Is "Where The Wild Things Are" Too Hipster To Be Successful?

on Thursday, September 17, 2009  

For the past few weeks, everyone and their great aunt seems to be fawning over the trailer for Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are, the much-buzzed-about film adaptation of the beloved children's book.  With synthy hipster music pumping, the trailer shows an extended montage of a boy in the famous pajama suit surrounded by whimsically wonky monsters galore.  The film-buff community is telling me I must like this.  My inner pretentious film critic is salivating.  But still, I'm just not that excited.  Here's why:

I'm a box office analyst.  I look at a film, and I say, "Is this film going to do well?  Is it going to make money?"  Oftentimes, I decide that a movie is going to be a financial disaster, and so I should therefore ignore it completely.  Take a movie like Stranger Than Fiction, a 2006 release starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson.  I thought it looked witty.  I thought it looked funny.  I thought it looked creative.  I was so excited!  But then it went and underperformed at the box office, earning just $40.6 million over the holiday season.  Suddenly, I wasn't so keen on seeing the film.  Now, I know that's a terrible philosophy, and artistic value should never be judged based on commercial appeal, but I think it's definitely a factor for most people.  For instance, if a TV show pulls in poor ratings in its premiere, many people will jump ship by the next episode, not wanting to commit to something that isn't popular, relevant, or successful.  It applies to movies as well, and I think that's why I'm not excited about Where The Wild Things Are: I don't believe it's going to be a big box office success.

 
Call me crazy if you want, but I don't see great box office numbers for Where The Wild Things Are when it debuts on October 16th.  This film falls very much into the category of what I like to call "hipster films," and while those films are usually artistic and interesting, they are not bona fide box office successes.  With the rare exception of Juno, most indie-music-playing, snarky-dialogue-touting, dream-sequence-filled, cartoon-title-over-a-drab-background-having, film-blog-buzzed-about, shaky-camera-shot hipster flicks aren't going to top the box office.  Yes, the fact that Where The Wild Things Are is based on an immensely popular kids book will provide some built in business, but when you watch the trailer above, does it really look like a widely appealing kids movie?

The trailer brings to mind one movie in particular: Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola's much talked about historical update of the famous French queen.  Both trailers are relatively dialogue-free.  Both trailers were filled by quick moving images set to quirky music.  Both trailers were talked about endlessly by the film world.  And yet, despite all the buzz, Marie Antionette only grossed $16 million back in 2006.  Other recent hipster movies that come to mind would be Garden State ($28.4 million), Adventureland ($16 million), (500) Days Of Summer ($30.2 million), and Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist ($31.5 million).  All of these films were well-received by critics, and audiences generally liked them, yet, while these are far from box office bombs, they're not exactly smash hits either.  This is the typical fate for a hipster film: a modest, though very buzzed about, theatrical performance, followed by a solid performance on DVD from a passionate, loyal, college-aged following.

I'm expecting a similar trajectory from Where The Wild Things Are.  The numbers will be better because of the book-factor and the family-factor, but this looks like a movie made more for adults than children, and families = money at the box office.  Furthermore, it doesn't look nearly mainstream enough to be a blockbuster.  We live in a world where Alvin And The Chipmunks breaks the $200 million barrier and G-Force breaks $100 million.  There was nothing subtle or artistic about these films, and yet, this is the type of family entertainment that more average American consumers would rather watch.  Really, can you imagine a rural Kentucky audience getting super excited about Where The Wild Things Are?  I can't.  So for now, I'm not buying into the buzz.  I'm guessing that critics will love it, audiences will like it, people will watch it and feel nouve-riche for doing so, but it won't be as huge as many people are thinking.  My very early prediction is about $65-70 million.

What do you think about all this?  Is Where The Wild Things Are too hipster to break out?  Are you excited to see Spike Jonze's film?  I'll admit, some of the released shots of the film are just beautiful, but I'm not positive I'll be attending.  Let me hear your thoughts in the comments!

10 comments:

Jonathan said...

Spike Jonze is a Genius.

I can predict a lot of people will hate it though.

I know I'll love it. Because people call me a Hipster.

Emmanuel said...

i'm not going to predict if it will do well or not in the box office since that really doesnt have any effect on my decision when i go watch a movie but to compare this movie to juno and nick & norahs just seems ridiculous. I dont see the similarities between them.

Grady Smith said...

@Emmanuel - I'm not comparing them on plot or story structure, but instead on the general feel of the movie. I think they appeal to similar crowds.

Rohan B said...

Grady, believe it or not you're ABSOLUTELY correct.

The problem with this business is that commercial films are the most viable, solely because people want to talk about popular films with friends/colleagues and "be in the loop"

However, I think that this movie has potential to be a hit as long as reviews and word of mouth hold solid. I guess time will tell but 70 mil seems accurate.

Anonymous said...

Yes you are 'crazy'... I am by no means a "hipster". I am about as far from "hipster" (wehatever you think that word means) as you can get, yet I think the ads are great. Of course, perhaps the film is less than the ads lead me to believe that will remain to be seen but to say this film is too "hipster" is misleading and false; and there for because you think it's too "hipster-ish" will fail... False in the assumption = false in the conclusion. Funny (and not in a haha kinda way) - I read your article here because you posted a link to it on the yahoo movie site/community wall... I guess self publicizing is the only way some can do it these days. Everyone I have talked to older/grandparents/older cousins and younger alike who have seen the ads thinks it looks great and is excited about it. Maybe it might not make as much because of the demographics - being aimed at certain ranges of ages and genders(and not all kids - like toddlers and such, and perhaps not as many girls would scream to see it - like not having cute like hamsters shooting guns), but I think your projection is far from fair.

Anonymous said...

only did anonymous cause I can't figure out your strange profile requirements...

Grady Smith said...

Well, Anonymous, I appreciate your opinion, even if you don't appreciate mine! That's what is so great about this whole world we call the blogosphere- everyone can speak their mind. If I only gave people the information that they wanted to hear, I wouldn't consider myself a very useful member of this community.

Jessi said...

I'm probably fitting the "hipster" title, but I do know MANY people where I live are quite excited about the film. I am studying film, and the previews caught my attention. The way it is done made me want to read the book and see if the movie compared to it. I loved it when I was a little girl, and this seems like a lot of other childhood books come to life in a very artistic way. Even though it might not draw younger kids today, I think it will draw many people who read it when they were little and bring their family to enjoy it as much as they did.
It might not appeal to some people because it does seem like it has more of an artistic view rather than one of a plot with a lot of talking to keep the attention of little ones.
I don't think it will do AMAZING in the box office, but it might do well opening weekend for everyone scrambling to go see it. ( i used to work in a movie theater, and people LOVE this type of stuff) where they aren't sure and wanna go see it for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I don't care... i'll see it because it is produced by Warner Bros company

Brandon said...

I don't consider myself a hipster, but I am really looking forward to the film. And I *loved* (500) Days of Summer. I thought that movie was brilliant. Like you've been saying though, everyone wants to feel stress free - like a kid again. So I would predict this movie to do a bit better with $75-80 million as long as its premier weekend doesn't have bad (or even mediocre) word of mouth, but maybe not premiering with as strong a weekend as may be expected... mostly because we've been hearing about the movie for so long; I doubt as many people will flock.

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