Those who ingest a steady diet of infotainment are by now all too aware that Hollywood is suffering something of a decline in box-office receipts. Yet for non-accountants, it seems like business as usual: The final "Star Wars" movie had raked in $359 million by the end of June, and tepid "Batman Begins" cleared $123 million by its third week. "Madagascar" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" both quickly made more than $100 million, and, as I'm writing this, "War of the Worlds" looks likely to take in at least that much in its first week. And we haven't even talked about DVD sales.
But news stories are littered with gloom and doom, and the point seems to be this: An industry that makes billions in profits is going to have to survive without a few hundred million dollars this year. Once again, rampant capitalism hits a speed bump and reacts as if it were a brick wall. Anyone who's watched the nightly news in any of the last 20 or so Decembers knows about the "retailers are worried" story that comes our way every Christmas season. The major retail stores poor-mouth and fret all the way to December 24; and, lo, by about January 2 there's a much smaller story about how they didn't do so badly after all. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. America, for getting out the Visa and saving capitalism!
Hollywood has a long tradition of mythologizing all sorts of unverifiable monetary figures, from film production budgets to actor salaries to final balance sheets -- so you have to wonder if some of the Industry alarm isn't a June version of the "retailers are worried" story. Implied in this is the idea that the moviegoing public isn't pulling its weight. By the time a movie is released, we've seen months of trailers, magazine spreads, Leno appearances; we've read reviews, interviews and felt the buzz. There's only one surprise left: We suddenly don't want to see it.
The hysteria makes it clear. Only you, and millions like you, can save "The Dukes of Hazzard" from the certain doom of a miserable, lousy $75 million in ticket sales when it's released next month. Just clap your hands and say, "I do believe in brainless remakes!"