For the past few weeks, everyone and their great aunt seems to be fawning over the trailer for Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are, the much-buzzed-about film adaptation of the beloved children’s book. With synthy hipster music pumping, the trailer shows an extended montage of a boy in the famous pajama suit surrounded by whimsically wonky monsters galore. The film-buff community is telling me I must like this. My inner pretentious film critic is salivating. But still, I’m just not that excited. Here’s why:
I’m a box office analyst. I look at a film, and I say, “Is this film going to do well? Is it going to make money?” Oftentimes, I decide that a movie is going to be a financial disaster, and so I should therefore ignore it completely. Take a movie like Stranger Than Fiction, a 2006 release starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson. I thought it looked witty. I thought it looked funny. I thought it looked creative. I was so excited! But then it went and underperformed at the box office, earning just $40.6 million over the holiday season. Suddenly, I wasn’t so keen on seeing the film. Now, I know that’s a terrible philosophy, and artistic value should never be judged based on commercial appeal, but I think it’s definitely a factor for most people. For instance, if a TV show pulls in poor ratings in its premiere, many people will jump ship by the next episode, not wanting to commit to something that isn’t popular, relevant, or successful. It applies to movies as well, and I think that’s why I’m not excited about Where The Wild Things Are: I don’t believe it’s going to be a big box office success.
The trailer brings to mind one movie in particular: Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola’s much talked about historical update of the famous French queen. Both trailers are relatively dialogue-free. Both trailers were filled by quick moving images set to quirky music. Both trailers were talked about endlessly by the film world. And yet, despite all the buzz, Marie Antionette only grossed $16 million back in 2006. Other recent hipster movies that come to mind would be Garden State ($28.4 million), Adventureland ($16 million), (500) Days Of Summer ($30.2 million), and Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist ($31.5 million). All of these films were well-received by critics, and audiences generally liked them, yet, while these are far from box office bombs, they’re not exactly smash hits either. This is the typical fate for a hipster film: a modest, though very buzzed about, theatrical performance, followed by a solid performance on DVD from a passionate, loyal, college-aged following.
I’m expecting a similar trajectory from Where The Wild Things Are. The numbers will be better because of the book-factor and the family-factor, but this looks like a movie made more for adults than children, and families = money at the box office. Furthermore, it doesn’t look nearly mainstream enough to be a blockbuster. We live in a world where Alvin And The Chipmunks breaks the $200 million barrier and G-Force breaks $100 million. There was nothing subtle or artistic about these films, and yet, this is the type of family entertainment that more average American consumers would rather watch. Really, can you imagine a rural Kentucky audience getting super excited about Where The Wild Things Are? I can’t. So for now, I’m not buying into the buzz. I’m guessing that critics will love it, audiences will like it, people will watch it and feel nouve-riche for doing so, but it won’t be as huge as many people are thinking. My very early prediction is about $65-70 million.
What do you think about all this? Is Where The Wild Things Are too hipster to break out? Are you excited to see Spike Jonze’s film? I’ll admit, some of the released shots of the film are just beautiful, but I’m not positive I’ll be attending. Let me hear your thoughts in the comments!