Can you judge how good a film is based on its box office numbers?
The weight of box office expectations has been weighing down on filmmakers.
In the wake of Top Gun: Maverick’s ridiculously strong box office success over the summer, many films have been cast in the shadows, failing to be successful movies and investments in the eyes of the industry.
Martin Scorsese is the latest filmmaker to comment on the current obsession with box office numbers. During his appearance at the New York Film Festival, IndieWire reported that the Oscar-winning filmmaker called the industry’s obsession with box office grosses both “repulsive” and “really insulting.”
Powerful words on the state of cinema by Martin Scorsese at his and @thenyff’s 60th! #nyff60 @FilmLinc pic.twitter.com/T37HcNMQDl— Ellen Houlihan (@elliehoulie) October 13, 2022
At the film fest, Scorsese said:
"Since the ‘80s, there’s been a focus on numbers. It’s kind of repulsive. The cost of a movie is one thing. Understand that a film costs a certain amount, they expect to at least get the amount back… The emphasis is now on numbers, cost, the opening weekend, how much it made in the U.S.A., how much it made in England, how much it made in Asia, how much it made in the entire world, how many viewers it got. As a filmmaker, and as a person who can’t imagine life without cinema, I always find it really insulting."
Scorsese then praised the festival for championing filmmaking at a time when “cinema is devalued, demeaned, belittled from all sides, not necessarily the business side but certainly the art.”
Unlike many film festivals, the New York Film Festival does not give out awards for films. Instead, the festival is a celebration of cinema and the art form. As Scorsese put it, “You don’t have to compete. You just have to love cinema here.”
Early this month, Edgar Wright shared similar thoughts during his BBC Maestro course. His cult classic, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, was a box office bomb, yet the film is hardly considered a disappointment 12 years later.
“I’ve said this to other filmmakers since who’ve maybe had a similar initial reaction to a film like Scott Pilgrim did, is that the three-day weekend is not the end of the story for any movie. People shouldn’t buy into that idea,” Wright said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “Rating films by their box office is like the football fan equivalent to films. Most of my favorite films that are considered classics today were not considered hits in their time.”
Other notable box office bombs that have since been deemed important movies in cinema history include Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, Blade Runner: 2049, and The Big Lebowski.
The truth is, a film’s first three days do not define the overall success of the movie. In fact, with low attendance at theaters and the industry still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the box office seems like an unreliable source to judge the success of a movie.
It’s understandable why studios will look at the numbers and question what is a profitable project for them to pursue, but audiences and the film industry should love cinema based on their own judgments.
Go and watch whatever films that speak to you without the assumption that it isn’t worth your time and attention because it didn’t make $100 million at the box office.
Let us know your thoughts on our box office number obsession in the comments below!
Box office numbers are no more a reliable metric for the quality of a film than the position of a song in the Top 40 is for the quality of a song. In fact, it's usually the opposite.
October 14, 2022 at 9:57AM
Apart from film sites most of the reporting is numbers and gossip. It feels like the Art stamp film sought or aspired for is gone from public discussion, and the industry is not without fault. But they are making big money, and when you find oil you pump that well until it's dry.
Great films and interesting filmmakers are still coming up, I just don't look for them in the theatres anymore.
October 20, 2022 at 9:49AM