Home / Hollywood Execs Blame Texting For Summer Movie Flops

Hollywood Execs Blame Texting For Summer Movie Flops

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According to Andrew Gumbel of London’s Independent, some Hollywood studio executives think they know why their big-budget blockbusters bombed at the box office. (And no, an excess of alliteration isn’t the reason!) It’s all your fault, if you used a text-enabled cell phone to instantly tell your friends that the film was bad! Gumbel writes:

In Hollywood, 2003 is rapidly becoming known as the year of the failed blockbuster, and the industry now thinks it knows why.

No, the executives are not blaming such bombs as The Hulk, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle or Gigli on poor quality, lack of originality, or general failure to entertain. There’s absolutely nothing new about that.

The problem, they say, is teenagers who instant message their friends with their verdict on new films – sometimes while they are still in the cinema watching – and so scuppering carefully crafted marketing campaigns designed to lure audiences out to a big movie on its opening weekend.

“In the old days, there used to be a term, ‘buying your gross,’ ” Rick Sands, chief operating officer at Miramax, told the Los Angeles Times. “You could buy your gross for the weekend and overcome bad word of mouth, because it took time to filter out into the general audience.”

But those days are over, because the technology of hand-held text-message devices has drastically cut down the time it takes for movie-goers to tell their friends that a heavily promoted summer action movie is a waste of time and money.

Five years ago, when summer movies were arguably just as bad as they are now, the average audience drop-off between a film’s opening weekend and its second weekend was 40 per cent. This summer, it has been 51 per cent. In some cases, the drop-off has started between the film’s opening on a Friday night and the main screenings on Saturday. The upshot: unsuccessful films disappearing from cinemas so fast that there is no time for second opinions.

A 56 per cent drop over the first week of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was not what the studio moguls had expected. As Arnold Schwarzenegger himself might say, hasta la vista, baby.

As Peter Biskind explains in Easy Rider, Raging Bulls, nationwide simultaneous releases of films only became standard practice for Hollywood in the mid-1970s, when Universal tested it on Jaws, and found they had a huge hit on their hands. This was also an era when ten or 12 million dollars was considered an expensive movie. These days, the studios appear to be caught in a catch-22: budgets have escalated to the point where they’re extremely unlikely to be returned in an opening weekend. But thanks to the Web, and apparently, text-enabled cell phones(!), the speed that word of mouth travels has moved to the point where a second weekend of decent returns on a film that isn’t very good is less likely to happen.

The recording industry has blamed downloads for reducing their sales, rather than questioning the quality of the content they release. It appears that the film industry is doing the same with another new technology.

(Found via Hollywood Halfwits.)

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About Ed Driscoll

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  • Steven

    I don’t go to the movie very often, and my friends don’t either, so I can’t get the buzz from them via text messages. Instead, I use reviewers, some nationally and most of all reviews on sites like IMDB.com and RottenTomatoes. It’s not as instant as text messages, but I can get a good idea whether I will like the movie from a couple of days of reviews.

  • Pete

    So we are supposed to feel bad that they aren’t able to hoodwink more people into seeing their bad movies? Hahaha..

    Other issues aside, if word of mouth is saying your movie sucks, the faster it spreads the better. At $10.25, we deserve a better cinema experience.

  • I never go to the movies anymore, unless it’s something that the entire family wants to see. The last movie I saw in the theaters was Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix. The movie before that was Goblet of Fire. The next movie in the theater I will see will be Indiana Jones, but after that it will be Half Blood Prince.

    With movies coming to DVD within 9 months of their theatrical release, and then with (most likely) and unrated version that is either longer or more edgier than the theatrical release, I don’t really have compelling reason to go to a theater to see a movie.

    And the movies ARE bad. Word of mouth spreads more quickly becasue of texting and blogging and what not. But the drop of is so much becasue the message being conveyed via “new-fangled” technology is a message of badness.

    If a decent movie was made, I’m sure a message of goodness would move just as fast.

  • Anon

    Here’s a tip to the movie industry: MAKE GOOD MOVIES

  • boarwild

    The idea that cel phones are responsible is – as was already noted – silly. The bottom line is people aren’t buying the product; this past Easter weekend “The Passion” reclaimed top box office slot with $17 mil after being out what – two months now? And the politcally correct “Alamo” comes in a distant third? Moreover, Bruce Willis’ new film comes in at eight place! What is going on? Simple but don’t expect the eggheads in the studios or production companies to figure it out because it’s Capitalism 101; if people aren’t buying the product it’s generally because a) there is no need for it or b) the product is of sub-par quality. Hollywood keeps remaking the same crap over and over and nodbody’s buying it.

    Hello! It’s time for filmmakers and producers to start thinking outside the box and come up with some original – and interesting – ideas. But ironically, Hollywood has never been about originality. I’m in the biz and i see it everyday. Everybody’s a follower, nobody wants to lead. The only leader – someone who sticks his neck out for something that he believes in – is Mel Gibson and Newmarket Films.

  • The fact is that there are more substitutes to movies now that it is inevitable that movies are going to continue to draw less and less over time. That is unless they concentrate on quality. Even then people seem more and more content to wait for DVD’s. Does anyone else remember when new release VHS tapes cost over 100 bucks a piece to the video stores and then were released in the retail outlets a few months later? Well now everyone can buy their favorite movie for 20 dollars the instant it comes out. This has to have put a good portion of the movie viewing audience on a different consumer cycle.

  • joe pope

    It is true that word of mouth is much faster now, over five years ago. I have to say that to blame the problem on text messages soley, and not cell phones is pretty silly. Cell phones have drastically decreased in cost of usage in the last three years. News flash world! People will call before typing out a conversation on a phone like an idiot.

  • John,

    You have a great point–The Blair Witch Project did a great job of using the Internet to generate enormous pre-release buzz. I’m not sure if that’s a repeatable model, but it certainly seemed innovative.

    But I don’t think that studio execs can use “high unemployment” as an excuse. Many of the films that were hits in the mid-1970s and early 80s (Jaws, Rocky, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, etc.) were released in economic conditions far worse than today–with greater unemployment than today as well.

    Of course, ticket prices were lower, there was no home video, and cable TV was in its infancy when those 1970s films were released.

    (And heck, if you want to set the way back machine way, way back, the Depression was a golden era for Hollywood).


  • Perhaps it’s time that the folks using the term “the old days” were fired and Hollywood hired some young, new talent who understand how to market movies using blogs, text messaging, et al.

    When you’re using old titles to attempt to create profits and using old marketing methods, expecting new results is simply unrealistic.

    Hollywood hasn’t changed much in 20 years, but the rest of the world has, especially how it distributes and receives information.

    Social marketing, or viral marketing, as it’s commonly called, would have been more effective than the old fashioned methods.

    Of course, one also must factor in that consumer spending is lower, due to high unemployment, but that’s another post.