Why Movies Suck

It’s a question that arises every time I visit the video store or go out to the local cineplex: why are there so many bad movies?

One could be forgiven for thinking that it’s because the people in charge of Hollywood no longer have even the sense they were born with, but this conclusion only holds if one assumes that Hollywood is actually trying to make good movies.

Why on earth wouldn’t they be trying to make good movies? Well, in order to make more money, of course.

I wouldn’t be the first to point out the vastly increased role of the various Hollywood studios’ marketing departments in every stage of the creative process these days. Whereas marketing departments once usually stepped in only after a movie was completed, marketers are now involved in decisions about what scripts to buy and how to rewrite them, whom to cast, and how to film, all in the service of sales strategies targeting specific demographic groups. (I’m not arguing that this never used to be the case, back in some Edenic halcyon age of moviemaking for movies’ sake, but if you imagine a continuum between “moviemaking for movies’ sake” and “moviemaking for the shareholders’ sake,” I think it’s pretty clear that we used to be a lot closer to the former and are lately tending a lot closer to the latter.)

And if there’s one demographic group that causes Hollywood marketing directors to hear old-fashioned cash-register kaching noises while their pupils are replaced by dollar-bill signs, it’s 12-24-year-olds, because they buy the most movie tickets. In 2007 – the most recent data I could find after 30 seconds of googling – this age group bought almost 40 percent of all movie tickets sold. (The next biggest purchasers are 25-39-year-olds, responsible for only 29 percent of 2007 ticket sales.) For an idea of what kind of money these people are putting on the table, consider that the spending power of 12-17-year-olds alone nearly reached $190 billion in 2006 and was predicted to top $200 billion any year now. (I imagine that more than a few allowances have been revised downward since that prediction was made, but still.)

One interesting question I’m not sure how to answer is what came first – teens buying the most movie tickets, or movies being aimed more and more at teens. But at the moment, if you are a Hollywood executive who wants to be able to report good news to your company’s shareholders, you couldn’t be blamed for deciding that marketing to teenagers needs to be a pretty important part of your strategy.

In other words, the preponderance of idiotic movies does not mean that Hollywood is run by idiots. It means Hollywood is run by very smart people who are very good at separating 14-year-olds from their paper-route money.

So the next time you – i.e., a non-12-24-year-old, or anyone interested in movies aimed at people with a little more life experience and perspective – are scanning the new releases at the video store, or checking the paper to see if there might be a movie playing that you are willing to spend $7-$15 to see, remember that you are trespassing in the sandbox. The movies don’t look good to you because they aren’t made for you. (This is why, in general, I rarely pay attention to movies that take up more than a shelf or two in the video store new releases display. The more copies the store ordered, the worse the odds that it’s anything I need to see.)

Maybe you should take up knitting or something.