Texting blamed for summer movie flops

In Hollywood, 2003 is rapidly becoming known as the year of the failed blockbuster, and the industry now thinks it knows why.

No, the executives are not blaming such bombs as The Hulk, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle or Gigli on poor quality, lack of originality, or general failure to entertain. There's absolutely nothing new about that.

The problem, they say, is teenagers who instant message their friends with their verdict on new films - sometimes while they are still in the cinema watching - and so scuppering carefully crafted marketing campaigns designed to lure audiences out to a big movie on its opening weekend.

"In the old days, there used to be a term, 'buying your gross,' " Rick Sands, chief operating officer at Miramax, told the Los Angeles Times. "You could buy your gross for the weekend and overcome bad word of mouth, because it took time to filter out into the general audience."

But those days are over, because the technology of hand-held text-message devices has drastically cut down the time it takes for movie-goers to tell their friends that a heavily promoted summer action movie is a waste of time and money.

Five years ago, when summer movies were arguably just as bad as they are now, the average audience drop-off between a film's opening weekend and its second weekend was 40 per cent. This summer, it has been 51 per cent. In some cases, the drop-off has started between the film's opening on a Friday night and the main screenings on Saturday. The upshot: unsuccessful films disappearing from cinemas so fast that there is no time for second opinions.

A 56 per cent drop over the first week of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was not what the studio moguls had expected. As Arnold Schwarzenegger himself might say, hasta la vista, baby.

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