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With the failure of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s “Grindhouse” at the box office, the Los Angeles Times and Box Office Mojo called the simulated double feature dilapidated and predicted the demise of Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s company and the careers of Tarantino and Rodriguez.
The reasons they cite for the movie’s failure are as dilapidated as the movie itself, and the whole production is a cautionary tale for filmmakers, especially filmmakers with faith and values.
First of all, for people out there who are just downright contentious, let it be perfectly clear that some R-rated movies do well at the box office, some horror movies do well at the box office, and MOVIEGUIDE? has given awards to many R-rated movies that contain strong Christian virtues such as “The Passion of the Christ” and “Amistand,” though we prefer not to do so. However, in the world of filmmaking, making an R-rated movie limits your audience most of the time. In fact, on average, R-rated movies earn about half of what other kinds of movies earn, and they seldom appear at the top of the home video sales lists or at the top of the overseas box office. Also, some horror movies may do well their first weekend, but they cater to a small audience and usually die quickly at the box office. Finally, movies based on books fail about 90 percent of the time or more.
Why do we say this?
Because we’re always hearing from Christians who want to make movies based on books and then complain because they made less money at the box office than the doomed-to-fail books like “Bonfire of the Vanities,” “In the Garden of Good and Evil” and “The Name of the Rose.” These are well-written books, but they are too complex to be enjoyable two-hour movies. As Alfred Hitchcock said, the worst books make the best movies.
MOVIEGUIDE? recognizes, in spite of their serious moral failures, that R-rated movies like “Gladiator” and “300” are exciting movies, although we gave both of them a minus-three rating. What made “Gladiator” and “300” work when “Troy” and “Alexander” bombed at the box office? Simple. Both “Gladiator” and “300” have easily identifiable heroes who take the archetypal hero’s journey to complete a clear-cut task. “Alexander,” on the other hand, is more like psychobabble. And, “Troy” is a mess.
Recently, an issue of Variety came out talking about the upcoming crop of faith-based, Christian movies. Reading this issue, it was clear that 90 percent of these movies are going to bomb at the box office, and millions of dollars are going to go down the tubes. Worst of all, investors are going to be turned off to the Christian marketplace.
Why would these movies bomb? Because the filmmakers have never studied the craft of filmmaking to understand what makes a popular movie. They’re trying to do the impossible by making bio pics and pictures based on books that have a very small success rate.
MOVIEGUIDE?’s recommendation is to read a few good books about screenwriting, like my “So You Want to be in Pictures?” (which you can get by going to www.movieguide.org or calling 1-800-577-6684); Lajos Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives”; Robert McKee’s “Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting”; and Linda Seger’s “Making a Good Script Great” – and then talk to us. Study our Report to Hollywood charts (below) about what kinds of movies do best with moviegoers, and you will be able to discern what makes the difference between success and failure.