It's Those Damn Millennials

A Look At The Movie Industry

It would be around this time of year that I'd get the "Winter Trailer Showcase" article together, a check-in of the upcoming movies that will be in theatrs that we all could get excited about... except is anyone really getting excited? That's not to say that the movies themselves have somehow gotten less exciting -- there are great movies that have come out, and are coming out, like Spider-man: No Way Home and The Matrix Resurrections -- but that the theater-going experience certainly isn't what it used to be.

The factors are numerous, to be sure, but we could naturally connect it all back to COVID. I've mentioned some of these arguments before -- the pandemic is keeping a number of people away, and that plus the fact that you can get a decent home theater experience now -- but the simple act is that the movie business has yet to recover to the point where it was back in 2019 (before the pandemic hit). Yes, theaters have rebounded some, but when theaters and filmmakers have to crow about the fact that their big-budget extravaganza managed to crack $200 Mil domestic when those kinds of films used to make $800 Mil in the U.S. Clearly, even six months after lockdown expired, things haven't returned to "normal".

There were a couple of stories I saw discussing this in detail. One was about Ridley Scott going on Marc Maron's podcast and, when asked about the failure of his film The Last Duel, a medieval period piece that was expected to make something on the order of $100 Mil and only made a tenth of that, Scott went on a rant about how Millennials (although he caled them "millenian", which is laughable) don't treat movies fairly, having grown up on cellphones and always being connected. We could heckle Scott about how out oftouch this quote feels -- everyone is on their phones, not just one generation, but if you want to complain about the current generation of people that are just now adults and are fueling changes in the market place, at least get the geneartion right: Gen Z or Zenial or Zoomer or whatever you wanna call them. They're a different group from the Millenials, although we do also like our phones and don't want to be bored by a high-minded drama with bad gender politics, thank you very much Mr. Scott.

This quite from Scott was countered more recently by Ben Affleck while he was on the red carpet for another film, The Tender Bar, and the question of The Last Duel came up. Ulike Director Scott, Affleck was pretty mild and understanding about the failure of the film. He didn't blame the film itself, which he said landed well with the audiences that watched it (unlike other films he's made that, as he put it, we "real shit"). he said the fact is that movies, and movie audiences, have changed and its (and I'm paraphrasing here) stupid to exopect the old system to continue functioning as it has with all the other factors going on in the world.

Affleck's response was boh length and pretty well informed, touching on the pandemic, for one, and also changing attitudes of audiences. Where a few years ago a drama like The Last Duel would have played well in theaters now it's not just competeing with superhero films (which are the current generation's event viewing) but also TV dramas, many of which provide the same level of quality and potent storytelling as a theatrical drama, and those shows don't require a person to put on real pants and leave their house.

This is all very true and I think we could mark a point where the attitudes about television dramas really started changing: the appointment viewing of shows like The Sopranos and then Mad Men. Those shows, and the network-produced dramas to follow in their wake, marked a dramatic shift in attitudes towards television shows. Where before TV was thought of as, "that place stars go when the can't make it," now many A-listers are going back and forth from TV to movies and back, taking projects they find creatively fulfilling. It's like when an actor says they're going to go do a play for a time, but just a different medium. There is no stigma about "going TV" like there used to be.

This then couples with the rise of streaming. Many streaming networks -- Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+, Amazon pPime -- are producing shows and movies that people want to watch and showing them on their own networks instead of in theaters. Affleck's film, The Tender Bar is Amazon-produced and will very quickly be on the streamer after a short, three-week run in theaters. It's a drama that won't pull in the same kinds of eyes that the latest Spider-man will, but it also doesn't have to. Amazon gets to make a prestige film, put it up for award consideration, and then send it to the home market for people to watch, and they get to boast that they got an A-lister like Affleck to be in it. It's a great way to get solid, dramatic content out there without having to stress about the Box Office returns since the streamer makes more money off its Prime subscriptions.

And with good content coming to streaming services quickly -- Amazon within a couple or so weeks, HBO Max day-and-date, Netflix instantly -- that only fuels the next shift in audince consumption: home theaters do as good, or even better, job of providing the comfortable theater experience than actual theters. Affleck wisely pointed out in his lengthy answer that people can go down the Wal-Mart and grab a good TV for cheap and then pair it up with Dolby sound and everything else they need. it used to be that a home theater like that would have cost ten of thousands of dollars but now you can get he entire setup for half a bill ($500 for an okay setup and most people only need or want "okay"). And then, at that point, why leave the house? You can puase the movie when you need to, grab a snack, grab a drink, hit the head, all without missing a second. You can't do that at the theater.

This is, I think, the thing that theaters and many movie makers are having a problem accepting: it's not that people aren't interested in viewing your high-minded drama but that they don't have to watch it the old way. People were slowly shifting to home viewing over time but the pandemic only sped up that change. Now, even if they feel safe going back out to theaters many people don't want to give up their cozy movie watching experience. They got used to doing things their way, like they do with everything else they consume online, and trying to hold the old system together with both hands isn't working any longer. If you want your films to work you have to accept the new distribution system and the needs of the audience. You're selling a product so your numebr one job is getting it in front of their eyeballs. Don't complain because heir eyeballs are at home now; find a way to get it there effectively.

Also, maybe don't make a movie that slut-shames its lead female and puts the men at the center of a female tragedy in the protagonist roles. There's plenty of reasons why The Last Duel failed and none of them have to do with "those damn Millennials and their damn phones."