I saw one of the best Science Fiction films I’ve seen in a while, this weekend. Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow. I’m not a huge Tom Cruise fan – I’ve never really forgiven him for Days of Thunder, but being the open-minded kind of guy I am I gave him another chance. The buzz on social media among the film folks I follow was strong, so EoT got the popcorn money this week. It’s everything folks who work on the creative side of the movie business say the movie business needs, but it’s the textbook case study for why the business side of the movies works the way it does.
The film has everything a great summer blockbuster should have – an inventive story, taut writing, solid star power in the leads, off-the-charts special effects and dynamic action sequences. You genuinely care about the characters and there are enough light moments to bring a smile and make it feel real. Yeah, there are a couple of plot holes and then ending isn’t as inventive as the first 90 minutes, but it’s still a top 10% SF film.
The only problem with this summer blockbuster is it didn’t do big boffo blockbuster box office. And that is going to impact inventive original storytelling for major studio motion pictures. Here’s why – studios used to want a built-in fan base for a summer tentpole movie. Now they’ll require it. You have to have lines of geeks or tweenagers camped out at the theater for opening night. Where a 30 million dollar opening weekend was once solid, now that has to be the domestic Saturday night and it better have done $70-90 mil oversees the weekend before. Studios have seen the half billion dollar franchise and that’s what they want – there better be a hundred million dollars in pent-up demand before the script even gets its first set of notes. Because EoT didn’t have a generation of comic books to stand on or a series of niche genre novels or even a long cancelled TV show to get behind, it opened to a great chorus of “meh.”
Only after it began to run and critics started raving and the film literate began to talk it up, did EoT begin to get some traction. Even then the headlines weren’t that this was a cool film with a great POV and a solid story. No, the narrative became that Tom Cruise got beat by a girl with cancer in a love story that tween girls came out for in droves. All because there was an existing fan base for the book.
So the next time you feel the urge to wonder why Hollywood doesn’t produce anything original, remember where you were when they did. You were probably next door, with a theater full of orthodontic girls, crying their eyes out to The Fault in Our Stars, a story everyone in the auditorium knew by heart.