Wes Anderson’s latest film Moonrise Kingdom broke into the Top 10 films list for domestic gross per screen last weekend. This means that before the Memorial Day Weekend had finished, the film raked in over $500,000 while only playing at 4 different theaters between Los Angeles and New York City. Going up against the stereotypical tentpole fare of MIB 3, which earned just under $13,000 gross/screen that very same weekend, indie comedy, collectively, as a movie genre should be celebrating, right?
Certainly Wes Anderson and his all-star cast that includes Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, and, of course, Bill Murray, along with distributors Focus Features, are celebrating. Such jubilation, however, cannot ignore the fact that MIB 3 grossed $54 million overall domestically and several more tens of millions overseas despite scoring 69% on Rotten Tomatoes vs. Moonrise Kingdom’s 95%. It would stand to reason that the powers that be in the film industry who decide what we watch at our local theater (funny how that isn’t the other way around, isn’t it?) should put more of their resources into a quality product.
The question that plagues the offices of studios and distribution is, “Will everywhere else that isn’t LA and NYC watch this movie?” Unfortunately, more often than not, the answer that is settled upon is no. Moonrise Kingdom is only playing at 12 more screens than it did last week.
As the case is with the so-called speciality box office, despite having the reputation of someone like Anderson behind a film, marketing is left largely to word of mouth, which, in the case of indie-leaning comedies, means it has to be really, really great for it to stand a chance to make any money whatsoever.
The issue here is purely marketing. As mentioned above, the film industry ostensibly tells moviegoers what they’re going to watch, which has encouraged a business model of producing marketability over quality, and then marketing the hell out of it. While you often hear astronomical figures of production budgets going north of $200 million, there are untold millions also spent on TV spots, billboards, bus ads, web banners, press coverage, and more. Of course, the idea is that one will be virtually bludgeoned with a semi-interesting premise off a built-in market, a somewhat interesting trailer, and names they’re familiar with to the point where they will watch it because there is no other movie to watch that weekend. That’s the hope. It would be hard to imagine if That’s My Boy got made for any other reason.
Why won’t studios let marketing firms do their job and figure out ways to market something? Why do their job at the outset when studios could make something that is genuinely great and then figure a way to market it to the masses? Why can I only see Moonrise Kingdom at (specialty theaters) Arclight or Landmark here in LA for a hefty ticket price after driving to Hollywood or West LA rather than at my local multiplex for much less?
No matter how good Moonrise Kingdom is, it won’t singlehandedly change the dynamic of what is put into theaters across the country and across the world. The industry relies on heavily-marketed movies, practically shoving the films down the public’s throats just to get audiences to the theater on opening weekend. That’s why Banksy exists.