't know more. Its big teaser in November wisely held its cards tight to the vest and I hope that continues. J.J. Abrams is known for his unparalleled secrecy and misdirection on movie sets ("Star Trek Into Darkness" anyone?), but Disney is a bigger animal to work for and filled with loose lips that sink ships. Disney, I know you want to and probably have to, but don't show us a thing from this movie. You already have us. Keep us in suspense for as long as possible. Pull a bold move and don't even screen this for critics in December. Sure, all of that secrecy will piss off the impatient fanboys and whining scoop writers, but you will get maximum effect that far outweighs the petty blow-back. No one mad is not going to get angry enough to skip this film. No one is that crazy.
21. Along the same lines as "Star Wars," slow down with the over-analyzing of everything touching "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice"-- Now that "Star Wars" is here this year, the mantle for "the most epic anticipated movie event in the whole universe that ever happened " for next year is being passed to 2016's "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice." Just as with "Star Wars," please, people, stop spoiling it for yourself and diving into every minute detail of this blockbuster that gets internet attention and airplay. We all already over-analyzed to death the casting and now first images of Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot as Batman and Wonder Woman that were shown around the time of Comic-Con 2014. Until it comes out in March of 2016, this digging and bickering is only going to get worse. Leave something to the imagination and wait this out. Warner Bros., just like Disney, don't show us a thing even though you must and you will. This one has us all already too.
22. Continue the cautious and shrewd casting, Warner Bros.-- On a related note, I like where you are going, Warner Bros., with your DC Cinematic Universe casting. It's been bold and head-scratching in a good way. No one envisioned or expected people like Jason Momoa or Ezra Miller as the future Aquaman and Flash. You're never going to be able to top or compete with Marvel, so gain the small victories where you can. Either you're on to something cool or you're trying to be too contrary, cute, smarter than the room, and better than Marvel. You've certainly gotten our attention nonetheless. I'll give you that. Keep up the intriguing work. We'll wait to bust your balls and judge you later on your results.
23. Make a wish that Clint Eastwood keeps making films into his 100's.-- At age 84 this past year, living legend Clint Eastwood stepped into and succeeded at a new challenge with "American Sniper," a film far different that his usual tone and scale. His "Jersey Boys" gave him a 2014 twin-bill when other directors take triple the time to make even one film. I see on IMDB that Clint doesn't have anything in the pipeline listed for 2015 or 2016. If he hangs it up and slows down, I understand, but I hope he keeps making films for another decade-plus. Throw a penny in a wishing well for this one.
24. Address the female audience better than "Magic Mike XXL" and "Fifty Shades of Grey"-- I get it, ladies. Guys are hot and sex sells. Clearly, you are all starved for it, but I know you have hearts under the hormones and can do better than lusting for "Magic Mike XXL" and "Fifty Shades of Grey" in 2015. You know like I do that they are going to be momentary flashes that disappoint and suck in the long run. I challenge you to embrace more empowering stories and films. Four of the front-runners and contenders for the Best Actress Oscar next month, namely Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon, Marion Cotillard, and Jennifer Aniston, shed the glamour and delivered strong efforts of more worthwhile endeavors in "Still Alice," "Wild," "Two Days, One Night," and "Cake." If they can do it, so can you. Lust a little less and love a little more. I dare you.
25. Finally, as always, the book will always be better than the movie. Get over the griping.-- This is my annual plea to all moviegoers and it bears repeating. As much of a movie guy as I am, I speak with full assurance to say that the book will always be better than the movie. It's no contest, but be smarter. You know the disappointment is coming, so settle down and accept it. Judge the movies based on books as separate mediums because they are. As true as "Gone Girl" (adapted into a screenplay by the novel's author herself, Gillian Flynn, likely on her way to an Oscar for it too) was, we hear you that the book is better. Good for it and good for you. I've got news for you that you've probably heard before but don't listen to. Take the entire list of upcoming 2015 films that are based on books and you will be saying the same thing all year (especially for something as unfilmmable as "Fifty Shades of Grey"). Prepare now and lower your expectations. Sound less bitter and be more accepting. It was never going to happen, so let it go.