The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Hollywood's holiday movies: More gloom than glad tidings

January 3, 2011 | 12:10 pm

Gulliver travales My colleague Ben Fritz, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of box-office reporters, has been keeping track of the gloomy box-office news for Hollywood's end-of-the-year releases, noting that the flops ("Gulliver's Travels" and "How Do You Know") and the underperformers ("Tron: Legacy" and "Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader") have outnumbered the hits. But for me, the really sobering news came from talking to my friends and relatives in Miami over the holidays, none of whom have anything to do with the movie business. They had been enjoying the usual end-of-year Oscar fare, but when it came to mainstream family films, they were almost unanimously bitterly disappointed.

My cousins and stepbrothers and sisters all have young kids, so they spent a lot of time at the multiplexes, catching up on the family films. Their verdict? Yuck! Everyone thought "Gulliver's Travels" was awful, an utter waste of Jack Black's talents. "Yogi Bear" was a trifle, barely better than anything they could've seen on Nickelodeon. "Little Fockers" was a disappointment, easily the worst film in the series. "How Do You Know," which some of my older cousins saw, was a snooze, barely comic and scarcely romantic. And to top it off, my 12-year-old son, having  gone with a bunch of his pals to see "Tron: Legacy" over the weekend, returned with more bad news. "I'm not saying it sucked," he told me. "But it really wasn't all that interesting. It felt like I'd seen a lot of the story before." When I asked him what movie he'd compare it to, he said, "It really wasn't that much different from 'Spy Kids 3.' "


It's not unusual for critics to complain about Hollywood's mainstream fare, but I was surprised by how unsatisfying these films felt to rank-'n'-file moviegoers. So far, Hollywood has its head in the sand when it comes to pleasing its dissatisfied customers. Last week, Fritz pointed out that even though box-office revenue was stable in 2010, the number of movie tickets sold dropped roughly 5% from 2009. The only reason box-office revenue didn't sink as well was the premium price moviegoers had to pay for 3-D tickets.

If I were running a studio, I'd find it troubling that my audience wasn't expanding, especially at a time when people are spending more time than ever watching TV and engaging in social-network activity. But instead of recognizing the problem, executives like Sony Pictures Vice Chairman Jeff Blake waved it away, saying, "If money goes up while bodies go down, I'm not sure it's necessarily a bad thing." I beg to differ: If your audience is slowly but surely melting away, it's a very bad thing indeed.

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Jack Black, all tied up in a scene from "Gulliver's Travels." Credit: Hydraulx / 20th Century Fox