Yes, The Dark Knight made more money in U.S. theaters than any film in history except Titanic (in nominal dollars, unadjusted for inflation), but in terms of sheer return on the investment dollar, you’d have been better off putting your cash into the teen vampire movie Twilight, the teen musical High School Musical 3: Senior Year, or Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert.
And you’d have been much, much smarter to invest in Kirk Cameron’s small, independent, Christian film Fireproof: it cost a half-million dollars to make and brought in $33.1 million, a return of mnore than sixty times its budget.
That’s the conclusion of an interesting article on E! Online about movie returns on investment. Of course, it’s not possible to predict precisely what films will have greatest audience appeal before they’re even made, but a few things are clear and have remained true for years:
- Big stars in recognizable, popular genres will get a big opening weekend. But if the movie isn’t good, it will tank quickly thereafter.
- Teenage girls are a steady source of income for the film industry.
- PG and G films make money.
- Big stars and snazzy graphics guarantee high costs but not necessarily high returns—cf. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Australia, and Speed Racer.
- Political implications are fine, but to update the great Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn, if you want to send a message, send a text. The antiwar agenda deservedly brought financial losses to the arrogant leftists who tried to inflict it on innocent audiences.
- And most important of all: people want a good time at the movies. They are willing to be challenged (as The Dark Knight and Iron Man, for example, did very well), but they don’t want to be insulted or have their basic values denigrated.
If that all sounds absurdly simple and makes you wonder why Hollywood doesn’t just do what makes the most and steadiest money, the reality is that the big hits typically bring in enough cash to pay for a plethora of underperformers and outright disasters. If a producer, studio, or distributor takes a flyer on a sufficiently diverse slate of offerings, they’ll typically make a nice, tidy, and dependable profit.
Such complacency, however, is a huge mistake when it evolves into arrogance and contempt for audiences. Hollywood’s attempt to foist too much politicized, angry fare on American moviegoers last year resulted in a significant dropoff in ticket sales—about 4.25 percent. A couple of years of that, and people in the industry will have to start tightening their belts.
Or concentrate more devoutly on making films that show some respect for common American values.