Fannish. That certainly describes the Internet buzz surrounding something like The Avengers or any of the other films that led up to it. In some cases, you could even call it fanatical. Never before have so many people walked the streets wearing Iron Man t-shirts, let alone recognized the name Tony Stark. The kind of buzz movies can create even before they are released, even before they start filming, can be staggering. /Film claims to have posted over 600 articles on The Dark Knight Rises since 2008, the year it’s predecessor hit theaters. Moreover, scientists (yes, real-life scientists) have told us that there is a “direct correlation” between a film’s Internet hype and it’s commercial success. Walking around Best Buy, you might have even noticed some DVDs emblazoned with Rotten Tomatoes stickers, highlighting a movie’s particularly high Tomatometer score. Blogs, social networks, and websites dedicated to film news have become a really important component of film culture. The more Internet hype, the more tickets are sold.
Looking at this year’s most successful films so far, it’s easy to see that most of the hype, and therefore most of the money, goes to superhero or comic book films and sequels. Only two out of ten of this year’s highest grossing films are not part of some sort of franchise. This isn’t the point where I go off on a rant about big movie studios churning out the same stories and characters over and over again. We all know that side of the argument, and sure, there’s some truth to it, but we don’t really need to go through it again. What I’ve been thinking about lately is how Internet buzz can affect films that people might be less likely to go see, films that might be or seem to be less accessible to the average viewer.
The Avengers (as if you didn't already know.)
Next weekend, P.T. Anderson’s new film, The Master, is getting a much wider release. It’s already been getting some fantastic reviews. However, it has also been labeled as a more “challenging film” for a more “serious audience." Now, The Avengers definitely wasn’t a challenging film for a serious audience. Just the numbers alone make it clear that it’s pretty accessible. These are two totally different films targeting entirely different audiences, and usually, bringing up The Master and The Avengers in the same sentence, even the same post, wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, but in this case, I think it does.
Iron Man was released in 2008 and after that, the world knew that The Avengers was coming at some point. Much quieter reports and articles about The Master started as early as late 2009. After Iron Man, Marvel spent four years pumping out movies in anticipation for “the big one,” and Avengers hype grew exponentially. All the while, P.T. Anderson slowly and quietly gathered his cast and started making his film. In the middle of the frenzy, the films briefly crossed paths at least once in the form of a /Film article.
Reading this article, a person searching the web for whatever scraps of new Avengers information they could find was introduced to the existence of this P.T. Anderson guy, and this person had the opportunity to check out another film one the Avengers was involved in. In that moment, IronFan69 (that’s what I’ve decided to call this person) was exposed to a film they may not have ever heard of otherwise. Maybe IronFan69 sees this article, is feeling a little adventurous, and decides to go on a Google tangent. Maybe he realizes that P.T. Anderson made Boogie Nights, and IronFan69 really liked Boogie Nights when he caught it on Starz a while back and just wasn’t paying close attention when the directorial credit came along. After all, Anderson’s name isn’t always as closely attached to his films in the way some other directors’ are (Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron). Maybe in the future, IronFan69 will keep an eye out for more updates on The Master or on P.T. Anderson. Or maybe he won’t, but somebody might.
I’m sure that by now you’ve caught my drift. The Master has no chance at making the kind of money Avengers raked in. It’s just not possible, and the people involved in making it probably don’t expect it to. What I’m trying to get at is that the current state of film fandom, which definitely grants preferential treatment to superhero films and sequels, takes place online, and the Internet makes finding and stumbling upon information easier than ever, and it’s possible that more people know about and plan to see The Master now than normally would had word only been spread through more traditional means. I know that at times it may seem like the rampant hunger for comic book, sequel, and franchise movies that we see online has stinted the output of serious films for a serious audience (an idea that I plan to explore in future posts), but I think we’ve definitely seen some positive effects this has had on film culture as well.