Time to Skip Down the Yellow Brick Road

A recession might be inevitable, but for the gilded film industry, this slump in the nation's psyche might be good for business.

Last week, Reuters and the AP connected a troubled economy with a well-fed box office. "Hollywood thrives when the economy dives," David Germain of the AP wrote. Germain also quoted figures from the National Association of Theater Owners, according to which box office revenues have gone up during five of the past seven recessions.

It could be due to post-writers strike and post-Oscar jitters, but the industry is certainly feeling optimistic. In his keynote address at a theater owners' convention last Tuesday, MPAA chairman Dan Glickman beamed about the four percent growth in box office profits between 2006 and 2007—an all-time high, he said.

"Everywhere I go, I see the rifts in our world. But I also am reminded just how much movies bring us together, whether challenging us to face significant social issues or simply encouraging us to lighten up and share a laugh with our neighbors," he continued.

Laugh being the key word these days. If 2007's box office figures are any indication, Americans certainly seem to crave escapism. The top-grossing releases of last year were Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix—in that order. Films that scored Oscars this year were bleak in theme almost across the board, and, perhaps consequently, generated relatively little box office buzz. Juno is the only best-picture nominee to have crossed the $100 million mark. In a cruel twist, Worst Actor Razzie-award winner Norbit has grossed more in ticket sales than four out of the five films nominated for Best Picture (its box office tally is more than double of There Will be Blood).

Perhaps the most widely quoted example of film industry success and overall recession is the depression of the 1930s, during which movie theaters sold several billion tickets a year (2007's equivalent figure was 1.4 billion). Screwball comedies and musicals paved the way for unforeseen spectacles: 1939's The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.

World War II and film noir were to follow, of course. But since our generation would rather watch the extracted intestines of Saw IV than the subtle dread of Michael Clayton, it's tough to imagine what we'll be watching when we are finally gravitated back to realism.

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