Image from 'Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa"
It’s not the economy, stupid! Despite the badgering by America-hating critics, people never gravitate to deliberately negative and depressing movies.

Taking up a theme about which I’ve been writing for several months (and indeed for more than two decades), AP wonders, "Will economy make crowds shun gloomy flicks?" Well, yes and no, as I’ve noted earlier in my weekly updates on the U.S. movie box office. They will shun gloomy flicks, but not largely because of the economy.

The reality is that people always tend to shun gloomy movies regardless of economic conditions.

Certainly it’s true that some downbeat films can be very popular, as was spectacularly true of Titanic and The Dark Knight, but such successes are greatly the exception. Plus, downbeat films that achieve real popular success almost always have some big compensations that satisfy audiences despite the unhappy endings, as in the spectacular action and romance of The Dark Knight, 300, and Titanic demonstrate.

Absent that, however, gloomy movies don’t do very well, and even with them it’s a tough road. So, no, the economy isn’t driving people away from depressing Oscar-bait films; the movies themselves are accomplishing that quite effectively.

That’s the real reason the animated comedy film Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa led the U.S. movie box office last weekend with a spectacular $63.1 million in its first weekend of release. Let’s see, funny talking animals or another fictional expose of U.S. perfidy in the Iraq War . . . what do you think, honey?

Thus also the strong showings for the silly comedy Role Models, which finished second at $19.2 million, High School Musical: Senior Year (third at $9.2 million), and Zack and Miri Make a Porno (fifth at $5.4 million). Also in the top ten were two horror films, Saw V and The Haunting of Molly Hartley.

The one serious film in the top ten was Clint Eastwood’s The Changeling, finishing fourth with $7.2 million and benefiting from a strong performance by Angelina Jolie and an appealing, positive element in the central characters’ personal strength and courage—a couple of those big compensations mentioned above.

This preference for movies that actually entertain is not something unique to wicked Americans, either; it appears to be all but universal. India, after all, is known for its aggressively entertaining Bollywood films, and most countries in the world enjoy Hollywood’s escapist fare and don’t have much use for our antiwar dramas and pro-homosexual cinema.

And this past weekend the latest James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, was tops at the UK box office again, selling another $14.3 million worth of tickets. Also strong in Blighty were High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Ghost Town, and Saw V. Sound familiar? Only slots five, six, and ten had particularly serious films among the entire UK top ten for the weekend.

All of this is good news, actually, as it confirms once again that although most critics are incredibly stupid, audiences tend to be very smart. That keeps the U.S. film industry from entirely destroying itself by devoting its efforts exclusively to the kind of frightful, idiotic, politically driven nonsense the filmmakers would really like to make. God bless the free market!