The U.S economy may be in shambles, but for the movie industry, the next two months seem to signal a nice upsurge. Not only does the most universal form of escapist entertainment tend to fare especially well during economic downturns, but the end of October also signals the unofficial peak of the yearly Academy Awards-race.
Today’s lineup of releases indeed runs the gamut, from High School Musical 3, the presumptive golden child of this weekend’s box office, to the latest entry in the uber-grisly Saw franchise, and Oscar-tickets Synecdoche, New York, Changeling, and I’ve Loved You so Long. High School Musical is the perfect franchise for escapists, and while Synecdoche, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, is unlikely to reach blockbuster-status, its overwhelming critical praise is likely to draw in those who are in the mood for more highbrow fare.
If history is any indication, this fall’s economic disaster may set the perfect stage for a fruitful end-of-the-year movie season. Hollywood has long been considered a recession-proof industry.
“When times are tough, people want to escape to somewhere fantastic without having to pay actual escape-to-somewhere-fantastic cash,” said John Ridley of NPR, in today’s Morning Edition. “And offering a couple of hours away from the ordinary is what the movies do best.”
Ridley also cited 1981 and 1973, other recent slumps in our economy that also turned out extremely profitable film hits like Raiders of the Lost Ark ($209 million), and Jaws ($69 million).
Based on this year’s box office tallies, audiences seem to be overwhelmingly preferring escapist over perplexing. Last weekend’s top-grossing movie nationwide was video game adaptation Max Payne, followed by Beverly Hills Chihuahua (the title says it all). The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Hancock top this year’s total box office.
It’s unlikely, however, that Hollywood will be entirely immune to the recession. Home video sales are slowing down, while studios like NBC Universal, Warner Bros. and Paramount are making budget-and production cuts, the International Herald Tribune reported. The number of movie releases in two or three years may be notably smaller, and eccentric projects like Little Miss Sunshine or Juno are less likely to be picked up by major studios.
Moviegoers should thus expect the current superhero-streak to continue.