Summer 2013: The Winners and the Losers

  IRON MAN 3

 

With the Labour Day weekend finally upon us, the official summer box-office season that kicked off on May 3 with Iron Man 3 is coming to a close. As we limp into September, traditionally a slow moviegoing month that bridges the gap between summer and the start of Oscar season in October, now is a good time to survey the box-office carnage of the past 4 months and see who’s left standing:

Winners

Robert Downey Jr.: After appearing as the same lead character in four summer releases since 2008, it seemed inevitable that Iron Man 3 would mark the onset of Downey fatigue, right? Wrong, apparently. Iron Man 3 has made $1.2 billion worldwide and was easily the most financially successful film of the summer. Iron Man 3’s global take is nearly double that of Iron Man 2. There stands a very real chance that Downey’s three-quel will emerge as the biggest movie of 2013. Not too shabby for a guy who was taking supporting roles in Disney remakes just two years before Iron Man. Marvel seems to recognize that Downey’s portrayal of Tony Stark has become increasingly iconic, and they have rewarded their star with a lucrative deal for The Avengers 2 and 3. Curiously, Downey’s new deal with Marvel does not include plans for a stand alone Iron Man 4. Looks like Mark Wahlberg won’t get to inherit the role until 2019 at the earliest.

Vin Diesel: Vin Diesel is currently doing a very nice job of convincing the world that it is, in fact, the year 2001. Twelve years ago, Vin Diesel was coming off the successes of The Fast & The Furious and Pitch Black, and had been noted for his dramatic supporting roles in Boiler Room and Saving Private Ryan. He used his star power to launch a sure-thing new franchise at Sony Pictures and seemed destined to rule the box office for years to come. Unfortunately Xander Cage was a pop cultural dud. One Ice Cube-toplined sequel later, the franchise was finished.  Diesel chose to make an overwrought Pitch Black sequel that no one was really interested in, and the Diesel-less Furious franchise steered increasingly towards irrelevance. Then in 2009, with his star on the wane, Diesel returned to the Furious franchise and enjoyed his first major success  in years. Now the Furious films are hotter than ever. Fast & Furious 6 has made $786 million globally, and has zoomed past Fast Five to become the most successful installment of the franchise. The seventh film is already in production for next summer, and will include the addition of another high-profile action star. With Riddick coming out on September 6 and a major upcoming role in Marvel’s next would-be franchise, Diesel has a rare second chance to capitalize on his earlier success. Hopefully this career renaissance will give Diesel the clout to make his long-anticipated sequel to The Pacifier.

Low budget horror: The Purge has made $83 million worldwide on a reported budget of $3 million. The Conjuring has made $220 million worldwide (and climbing) on a reported budget of $20 million. Sequels to both films are in the works. These films serve as necessary reminders that Hollywood can generate a healthy profit without resorting to $200 million effects-laden extravaganzas, and that horror can be scary without gore and cheap scares. It’s only a matter of time before Ethan Hawke and Patrick Wilson team up for the Expendables of “concerned dads facing the supernatural” movies.

Women in comedy: The Heat has made $156 million domestically and proven that a) Paul Feig’s success with 2011’s Bridesmaids was no fluke and b) Melissa McCarthy is a legitimate comedic star. The Heat made substantially more domestically than The Hangover Part III, Grown Ups 2, and This Is the End, none of which had a single credible female role (Emma Watson as “herself” doesn’t count). In addition to The Heat, We’re the Millers starring Jennifer Aniston has been a late summer surprise that will have blown past $100 million domestically by Labour Day. After years of playing “the wife” and “the girlfriend”, Aniston has finally found big screen success in Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers by embracing edgier comedic roles. Studios would be wise to follow the lead of Universal and Judd Apatow and invest in R-rated female-driven comedy.

Animation: Do you know a single thing about the movie Epic? Do you know a single person who saw it? Well someone did, because it made over $250 million worldwide. Despicable Me 2 has made about $800 million globally (and climbing), and Pixar is firmly back on track with Monsters University ($686 million worldwide). Turbo, one of the less widely-touted animated releases of the summer, has still managed to eke out a $150 million worldwide gross. Disney’s Planes, which was originally developed as a straight-to-DVD release, has made $77 million worldwide (and climbing) on a reported $50 million budget. All this proves is that when kids are out of school, parents will take them to see absolutely anything for a few hours of quiet.

Losers

Sony Pictures: The lot at Sony Pictures was a proverbial boulevard of broken dreams this summer as the studio couldn’t get any of their dramatic releases to connect with a domestic audience. After Earth, White House Down and Elysium were all costly misfires (though as this author predicted in June, After Earth has fared considerably better internationally). Even The Smurfs 2 has been a disappointment following the $142 million domestic gross of the original in 2011. Fortunately Sony has a strong Fall line up including Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, Captain Phillips, and The Monuments Men, the latter of which will hopefully keep George Clooney in the good graces of the power brokers over at Sony.

DC Comics: Lets come right out and say it: Man of Steel was a disappointment. Sure, the film has made about $650 million worldwide, but Superman Returns made about $400 million (without the benefit of 3D pricing) and was considered a bust. More significant is that the film doesn’t seem to have had the pop cultural resonance that Warner Bros. was surely hoping for. Prior to the film’s release, Jeff Robinov, former president of the motion pictures group at Warner Bros., predicted that Man of Steel would become the highest performer in the company’s history. As of now, the film’s domestic take stands at less than $300 million despite a reported budget of $225 million. Iron Man 3’s success was at least somewhat predictable, but did anyone think that Superman would have his cape pulled out from under him by a bunch of minions? Audiences and critics were lukewarm towards the latest reinvention of Superman, and so Warner Bros. is fixing the franchise in the only way that they know how: by adding Batman. All the current internet chatter around Batfleck is happening in relation to what is technically, you know, a Superman movie. Whether or not Affleck succeeds in the role, shoehorning Batman into the Superman franchise is a panic move that signifies the studio’s lack of confidence in their reinvention. This doesn’t bode well for the introduction of additional characters into the DC cinematic universe.

Blandly Handsome Non-Stars: Another summer, another failed franchise-starter for Ryan Reynolds. The battle of the generically handsome, wise-cracking leading men is over, and Bradley Cooper has been declared the winner. Reynolds is about 2 years away from being cast as the lead in buddy cop pilot co-starring David Schwimmer. Watch and learn, Armie Hammer, or this will be you.

Original Sci-Fi: The Purge, The Conjuring, The Heat and Now You See Movie each demonstrated that there’s a substantial audience for original summer movies, and they each had the benefit of coming with a low-to-mid budget price tag. The biggest original releases didn’t fare quite so well. Pacific Rim was defeated on its first weekend by a phoning-it-in Adam Sandler and has barely eked out a $100 million domestic gross (although the film’s exceptional performance in China and other overseas markets has kept sequel hopes alive). Elysium debuted strongly but has faded quickly at the box office, and it won’t recoup its reported $115 million budget at the domestic box office. Just because fanboys get excited about a movie doesn’t mean that a broad audience actually exists. Whatever their flaws, Pacific Rim and Elysium were credible attempts to introduce audiences to new, original cinematic visions. The underperformance of these films will only make studios less likely to take chances with original summer tent poles and more likely to double down on what’s safe, familiar, and ultimately unmemorable.

YA fiction: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones performed poorly, following on the heels of Beautiful Creatures and The Host last Spring. This tends to happen whenever studios discover a potentially lucrative trend and subsequently oversaturate the market. When The Lord of the Rings became a hit in 2001, every studio wanted the next great fantasy franchise; remember Eragon? Of course you don’t. After months of knock-offs, the 12 to 19 set will be getting the real McCoy this Fall when The Hunger Games: Catching Fire makes its bid to unseat Iron Man 3 as the biggest movie of the year. Will it be a success? Well, nothing is certain in Hollywood but…oh, who am I kidding? Some things are certain. It’s gonna be huge.

– The Sarcastic Squirrel

Why Aren’t The Twilight Saga Knock-offs Sparkling In The Sun?

 

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Make no mistake folks: The Twilight Saga is and will always remain every studio exec’s ultimate wet dream. Shot in Vancouver “on the cheap” and starring a surprisingly small number of actors just lucky to be there when they signed on the dotted line, it managed to carve its place into global pop culture history and make millions of girls swoon about the relationships they felt they deserve, not the ones they’re likely dealing with. The original chapter cost the studio $37 million to make and raked in over $392 million worldwide. When it was all said and done, the shirtless set of films earned Summit Entertainment a whopping $3.34 billion dollars, which is more than Disney would have made had they been able to release The Avengers twice.

The arousing part is not the billion dollar figure but the low-cost, no hassle production it took to earn it. Not only did Twilight bring in the kind of numbers only reserved to the exclusive gentlemen’s club of Marvel Heroes, Harry Potter and Star Wars, but it surprisingly did so without having to shell out a 150 to 250 million dollar budget before seeing a red cent. If the movie business is about big gambles, Summit’s hedge bet on the Twilight Saga is the most low-risk, high-return franchise since the original Star Wars hit the silver screen in 1977. And if you think the budgets started to skyrocket as soon as the CGI wolves joined the party and competent directors signed on so they could renovate their kitchen cabinets, think again. The Twilight Saga: New Moon cost a slim-fitting 50 million dollars and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse wrapped up with a svelte 68 million dollars. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn was the only chapter in the series whose needs for a large scale final sequence tipped the invoices over the 100M mark.

When George Lucas made Star Wars, no one believed it would eventually provoke such a seismic wave of cultural relevance and profitability. After it did, however, other studio execs called emergency meetings and started plotting their bandwagon ticket to the big pot of Tatooine gold. Disney gave audiences The Black Hole which starred what could only be described as a genetic cross between R2-D2 and a Sesame Street garbage can. The quest to confuse less knowledgeable moviegoers was also in full swing with such releases as Star Odyssey, Starcrash, Starchaser and Battle Beyond The Stars hitting theaters in a hurry. While we can look back and laugh at these failed attempts, the intent of the studio at the time was to own THE new space opera franchise in town.

Fast forward to present day where every studio has been trying to jump onto the Twilight Express. In 2013, we had four wide releases so far who were clearly green-lit with the intent of reproducing the same kind of success: The Host, Beautiful Creatures, Warm Bodies, and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. Plenty more are still on their way including The Vampire Academy, The Dark Divine and Evermore. Thirty years from now, we will be inflicted with a brand new remake of The Twilight Saga and all these other titles will have been buried and forgotten. What are studios missing here?

I always assume an executive boardroom at a major studio only has two agenda items: 1) What are kids buying these days? and 2) Where’s my version of that? While this is certainly how the product industry (such as food or toy companies) need to behave in order to remain competitive, the rules of success become significantly more blurry when you’re dealing with a successful movie adaptation. You can use the superhero genre as proof that once it took off, everyone who jumped on the bandwagon got a big slice of pie in the past decade but it only remains relevant to characters that people have genuinely loved on a massive scale for decades. Studios have been wise to understand that and steered clear from giving lesser known superheroes their own movie. What they did instead was to make them supporting cast in a few movies and group them together within one universe.

Book adaptations are a little bit tricky because there’s no way you can merge their worlds together without angering the fans. You have to put your product out there standing on its own, and your strategy to jump on the bandwagon means that you’re hoping to draw comparisons with the one that started it all. Consumers will seek the real thing, and therefore your end goal can only be to confuse them. When there was a greek yogurt marketing craze last year, every yogurt company started pushing out their version and suddenly the labels all looked the same. The average consumer will make their purchase based on the fact that all six yogurts will likely taste the same and might walk out of the supermarket with another brand than the one they had intended to buy. With movies, however, fans are so emotionally invested that they will not only manage to see the difference between the real thing and the knock-offs, but retaliate against those trying to cash in. The reaction across the aboard seems to have always been “we’re not stupid, this isn’t Star Wars or Twilight.” followed by a courteous “nice try” or the more commonly uttered “fuck off.”

Jeff Bock, who works as a box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said it best when Beautiful Creatures bombed back in February: “When you’re pushing your film as a Twilight knockoff, which WB’s press machine so blatantly did over the last couple weeks, it can actually enrage the Twi-hards, who vehemently defend their cherished cinematic turf,” Bock says. The key difference between greek yogurt and movie franchises is the emotional investment that your core base of fans feel towards your product. I am sure the people who introduced greek yogurt on the market and saw lazy competitors knock-off their concept must have been emotionally invested in the situation, but as far as consumer products go, that negative sentiment doesn’t reach anywhere beyond. With something like Twilight, it’s a sense of resentment that can reach a very large scale and ruin a movie before it opens.

But what about The Hunger Games? Well, there’s an interesting variation on how Lionsgate managed to build themselves the next big Hollywood golden goose. Suzanne Collins had already sold a few million copies of her trilogy when they acquired the rights and the media immediately pointed out how it could potentially become the next Twilight. After all, we have a female heroine fighting her way through extraordinary threats while falling for two completely different male counterparts. It’s as if Lionsgate had understood the principle of greek yogurt not translating to the movie business, because they released a marketing campaign that had much more in common with George Orwell than Stephenie Meyer. They went all-out on the science-fiction elements, emphasized the commentary on social classes and pushed the movie towards a male audience. The result is that it became a new phenomenon of its own, not a derivative of what had already been making a profit.

At the time of publishing this piece, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is currently on track for a tepid 13.9 million dollar five-day opening. Put me in the camp of those who wish that money could have gone towards something new and original instead, something we haven’t seen yet. It’s incredibly lame to copy greek yogurt when you’re only one or two years away from another flavor taking off and your company could be making it before everyone else.

As Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky used to say: “I score because I don’t go where the puck is. I go where the puck is going to be.”

– The Sleepy Skunk

On Demand for the Theatrical Experience

 

canyons

 

“Straight to video” used to be a very dirty term for movies that are made without the intention or the success of obtaining a theatrical run. If the movie aspired to nothing more than to make small money from its meager budget, it would come in the form of a 3rd rate action/horror flick or exploitative, low-brow Pauly Shore vehicle. Or perhaps a straight-to-video movie could be an accident; a movie believed to be of quality by all involved, only to be sorely mistaken when no studio is willing to distribute a director’s labor of love. Regardless of why these movies went straight to video, what they had in common is that they had no place on the highly coveted big screen. Since then, the business of releasing movies has shifted so dramatically that to fault a movie for not obtaining a theatrical release would be asinine. While many viewers still covet the theatrical experience as the way films are supposed to be experienced, the modern market is so strongly weighted towards convenience that we’ve come to live in a time where home video arguably reigns supreme. Whether or not this is true, and such a premise can only exist for the sake of argument, it is my feeling that the big screen is no longer a coveted entity.

Allow me to provide a brief history of home video to demonstrate how far things have come since the golden age of the silver screen. Before home video was created in the early eighties, when a film was released, it would enjoy theatrical engagements that could last from months to years. The theater was your only source to experience the medium of cinema. Things began to change with the invention of television which offered occasional second chances to see theatrical movies in your home on a small cube device (slicing the intended widescreen at the wings into a form once known as ‘standard’), highly censored and compromised for advertising purposes. Then everything changed with the once unthinkable invention of video rentals. The concept that, for a day, you could take home a movie for 24 hours – and get this – watch it as many times as you wanted before returning it the next day, was nothing short of the revolutionary birth of cinematic availability. It was an exciting time when Blockbuster Video, a dinosaur of today, was a wonder house of possibility. A video store was like the ultimate dream dealer.

On the other hand, the advent of film accessibility meant a manipulation to the intended cinematic experience, as it had existed for well over 50 years. Firstly, watching a movie at home meant modifying the widescreen format to your 4:3 television screen. Then, there was the disruption resulting from the freedom to discuss the movie freely during the screening. Perhaps worst of all, VCR’s offered the ability to pause a film, dividing it into whatever increments the viewer saw fit. While I do see the convenience value of these enhancements towards comfort, it’s not hard to see why some skeptics considered them a major step in the devolution of the cinematic experience. Take, for example, one of the most successful, and long-lasting theatrical releases of the 70s and 80s, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. How can you translate what that film meant to a theatrical audience to the home viewing environment. It’s an extreme example but significant in that it reflects how removing films from their theatrical realm can alter the experience. There is something strangely wonderful about watching a movie in a dark room full of strangers with nothing in common other than the experience unfolding before you. In this sense, going to a film is almost like the great unifier. The shared immersion carries a profound effect, which, in conjunction with the blackness of the room, acts to throw away the film-goers reality allowing them to surrender to the dream-like images being projected on the large screen hovering above. 

Today it’s unthinkable that every movie that has ever existed  shouldn’t be immediately available in some form or another, but for the better part of 20 years the system went that after a movie experienced its theatrical run (its length determined by the film’s box-office success), the movie would become available for home consumption. If the film was a bomb, you may wait 5-8 months before being able to rent the movie. But if it was something like ‘93’s Jurassic Park, you’d have to wait well into ’94 to find it on your Major Video store’s shelf. Should you have the unfortunate fate of being a collector, you’d still be in for another yearlong wait before you’d get the opportunity to pay $23.99 to own a full screen VHS movie. The only ones not waiting a year to buy VHS tapes were the video stores, who paid roughly $110 for the movie, to be earned back in rental revenue before eventually landing on the previously viewed shelf to die. 

Forlorn VHS collectors found salvation in the late ‘90s. With the advent of the DVD came the ultimate home video revolution. DVD offered widescreen format, special features, and best of all, immediate availability to own. The DVD boom lasted well into the ‘00s until gradually, the download age swept through, leaving three decades of video stores to die of neglect, one by one, until even the mighty Blockbuster Video took its fall. Today the digital world has completely swallowed practical media in both film and music. Like invisible music contained within an ipod device, downloading movies via your home theater cable box, or on your computer, either through itunes or illegal means, is the modern means of home video.  You may virtually watch anything you want almost whenever you want it, whether it is an obscure film from 50 years ago or a brand new movie that has yet to even see its theatrical release. Naturally, this free-for-all era of free media has had a tremendous impact on the way films are currently distributed. Whereas historically theatrical release and home video were two completely separate animals, often separated by an entire year, with immediate access to new releases in a home environment, the theatrical experience began losing out to convenience and, movie studios were forced to address both markets simultaneously. Many studios didn’t even bother releasing some of their more independent acquisitions theatrically. In the last decade we’ve seen more and more theatre-worthy releases make their debuts in living rooms. Big budget films with A-list stars began appearing amidst the sea of titles provided by TMN On Demand leaving movie-goers baffled that they haven’t even heard of the movie in the first place. Home video, or perhaps, convenient viewing, has become a focal environment for the release of many great films. Thus, the notion of the straight-to-video movie is no longer derogatory. A studio bypassing a film’s theatrical run is no longer the mark of an unworthy film. Of course, the sheer output of movies today is a huge factor in the ratio of theatrical to video releases, but I can’t help but think it’s also reflective of an increasingly apathetic audience.

In the last month, two films have been released simultaneously in theaters and on demand that have struck me as especially indicative of how far things have come. They are Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives and Paul Schrader’s The Canyons. While neither film has succeeded critically, they are nevertheless films that I have been eagerly anticipating for months. Refn’s last film, Drive, is as good as anything you can hope to see on the big screen. The Canyons is an independently produced passion collaboration between heavyweight writer/director Paul Schrader and writer, Bret Easton Ellis. Schrader is engrained in cinema history. With credits like Taxi Driver (screenplay), HardcoreAmerican Gigolo, et al, Schrader is an auteur with a wide-ranging filmography. Ellis is the author of Less Than ZeroRules of AttractionAmerican Psycho… His adaptations have made for widely beloved cinematic experiences. I could not wait for the theatrical release of these two films.  

And then over the last few weeks they were both released simultaneously in theaters and on demand. For reasons pertaining to convenience, when I found myself with some time one night, I could not help but throw on the unfathomably available Only God Forgives. A few afternoons later, I found myself with some more time – just enough to squeeze in a movie. With great shame, I chucked my immense desire to see The Canyons on the big screen in favor of immediacy, and watched a film to which I’d been so looking forward, with the midday sun shining through the window. I was immersed in the film, despite the daylight, but couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing something very wrong. Although I sold out my theatrical values, at least the rental period was 48 hours and I was able to watch the film a second time – a sort of throw back to the early thrills of renting. I should add that these two films were equally available for free download prior to their first theatrical showtime of the day, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of treating movies I couldn’t wait to see (one of which was a Kickstarter passion project) with such low esteem. Paying the On Demand fee was the least I could do.

Only God Forgives and The Canyons have quite a bit in common with one another. They both exist in morally bankrupt universes, they both consist of tersely spoken characters, they’re both stylistically driven, both films are receiving negative attention on account of the fact they’re bold and unafraid to take chances, and most relevant to this discussion, as far as I’m concerned, both films are pieces of legitimate auteur driven cinema and thus deserve to be experienced on a big screen, in a state conducive to immersion. Whether or not you agree that these are two great films – and I’d be hard-pressed to find people who agree that they are – is beside the point. What’s relevant is that both films are rich in tone, and to casually drop in and out of either, or divide it into increments, is both a disservice to the filmmakers, and a means to cheat yourself out of a film’s intended effect. Imagine splitting a David Lynch film into 5 parts. Or watching something likeMulholland Drive on “your fucking phone” as Lynch famously condemned. I recognize that watching a film on your TV screen, or even computer screen, is not quite as absurd as watching a film on your phone, but it speaks to the increasing acceptability of the casual watching experience when film simply isn’t a casual medium. At its best, film engages both your ethereal consciousness and, in the case of directors like Lynch, or even Refn – whose Only God Forgives is more than a little Lynchian – engages your subconscious. Viewers of today, who value convenience over the film experience itself, will watch a movie on their small screens without regard for a darkened atmosphere, and having watched the images, will believe they have fairly experienced a film. Given the underwhelming nature of the modern viewing atmosphere, it’s no wonder that film is losing its cachet.  

It’s also no wonder that filmmakers like David Lynch are losing their desire to play to the modern audience. In a recent Hollywood Reporter interview, Lynch expressed his dwindling enthusiasm to contribute to an increasingly disposable medium. I think part of the reason ideas haven’t come in is that the world of cinema is changing so drastically, and in a weird way, feature films I think have become cheap. Everything is kind of throwaway. It’s experienced and then forgotten. It goes really fast. And you have to do those things you are just in love with.” Lynch’s quote, speaks more to the volume problem in film distribution today, in which auteur driven films become lost in the sea of generic imitations of overused formulas. Theatrically, movies don’t stick out in a multiplex that screens 30 movies. On TMN’s On Demand they don’t even have posters. It’s not hard to understand why it’s now considered okay to watch a movie on your phone when the bar for what a movie is has been set so low and continues to plummet. The real tragedy is that legitimate films are getting sucked into the shuffle and suffering from spreading disinterest in keeping the movie on a pedestal.

The Canyons screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis also recently discussed his thoughts on the decline of interest in cinema in an interview conducted by the A.V. Club. Basically, film and serious, auteur-driven movies… no one’s interested. I experienced the disconnect really powerfully for the first time this year. I do go to movies, and I still have that habit from when I was young: I want to drive to the theater, and I want the movie to control me. I don’t want to sit in my bedroom able to control the movie, and turn it off whenever I want.” It’s fitting that Ellis’ The Canyons takes place in a sort of modern Hollywood dystopia, where all the players in the dream factory have long since cared about the dream itself. Though this theme takes a back seat to a story more focused on power and privilege, the opening and closing credits set the landscape tone of the film, framing it within a photo collage of abandoned movie theaters. These images of barren auditoriums, with rusting projection booths and littered film reels on the dusty grounds, are some of the most tragic architectural photographs I’ve ever seen. Mega multiplexes have replaced the old way of movie-going, and it’s undeniable that the experience of going to the movies has dramatically changed. The vibe of the average movie house compared to the class of Hollywood’s past is like a gaudy carnival. With tacky colours, and designs that serve to overwhelm the attendee, movie theaters of today closer resemble an amusement park than anything suggesting cinema as a meaningful past time. Theaters boast of ultimate experiences in picture, sound and 3D as a way to compete with the increasingly popular home video method of experiencing movies.  The message here seems to be that movies no longer sell themselves.

I found myself extremely depressed, watching the ghost-theater slideshow closing credits of The Canyons on my television set in broad daylight. In addition to mourning the loss of an extinct way of life, the images also point to a death of the collective experience of watching films. The last image features a dilapidated theater with an apparent hole in the ceiling, causing a large ray of sunlight to infiltrate what is meant to be a dark room.

Glancing at the ray of sunlight coming through my own living room window, I shuddered in sorrow, realizing that I have officially become part of the problem.

– The Silly Serpent

The Curse Of The Hollywood Stud Ryans

 

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Search for the first name Ryan on IMDb and four names will stand out from an endless sea of CW extras. All youthful and athletic during their peak, these four Ryans share nothing in common other than an inexplicable box-office success that only translates to romantic movies but not much else. Some of you will stop reading right here and start writing comments on how pointless this piece is. Go right ahead, but know this before you fail to resist the temptation of online message board negativity: I have a point to make about Hollywood’s inner workings and only those with enough virtue to sit through this seemingly irrelevant exercise in trivial comparisons will get to comprehend it. Are we all ready? Let’s start with the first Ryan then – The true original.

STUD RYAN NUMBER ONE: Ryan O’Neal

Academy Award nominee, father of Tatum and all around classic good-looking stud. Love Story (1970) – a film primarily targeted at setting unrealistic relationship expectations for the young female demographic – propelled him into stardom. He was able to sustain relative mainstream success and critical accolades in the early part of the 70’s and was lucky enough to star in the timeless classic Barry Lyndon – the period piece Kubrick always wanted to make. Not too long after that, he found himself going back to the well in order to regain commercial appeal with Oliver’s Story, an unnecessary sequel to his original chick flick surprise hit. He eventually was passed over by movie studios as a once bankable name and his career faded over a span of ten years. He later found a second life by starring in various television series.

STUD RYAN NUMBER TWO: Ryan Phillippe

Also better known as Mr. Reese Witherspoon back in the early 2000’s, he’s been in a number of movies that you probably forgot he was in – including Crash (the surprising Best Picture Winner from Paul Haggis). With the acting ability of a Johnny Depp and the looks of a more restrained Justin Timberlake, Phillippe enjoyed supporting roles in high profile projects like Altman’s Gosford Park and Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers. Commercially however, his obvious appeal to the female population never translated into Hollywood stardom and he was not able to recapture the role that put him on the map: A stud-looking stud who discovers he has inhibited feelings in 1999’s teen hit Cruel Intentions. Soon turning 40 next year, he followed the Ryan curse by redirecting his career to television as he expertly plays Channing McLaren on the TV Series Damages.

STUD RYAN NUMBER THREE: Ryan Reynolds

Reynolds has been voted sexiest man alive so there’s no denying that Hollywood invested big dollars to make him a bona fide movie star. Shouldn’t that be enough to draw a crowd to the box office and average more than $48,231,858? Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper were the winners around his year and their average gross $76 million $93 million and $90 million. I personally feel like he chooses bad projects to work on even though he is constantly given plenty of opportunities. Reynolds was supposed to use Green Lantern to establish his box office fortune. Playing Hal Jordan once every 2-3 years would have established him as a longer-term, star, but that movie’s box-office failure put him back to square one. His true hit came with Sandra Bullock in “The Proposal”, whereas “Safe House” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” inflated his average because of Denzel Washington and Hugh Jackman, respectively. Denzel could’ve made Safe House with Justin Bieber and I still would have seen it because Denzel is a great actor. And Deadpool was replaced by another actor at the end of the X-Men Origins. Ryan Reynolds still has a marketable name, and if they can recreate Green Lantern with a better story or give him the Deadpool franchise to run away with, he’ll be where he should be at the box-office rankings.

STUD RYAN NUMBER FOUR: Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling is a great actor who has already proved through a variety of projects that he isn’t afraid to play against type. However, I was a little surprised when I went onto Box-office Mojo and noticed the average box office revenue from the films he starred in was only $23,752,875. Sure, this average counts movies like All Good Things, The Slaughter Rule (?) and The Believer (?!?). These three movies opened in only eight theaters – COMBINED. Actors are still artists and they like to do work they believe in. However, I only consider this as a good idea after they’ve established themselves as a top grossing stud. Ryan Gosling has been thrown into the draft pool of Bruce Wayne candidates by Warner Bros, and his agent should be doing everything he can to make that happen (much to the anger of most fans) for his client’s sake. While we appreciate his Refn collaborations and streak of great indie films, it’s clear that studios want to make him a true movie star and branching out into genres other than chick flicks hasn’t worked for him. Not yet at least.

OK. WHAT’S THE POINT?

Too often we watch movies and wonder why the up-and-coming stars of tomorrow somehow remind us of the ones of yesterday. Perhaps it is coincidence that Brad Pitt bears a striking resemblance to Robert Redford. Or perhaps it is not. Beyond the similar names, similar faces, and similar parts are Hollywood career formulas that work like assigned seating – young actors get invited to sit into chairs for a number of years and are asked to move on eventually. The Hollywood Stud Ryan is one of these chairs. It’s just another formula of a career that fills theater seats by catering to an audience that will never grow tired of it.

Because Hollywood wants to keep churning out roles for a young Nicole Kidman even after she’s become a seasoned veteran, they found us Amy Adams to fill into these brainy superhero love interest shoes. Scripts for a young Michelle Pfeiffer are still up for grabs and Amanda Seyfried is getting them all delivered on her front porch. Rob Lowe’s still looking good but we might as well go with Zac Efron to play that charming lead. The screenplays keep coming, and the roles always call for the same fit. So who the hell is young Pacino, you ask? We don’t know yet and we might never actually find one. While you can’t look at this forward, you can definitely look at it backwards. In other words, classic movie stars might never meet their match but the majority of the young movie stars we have today relate back to a famous Tinseltown A-list name.

That all four actors covered in this piece were named Ryan is nothing more than a fluffy factoid – I am sure their parents had other reasons for choosing that name. Speaking of parents, Ryan O’Neal’s career high was in Paper Moon in 1973, a movie in which he co-starred with his daughter Tatum O’Neal. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards and young Tatum walked away with the Best Supporting Actress statuette. Nowadays, Tatum is a name audiences associate to Channing Tatum, another Hollywood Stud Ryan who broke out in romance chick flicks and has defeated the curse by starring in a number of various box-office hits.

What a Ryan couldn’t do, a Tatum did… Your mind can safely blow up now.

– The Silent Shark