Thursday, March 02, 2006

Brokeback Money

In my first post on the subject this week, I expressed surprise at how many of Brokeback Mountain's detractors made a point of bringing up how the movie was doing at the box office compared with some of the year's other films, as if that was indicative of...well, anything at all. Here's a sample.
  • Box office figures show "Star Wars" is No. 1 among movies released in 2005, with a gross of more than $380 million. Next are "Harry Potter" ($287 million) and "Narnia" (passing Potter soon). "King Kong" is No. 5. "Brokeback" is No. 33 with $72 million, trailing "Chicken Little" (14), "The Dukes of Hazzard" (25) and "March of the Penguins" (26).* But which will win a saddlebag of Oscars on March 5? Hint: It won't be that Christian Narnia story. It will be a movie that sticks to Hollywood's politically correct script like bubblegum on a theater seat.

  • The press notices would have you believe this film raked in money and bested The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in per theater revenue on its opening weekend. But that's only half the truth. Brokeback Mountain appears successful because of its popularity in liberal pockets of America, where it opened, but it isn't the blockbuster the boosters of buggery hoped it would be. After seven weeks it earned $42 million, but trailed behind Narnia, which collected about $272 million. Even adjusting for the number of screens on which the former was shown compared to the latter, 1,196 to 2,757, cutting the number of screens in half for Narnia would still produce a figure exceeding $130 million. Doubling the number of screens for Brokeback Mountain would generate $84 million. Walk the Line, the story of Johnny Cash, opened on fewer screens than Brokeback Mountain, 1,125, and in 10 weeks pulled in $102 million. Much as its promoters might hope, this Brokeback Mountain story did not "resonate" with America at large.

  • Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America, didn’t disagree, but said that these movies were “pet projects” of “media elites.” She noted that none of the three movies had done well at the box office. At the time of the Golden Globes, “Brokeback Mountain” had grossed $32.1 million. “Transamerica” had pulled in less than $1 million in limited release. “Capote” had earned $13 million. “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by contrast, had surpassed the $250-million mark.

  • The Christian Film & Television Commission has just released the results of a survey showing that the public’s choices for their favorite films differ sharply from what gets honored by the Hollywood elite. Ted Baehr, chairman and founder of the group, said the survey showed that the most popular movies, in terms of ticket sales, have strong or very strong moral content and acceptability ratings.

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, blitzed its way to the No. 1 movie slot on its opening weekend, grossing $67.1 million. This made it the second-biggest December release in history, after Peter Jackson’s epic, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003). Director Ang Lee’s homosexual Western, Brokeback Mountain, also premiered the same weekend in limited release. Showing in five theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the film grossed $544,549, averaging $108, 910 per theater.

Two things bother me, quite apart from the out of context dollar figures, which don't account for the fact that the film's marketing strategy was to open in a few cities where it was expected to do well and garner critical acclaim before expanding into more skeptical markets. They also overlook the fact that Brokeback's total production cost was $14 million, and at this writing, it has grossed $127,078,000, so in terms of revenue as a percentage of production cost, it's one of the most financially successful films in history, and it hasn't even yet won any of the eight Oscars for which it has been nominated.

But let's leave all that aside. What is patently obvious is that all of these commentators -- who are supposedly approaching Brokeback with good, Christian righteous horror -- associate financial success with goodness. Never mind 1 Timothy or the Gospels, blessed are the movies which rank number one their opening weekend. (They also apparently think the only good art is art which makes money...but I already went there.)

In addition to the heresy that money has anything to do with righteousness, they're also displaying that fine old Christian virtue, Schadenfreude. Yes, that's right, paging Nelson Muntz! Here's a big ol' Christian "Ha ha!" to the little gay movie that made less than Herbie: Fully Loaded.

* Since this article originally appeared, Brokeback Mountain has surpassed both The Dukes of Hazzard and March of the Penguins in worldwide earnings.


Quinn said...

And shall we ignore the fact that some of the top grossing films of all time are often glorifications of extreme violence? Which would I rather have family watching: heads being lopped off by swords or gay cowboys? I'm gonna have to go with the gay cowboys.

chiron said...


Future Geek said...

Quinn why do you hate America so much?

God Guns and Guts made this country what it is by God and don't you forget it.


Andy said...

Quinn hates America because she is a feminist, revisionist historian, out to brainwash our youth into believing that the Founding Fathers weren't members of The 700 Club.

Future Geek said...

Damn homosexual agenda....

Jeff said...

I just want to clarify that Brokeback's $127 million total is domestic plus overseas. Looks like the domestic take is $76 million, which is still excellent box office for a non-action film. I know you were trying to make a different point, of course.

As for all these commentators talking about "leftist Hollywood," what do they have to say about Return of the King and Gladiator, two high-grossing movies (incredibly high, in the former's case) that have won Best Picture in the last few years?

Finally, R. Cort Kirkwood can go fuck himself.

Andy said...

Jeff, I'm curious, did you perceive Gladiator to be a "conservative" film? If so, why? I don't think I could categorize it politically one way or the other; I enjoyed it immensely because I love sprawling, period epics, but I didn't think it was "best picture" material.

I'm also interested that you brought up ROTK, which to my mind also staunchly defies neat categorization. While the title "Return of the King" (chosen for the book by the publishers against Tolkien's wishes because it gave away the denouement, I would add) certainly has Christian apocalyptic overtones, and Aragorn, as the deposed King who returns to final triumph and glory, has a Christian parallel (beautifully suggested by the single scene of his coronation in the film), not to mention that Tolkien himself was something of an evangelical Catholic, I think it's essential to point out that Middle Earth is a religion-free world. Isn't that interesting? People point to Frodo's acceptance into the Elven immortal world as some kind of "Christian" redemption, but then surely Frodo is not the only character in the story worthy of eternal reward. Let's not forget that Aragorn himself does not travel to the land beyond the sea, but he lives out his life and dies as king in Minas Tirith. Middle Earth has good and evil, but it seems to have no gods. No one prays, no one relies on any assistance outside of themselves and others.

Politically, it also escapes any attempt at partisan labeling, due in large part to Tolkien's belief in "applicability" rather than "allegory." The books clearly have an anti-corporate, pro-environment message, which is traditionally liberal, but I recall reading articles accusing "The Two Towers" of being pro-war propaganda, specifically intending Sauron to be viewed as Saddam Hussein, the power once vanquished who had risen again. (This despite the fact that they were filmed almost wholly during 1999.) I specifically recall one columnist who said the grotesqueness of the Orcs reflected the propagandistic dehumanization of "terrorists" that enabled soldiers to kill them without remorse and enabled us here at home to support that particular endeavor. Meanwhile, I identified Saruman more with George Bush (though Saruman's a lot smarter and a better public speaker!), a man who took advantage of popular sentiments and co-opted them to further a private agenda.

Jeff said...

I actually haven't seen Gladiator. But my point was that while these people seem to be saying that Hollywood should reward films that do well at the box office rather than lower-grossing, "politically-correct" films, Hollywood often does just that.

Now that I think about it, I could also address their arguments by pointing out that Hollywood often rewards well-made, smaller-grossing pictures, and it's not just a Brokeback thing. And they are in fact correct that Hollywood is generally more liberal than the red states.

But of course what these critics are really trying to argue is that because Brokeback isn't a big moneymaker (an incorrect premise, as we've seen), this somehow means Americans generally are against gay rights.

One could also point out that one reason Brokeback hasn't earned, say, $100 million domestically could be that it's not a movie parents would necessarily take their kids to - not because of any disapproval, but because kids would likely find the movie a big ol' yawner! And kids make up a huge portion of the box office.

Quinn said...

Jeff, I dig your last point. One of my favorite films of all time as a best pic choice (and a story of a man who abstains from sex). "Gandhi" is one of the best films I've ever seen.

But would my kids want to buy it on DVD so we could watch it every weekend? Nope.

(I'll go back to hating America now.)

Andy said...

Omg, I [heart] Gandhi!!! So wonderful.

epicurist said...

Bravo....great post!

KR PDX said...

OK, Andy, you caught me--but the reason I don't read your blog and have started to read Quinn's is your blog is always TOO D*** LONG!!!!!

OK, that said ...
1) Jeff is right, they are trying to say "America isn't going for this, evidenced by domestic gross," not "this is evil, evidenced by domestic gross."
2) Tolkien's world is fundamentally religious, if anyone wades their way through the Appendices and The Sillmarillion (which is quite beautiful, actually, and the creation story is based around singing!). Where the Elves go is specifically NOT heaven, which is an honor reserved for people (who die). The halflings normally just die (like animals--no soul living for eternity) ... so Bilbo and Frodo have been 'promoted' (as ringbearers) to elven immortality (Sam goes too when he's old ... no word on what ship takes him!). Sauron is a fallen angel (and wasn't the worst)--hence his attempts to "be god" and "create" (orcs, trolls, etc.). Gandalf and the other "wizards" are angels, sent to counter the fallen angels--same level as the balrog, less powerful than Sauron (as I recall). The Rangers (Aragorn etc.) are the remnants of the Men of Numenor, most of whom fell away from the true teachings of god but a few kept honor and kept watch against evil (hence they protected the Shire, amnong other things).

And now everyone knows why _I_ don't blog--I talk WAY TOO D*** LONG!

'Love you!

little-cicero said...

Great research Andy, but the fact is that these movies DID open in limited markets, where they did NOT attract average Americans, or heartlanders.

The reasons: 1) Movies cost a lot of time and money to see. People see them to kick back after a tough work week, and want to be entertained, not better-rounded as human beings. Consequently, a movie that (correct me if I'm wrong, as I haven't seen it) is short on action and comic relief, and whose most well known sex appeal is between (Ill! Say the Masses) two guys, will not be considered entertaining.

2) Homosexuality may be tolerated by the large majority of Americans, but it still grosses us out, so we would rather not witness such acts which we believe in our gut to be immoral and distasteful.

Considering these conditions of modern society, it is surprising that Brokeback did as well as it did, but it is also not surprising since it has been so embraced by the progressive likes of so many critics. As many of your other readers have conceded, there is an agenda here, noble though it may be, and it has tainted their critical objectivity.

Jeff said...

God, LC, I'm so sick of your stuff about homosexuality "grossing you out" and being distasteful.

Sorry for my impolite way of saying that. But you sound like a broken record. And nobody here wants to hear it.

Andy said...

Well, I imagine that's just how he feels about this silly movie.

little-cicero said...

I try not sounding like a broken record, in fact I don't think I've said very often that homosexuality grosses me out (I usually say that it's immoral instead, since "gross out" is so subjective) but that's how heterosexuals in large part feel about homosexuality. It's not just alien to us, it's a disgusting concept, so you should keep that in mind. Also, know that I am open minded as a reader of this blog, and likewise be open minded to my represents a lot of like-minded heterosexuals who coexist with homosexuals in this country, so it is relevant since Andy is talking about America, not just gay and progressive Americans.