The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson talked with Anita Elbrese, Harvard Professor and author of Blockbusters about why Hollywood gravitates toward sequels and blockbusters despite complaints for professional and armchair critics. From the interview:
THOMPSON: Would I be oversimplifying your thesis if I said: “In movies, music, TV, and books, people have learned that $1 spent on a blockbuster is better than $1 spent on a not-blockbuster”?
Elberse: I think that’s a good way to summarize the book. Another way is to say that, although there is no way to play it safe in the entertainment industry, a blockbuster strategy is the safest way to play. In investing, we intuitively think we should make a number of small bets. A blockbuster strategy is the opposite. It means making fewer huge investments. But it turns out to be safer.
What do you say to somebody who claims the sequel-adaptation-blockbuster strategy is simply ruining movies? That, as the formula is getting smarter, the movies are getting dumber?
I am sympathetic to that viewpoint, but you have to realize that a lot of people who complain about films aren’t the target audience for those films. If you’re not going to the theater regularly, maybe you should consider there are other people who are — and that these movies are made for them. The movie-going audience is an under-25 crowd, and in fact mostly teenagers. Most of us who fall outside that demographic spend much more time watching television — and some of what we find there, from Game of Thrones to Homeland, is of truly remarkable production quality.
Atlantic commenters are shocked to learn that their brothers and sisters on the Left Coast care about making money. Hollywood is not in the business of saving the world, but making an over-produced movie of over-exposed actors saving the world.
Much like the liberal nannies who obsess about gas-guzzling cars, fast food and soda consumption, critics of blockbusters worry about their fellow humans spending their dollars on movies they don’t like. It’s too bad they only care about how private citizens spend their money and very little about how the government spends their money.