I read a very good thinkpiece a while back which I can’t find now (despite vigorous searching) but which I’m going to reprise here and add some commentary of my own. This piece made the quite wise point that box office numbers and pop-cultural impact are diverging in a very interesting way. New films routinely put up enormous totals without having anything resembling the deep and pervasive salience of the blockbusters of yesteryear. This is particularly true of this year, in which no fewer than FOUR new films entered the all-time top ten worldwide grossing films list: Jurassic World, Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Minions. I may be insulting some fans of those films, but none of them really felt like an event, a conversation-starter. Yet only a handful of films in the history of the medium have earned more money than they have.
There are, as is well known, certain reasons which could almost be called accounting factors which in part explain this development. Inflation, the rising cost of tickets (even above inflation, I believe), the increasing prominence of premium tickets (IMAX, 3D), and so forth. As the thinkpiece I can’t find pointed out, order is restored once some rudimentary operations are performed to screen out (apologies for the pun) these latter-day corruptions. In the adjusted top ten, we find only one film from the 2000s, let alone from 2015. Instead, we find films that truly did transform conversations about film and about much else: Gone with the Wind, Star Wars, E. T., Doctor Zhivago, Snow White. (A fuller list can be found here, although this list is only domestic U.S. adjusted for inflation, while Wikipedia estimates for the top ten are global.)
Of course, the impetus for considering this phenomenon is precisely the way that The Force Awakens already is both a popular cultural event of enormous magnitude and a box office trampler. But it is also interesting to note that, even taking into account typical studio caution about clamping down on expectations in advance of a film’s release, there was real doubt about whether TFA could actually unseat Jurassic World for the largest opening week ever, and indeed, globally it seems to have missed (though largely due to the decision to delay opening in China). There is a chance that it will not finish (globally) all that far above Jurassic World when all is said and done. And yet how different these two films are in terms of the oxygen they’ve consumed in our culture over the past year. Continue reading