• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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The power of the audience

The power of the audience

Strolling into the mall to buy a movie ticket comes with different considerations. As a Nigerian, I would ask, “I hope my money is not going to be spent in vain?” “Things are hard enough as it is.” “I hope the movie is worth it?”

With these considerations in mind, my wallet would advise certain tendencies to walk in careful strides. Gone are the times when going to the movies presented affordable pleasure, where movie tickets would cost about N1000/1500. Now, the story has changed. It is no longer an act of impulse for many to visit the movie streaming halls of the theatre for the sheer enjoyment and relief of it; there are pause factors that determine people’s next course of action.

Now to these factors we ask. What determines a movie’s success? What announces in loud strides that a film has gone above and beyond in impressing the audience? One could say the story line. But that is just one amongst a number of factors.

The “story line” for one plays a non-negotiable role in stirring the interests of the intended audience. Through trailers released, appetites are either incited or discouraged of what is to come. But the story line does not stand alone in itself; it merges along with other creative fragments that would see to the all round success of a film.

According to the International Journal of Innovative Science and Research Technology, there are nine factors that determine the failure or success of a movie.

“These classical factors include producer, production house, director, cast, the runtime of the movie, the genre, the script, time of release and last but not the least the marketing. All these factors play a very vital role in determining whether a film will be successful.”

But there is more, a factor that is hardly acknowledged and yet is essential: the audience. If no one watches or invests time and resources to view a film produced, how would it be termed as a success?

An online critic highlighted the determinant for a successful film, “A general rule of thumb for qualifying a movie as a “financial success” is to compare its gross revenue to twice its reported budget. A movie “doubly” is successful if it performs well both financially and critically while it is deemed a “total” failure if it loses money and is panned.”

A fitting example to this is the case of one of DC’s recent releases, Aquaman 2: the lost kingdom. A movie that grossed significantly lower than its prequel released 2018. The first film which grossed over $1bn in box office results, with a budget of $160bn-$200m, was labelled a stunning success to viewers and critics alike.

It was action woven skillfully with comedy. The light at the end of DC’s gradual box office decline. For what seemed like an impossibility found its way into the possible light, DC’s live action was finally butting heads with Marvel in the theatres; competing with Black Panther and Avengers:infinity war, which also grossed over $1bn in box office results that same year.

Things were looking up for DC’s live action future; especially with a sequel that was to be released after the first.

Aquaman’s franchise history

Aquaman’s first release emerged as a tidal wave of success in 2018, proving that the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) could navigate turbulent waters and make a splash at the box office. Directed by James Wan and starring Jason Momoa as the titular hero, “Aquaman” dove headfirst into theatres, riding a wave of anticipation and scepticism. However, what emerged was a visually stunning and action-packed adventure that captured the hearts of audiences worldwide.

At its core, “Aquaman” is a story of identity, duty, and destiny. Arthur Curry, the half-human, half-Atlantean protagonist, struggles to find his place in the world, torn between his responsibilities to the surface world and his heritage beneath the sea. Momoa’s charismatic portrayal breathed new life into the character, infusing him with swagger, humour, and undeniable charm. Audiences were drawn to his portrayal of a hero burdened by the weight of his lineage yet determined to forge his own path.

But it was not just Momoa’s performance that made “Aquaman” a success. The film’s visual effects were nothing short of breathtaking, transporting viewers to vibrant underwater realms filled with majestic sea creatures, ancient ruins, and sprawling kingdoms. From the sunken city of Atlantis to the depths of the Trench, each scene was a feast for the eyes, showcasing Wan’s visionary direction and the creativity of the filmmaking team.

Moreover, “Aquaman” delivered on the promise of epic action sequences, blending high-octane battles with moments of emotional resonance. Whether it was Arthur’s bloodletting showdown with his half-brother King Orm (played by Patrick Wilson) or his quest to retrieve the mythical Trident of Atlan, the film kept audiences on the edge of their seats with its adrenaline-fueled thrills and heart-pounding excitement.

Critics praised “Aquaman” for its boldness, creativity, and willingness to embrace the inherent silliness of its premise. Rather than shying away from its comic book roots, the film fully embraced them, resulting in a joyful and exhilarating cinematic experience. And audiences responded in kind, flocking to theatres in droves and propelling “Aquaman” to become the highest-grossing DCEU film at the time of its release.

Other reviews coming from the audience praised the director, Wan for paying faithful attention to detail and impressing the cinemas with an incredible display of a well told story.

“James Wan has crafted a superhero comic book come to glorious, vivid life. First and foremost, no other superhero movie has really ever looked like this before — the colours, imagery, and visual concepts are big and bold, bright and stunning, taking us back and forth from complimentary and contrasting surface-world locales to breathtaking undersea settings,” Sudhakar Kumar said

“Aquaman is an amazing achievement in superhero cinema, filled with pulse-pounding action and dazzling visual effects. Its Indiana Jones, Black Panther, Avatar, and Pirates of the Caribbean rolled into one blockbuster ball of holiday cinema for your entire family.”

Now stretching to the year 2023, Aquaman(lost kingdom), a movie heavily anticipated by fans worldwide; so much so that its trailer alone attracted over 5m views on YouTube in less than six months. This movie garnered less than $500m in box office results with a higher budget of $205–215m. A Godzilla difference from its initial success in 2018. For those who watched, reviews were shared as to how entertaining the movie was.

Rautiff review on google read, “Atlantis returns with a splash! Momoa’s back as the buff king of the seas.” while another, Irie stated that “To sum it up, this movie was adventurous and fun, overall. It was enjoyable.”

So what happened? Why did it make only $434.4 m via box office results?

Before the release of the sequel, there were a series of eye squinting events that saw the world unified in eager fellowship. A brutal divorce that tore through a once sensational couple, ended up stealing the attention of no less than half the world’s population. This was the case between the famous Pirates of the Caribbean actor, Johnny Depp and the actor that plays Aquaman’s love interest, Amber Heard.

The legal battle between Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, Amber Heard, cast a long shadow over the highly anticipated release of the new “Aquaman” movie, posing a potential threat to its box office results. The case, which unfolded in the public eye with allegations of domestic violence, raised questions about Heard’s role in the film and the impact it could have on audience perception.

Depp who had been labelled a “woman beater” lost endorsements deals and projects in the wake of these allegations. Depp fell out with Warner Bros’s Fantastic Beasts franchise and also Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

According to The New York Times, Depp lost $22.5m when his deal with Walt Disney fell flat.

Amidst allegations and counter-allegations of abuse, the courtroom drama painted a contentious picture of the former couple’s relationship. In 2016, Heard filed for divorce from Depp and obtained a restraining order against him, accusing him of physical and verbal abuse. Depp vehemently denied the allegations and filed a defamation lawsuit against Heard, accusing her of orchestrating a smear campaign against him.

As the legal battle played out, details of their tumultuous relationship became fodder for tabloid headlines and social media speculation. The public’s perception of both actors became deeply divided, with supporters rallying behind each side.

However, in a surprising turn of events, the tide seemed to shift in Depp’s favour when a UK court ruled in his favour in a defamation case against a British tabloid that had labelled him a “wife-beater.” The court found that the allegations of abuse against Depp were “substantially true” based on evidence presented during the trial. This ruling dealt a significant blow to Heard’s credibility and reignited conversations about her role in the “Aquaman” franchise.

For Warner Bros., the studio behind the “Aquaman” films, the fallout from the legal saga presented a delicate balancing act. On one hand, Heard’s portrayal of Mera, the female lead in the “Aquaman” series, was integral to the franchise’s success. Removing her from the films could disrupt continuity and alienate fans who had embraced her character.

On the other hand, standing by Heard risked alienating audiences who were sympathetic to Depp or critical of Heard’s actions. The studio faced mounting pressure to address the controversy and clarify its stance on the matter.

Ultimately, Warner Bros. chose to retain Heard in her role as Mera, releasing a statement expressing support for her and affirming their commitment to diversity and inclusion in casting decisions. However, the decision was not without consequences, as some fans vowed to boycott the film in protest.

As the release of the new “Aquaman” movie approached, the controversy surrounding Heard threatened to overshadow the film’s promotional efforts and impact its box office performance.

Now at the face of present results, many have thought back to the legal drama between Depp and Heard and questioned if the scars of over a year ago have indeed healed in the hearts of fans. Especially after the internet was flooded with petitions to have Heard replaced with another actor, Emilia Clark, who is known for her riveting role in Game of Thrones as “the mother of dragons.” Emilia was suggested by fans to take on the mantle of playing Mera in the film. But as was seen in the movie, Heard retained her deal.

This brought about a backlash and speculations that fans had indeed decided to boycott the movie as they had indeed threatened. On the opening night of Aquaman’s 2 release, many review platforms abroad showed how lacking theatre halls were in attendance of the movie. One movie critic channel on YouTube, the Umbrella, revealed that out of a 1o2 seats, only three seats sold on opening night. Similar results were said about theatre houses in Toronto, Ontario and other locales; people kept sharing pictures of close to empty theatre halls.

The Umbrella review page revealed that the world wide audience was making it clear on why they were boycotting the movie. These hashtags trended on X in the wake of the movie’s premier, #boycotting Aquaman2 and #Mera. More reviews centred around the notion that the movie was not successful because of the human factor that was Amber Heard, despite her screen time being minimised.

The Independent Cinema Office explains that the key to making a cinema successful is having a strong feel for the range of audiences that it might attract: who are they, what do they want to see and how do you communicate with them?

The extent at which the actions of actors’ influence movie box office performance is also seen in more examples below, as they can shape public perception and affect audience willingness to support the film:

All the Money in the World:

A movie with a budget of $50m only made $57m. Directed by Ridley Scott, this crime thriller originally featured Kevin Spacey in a significant role. However, amid the #MeToo movement, multiple allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against Spacey. Consequently, Scott made the unprecedented decision to reshoot Spacey’s scenes with Christopher Plummer taking over the role of J. Paul Getty. Despite critical acclaim for the reshoots and Plummer’s performance, Spacey’s controversy undoubtedly influenced the film’s box office performance.

Fantastic Beasts:

The Crimes of Grindelwald: With a budget of $200m, the movie’s box office results measured up to $654.9m.

The second instalment in the “Fantastic Beasts” series faced backlash due to the casting of Johnny Depp as the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. Allegations of domestic abuse against Depp, particularly amid his highly publicised divorce from actress Amber Heard, led to calls for his removal from the film.

Despite efforts by the studio to address the controversy, including Depp’s resignation from the role, the movie’s box office earnings were negatively affected, with some fans boycotting it in protest.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil:

With a budget of $30m, the box office result measured supremely to $25.1m.

A movie directed by Clint Eastwood and based on the novel by John Berendt, this mystery drama starred Kevin Spacey in a leading role. However, following allegations of sexual misconduct against Spacey, the film’s distributor, Warner Bros., chose to minimise his involvement in marketing materials and promotions. Spacey’s controversy likely contributed to the movie’s underwhelming box office performance, despite the involvement of esteemed filmmakers.

The Predator:

With a budget of $88m, the box office result amounted to $160.5m.

Directed by Shane Black, this science fiction action film faced controversy when it was revealed that a scene featuring actor Steven Wilder Striegel, a registered sex offender, had been included in the final cut. The backlash led to the scene being removed from the film, but the negative publicity may have contributed to its disappointing box office results and critical reception.

These examples highlight how allegations against actors can significantly impact a movie’s commercial success and public reception, often overshadowing its artistic merits or thematic elements. In response, studios may face challenging decisions on how to address the controversy and minimise its effects on the film’s financial prospects.

The audience contributing factor of cinematic greatness cannot be regarded as a secondary priority. This has given breath to either success or crushing failure of great projects. Monitoring their feedback through various channels could prove heartily essential for a designed project.