What’s a flop, anyways? Fright Night and film finances

“What’s worth doing is worth doing for money.” – Wall Street

I love to watch movies. There’s a lot to get out of the act of watching a movie, from the anticipation to the actual viewing experience to the discussion afterward with fiends and other movie buffs. There’s a lot to talk about, when it comes to movies, too. You can talk about the directing, the themes, the acting, the story, anything, really. But there’s one part of movie discussion that I will never understand: the money. With so many movies released every week there will be some that aren’t successful at the box office. These failures are inevitably called a flop and are then summarily dismissed by the people that pay attention to such things. But what does a flop mean, exactly? Why are some of us so obsessed with the monetary aspect of movie making? And why is Fright Night a perfect case study?

When I was younger I wasn’t as into movies as I am now, though I still went to see a lot of them. I went to two movies a month and there were invariably some that weren’t as well watched as the others. The Monday after opening weekend I would listen to the radio and hear the DJ’s take on the new releases. Sometimes he would say he liked a movie, others he would deride. And then he would dismiss the others as flops. Not worthy of his time. Not worthy of anything. I got really angry when he did that. How could he talk about a movie he hadn’t seen? How could he know that there was nothing of value in those films? Did the fact that few people went to see a movie mean it was bad? Having been one of those few people quite often, I can safely argue against that particular line of thinking. Because opening weekend gross doesn’t have a single thing to do with the quality of a film. The only thing that makes a movie open well or poorly is the marketing. The quality of the film is completely irrelevant when it comes to opening weekend. If all of the good movies made a lot of money more movies would be good. The studios would realize that their hard work when creating the film would be repaid with the most money. But that’s not how it works. It’s the movies that are sold best that make the most money, for the most part. The most marketable movies aren’t necessarily the best movies, nor are the best movies necessarily marketable.

So, if a movie is marketed correctly and is good, it will never be a flop, right? Wrong. Fright Night, released last Friday to abysmal numbers, was marketed quite well. They played up both the horror and the comedy aspects. It’s a remake of a semi-beloved film and it stars a hunk, a hottie, and a geek icon. And it’s a good film! It’s a movie everybody should want to see. But maybe we’re just feeling a bit of vampire fatigue now. With all the Twilight films getting the big bucks it’s possible that Joe Public has gotten inundated with those films marketing that they got turned off of all vampire things. There’s no good explanation for why Fright Night performed poorly.

And now if you go look at the IMDb board for Fright Night you’ll see hordes of posters calling Fright Night a flop. You can sense the glee they get from proclaiming its failure. HA! The fact that few people went to see this movie validates them in some way. But it also closes the door on them experiencing the potential delight that comes from watching a good movie. They’re so focused on the fact that a movie didn’t make as much as it could have made that they forget the movie is a work of art. It exists to say something. To make us feel something. Maybe Fright Night isn’t the film equivalent of a Picasso, but there’s a lot of fun to be had and there’s a bit of a message in there, too. So don’t get all caught up in the monetary side, watch movies for their own merits, not those placed upon them by the bankers.

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8 thoughts on “What’s a flop, anyways? Fright Night and film finances

  1. I enjoy looking at box office results, but more because I’m generally interested in the business of Hollywood. It’s fun to speculate and comment on marketing and what box office returns will mean from a business perspective and how it will all affect studio actions going forward.

    I put absolutely no stock in box office as a reflection of quality, though I do sometimes feel sad when a great movie like Fright Night fails to find a theatrical audience.

    1. I guess there’s some value in talking about the future of movies when it comes to box office. That’s probably why the Western has mostly disappeared, right? But there’s still a Western or two produced every year, it seems. And they’re mostly great. I’d rather talk about how awesome The Assassination of Jesse James… is than talk about how much money it made.

      It’s sad that so few people went to see Fright Night. I predict big DVD/Blu/whatever sales. Maybe.

      Another problem with the money discussion is that the money has little to do with the product. Unlike TV where the production is constantly changing (the sad fate of Lone Star last season is evidence). But a movie won’t stop midway if not enough people are going to see it. Even franchises that get discontinued (His Dark Materials) still have a full movie. It just didn’t get a second or third one.

  2. What happens at the boxoffice matters because it sends so strong signals to the film industry. It’s a big fat pointer at what kind of movies they should make if they want to keep their jobs. If you care about high quality movies it’s a little bit disturbing and worrying when you see a favorite of yours flop. It means that it’s less likely that movies like that will be made in the future. I’m afraid the audience get what they deserve. It’s all business. In the end.

    1. I don’t think Idiocracy is a documentary. I don’t think bad movies will ever completely take over. I have a hard time buying that there are fewer good movies today than there were at any other time. Box office might change the future of a movie but it won’t change the present of one. Hell, I’m contributing to the thing I hate the most about movie culture just by writing this little thing. We put too much stock in things that we don’t fully understand. I doubt that most people calling Fright Night a flop have a clue about the complex accounting that goes on in the movie business. I sure don’t.

      1. Yeah. It is complex. The more I think of it the more complex does it get. I mean… you could as well turn it over and take pride that you like and endorse a movie with a small audience. Exclusivity ftw! And again: what is success, really? You have to look at how much money you’ve invested as well and how much return you’ll get on it. A small, indie movie done with blood, sweat, tears and volontary work that gives a little, litte surplus, isn’t it really to be regarded as hugly succesful and something to respect?

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