Pop (culture) will eat itself, and Other Box Office News.
Note: this article originally ran on Set the Tape (link).
Well, folks, it happened. Disney’s CGI – NOT live-action, they didn’t even go to Africa to shoot the environments and then layer the animated characters over those backdrops like with 2000’s Dinosaur; this was shot on a blue-screen sound-stage in Los Angeles, it is for all intents and purposes an ANIMATED feature – tech-demo remake of The Lion King blew all the bloody doors off. It is your new domestic box office #1, obviously, and it is also your new global box office #1, also obviously, and, quite frankly, it appears very much like Disney didn’t even have to try particularly hard in order to do so or have audiences fawning at their feet. $185 million across three-days for an empty dead-eyed nostalgia hit, plus an “A” Cinemascore indicating that those who turned up adored what they saw so much that they’ll head back again next weekend. Not only is that the largest July opening of all-time (besting former champ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’s $169 million), not only is that the second-biggest opening weekend of the year so far, not only is that the largest opening for one of Disney’s “live-action” “re-imaginings” to date (surpassing 2017 Beauty and the Beast’s obnoxious $174.7 million), and not only is that the biggest opening for an animated film ever (besting even Incredibles II’s $182.6 million last year), it is the ninth biggest opening weekend of all-time ever. And that’s probably still too low, since Disney have a habit of underreporting their estimates on giant successes.
Meanwhile, that shoddy live-action Aladdin from two months back you already forgot about because this Summer movie season has been almost nothing but incompetent bodies falling headfirst into a woodchipper is still in the Top 10. Yes, really. Nine weeks on, still there, definitely going to make it to 10 barring a catastrophic miracle/disaster and, in doing, become the first film to spend 10 consecutive weeks in the Top 10 since Black Panther. (Really, I checked.) It’s also quietly about to cruise past $1 billion worldwide, a number which Lion King with Lime is also on its way to effortlessly passing since it’s already banked $531 million (it opened a week early in China) with only Hobbs & Shaw offering up any real inbound competition. Meanwhile, we also have a new all-time Box Office king/queen of the swingers as Kevin Feige took to the grandiose stage of Hall H to announce that Avengers: Endgame was going to at long last pass James Cameron’s Avatar for the crown of highest-grossing movie of all-time before the weekend was out – it was still $500,000 short as of Saturday mid-afternoon, but that’s actual chump change Marvel could fish out from the back of the sofa they apparently also lost Natalie Portman under; this record has definitely crumbled by the time you read this.
And yet I feel… kinda queasy? Maybe it’s the really sour taste of Lion King Max getting to me – which, for the record, is fine, I guess but absolutely pointless and the misguided commitment to photorealism sucks the animation of all its charm – but even the Asperger’s side of me that loves the thrill of seeing records broken (and the writer side of me that loves having actual content to deal with instead of fruitlessly vamping) can’t muster up anything but a creeping dread. I mean, I haven’t wanted to completely join in on the recent doomsaying over a potential Disney filmmaking monopoly, where every single non-Disney blockbuster this Summer has underperformed or flopped and likely leading to an eventual reduction in filmgoing choices both on the production slate and in the cinema – which, for the record, has already happened; my Hull Cineworld films this week are solely The Lion King, Toy Story 4, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and token one showing per day slots for Yesterday and Annabelle Comes Home. And yet… here’s near-incontrovertible evidence that that’s where we’re headed. $185 million domestic, $531 million worldwide, just for brand recognition. Selling the exact same readily-available film again but worse and yet receiving all the money for it because nostalgia.
And I think it bothers me more so on a philosophical anxiety-based level than a right-now quality level. After all, the entire history of cinema is littered with mediocre effortless slop expecting riches just for existing, this current blockbuster landscape is nothing special. But I mean more in terms of how heavily everyone is banking on the proven money-pit of nostalgia. Disney are the most obvious perpetrators of this, their whole business model is based around perpetually selling and reselling your childhood to you in every last conceivable form, but then you look at the other success stories or attempted success stories of recent years: Jurassic World, The Grinch, the continued dredging up of Harry Potter’s corpse, IT, Halloween’s resurgent rebootquel, Jumanji, just this weekend they dropped a trailer for a Top Gun sequel, and even successful “original” properties trade heavily on inbuilt nostalgia like with Yesterday and Bohemian Rhapsody (venerated Boomer music canonised as the greatest ever) and even John Wick (the meta-persona of Keanu Reeves and his career).
To be clear, I do not mean this to be a “there is no ethical consumption under Capitalism” screed or a prolonged “SHAME on you MINDLESS SHEEP for ENJOYING THINGS” Bebo post – some of these named films and companies are things I really like and get excited for more of, and it was only last month where I openly salivated about the inbound Bill and Ted Face the Music! But I just can’t help but live in constant fear of the other shoe dropping. If so much of our current pop culture is based on nostalgia for things from before my generation’s time, what happens when the next generation ends up in our current position? What are they going to have a nostalgia for? (Don’t say the MCU, that particular factory is never going under.) I, of course, could simply be out-of-touch with youth culture and there are properties and original concepts from right now which can power the nostalgia train of a few decades on, but what if there isn’t? What if we and pop cultural society just keep handing down our current nostalgia over and over again in an endless xerox? Are we kind of in an endgame for culture as we know it, the accelerated recycling and short-term hyper-fixation on the inherent nostalgia of a certain audience without sufficiently hooking in that excitement to younger generations presaging an eventual radical implosion and redefinition of what pop culture is? And is it also the endgame for Capitalism, having run out of new things to sell and resorting to just selling the idea of selling, and that uncertainty about a potential societal upheaval is why I’m weirdly existentially terrified?
Honestly, I have no fucking idea and might just be overthinking shit as my awful mind is wont to do, but whatever happens it is definitely all the fault of Tom Hooper’s Cats.
OK, here’s a much lighter Full List to offset the eighth-grade philosophy I forced you to scroll through on a Monday morning.
US Box Office Results: Friday 19th July 2019 – Sunday 21st July 2019
1] The Lion King
$185,000,000 / NEW
Dave Bond’s got your review desires covered for this one. Not once does he invoke the justly-forgotten BBC Saturday teatime sketch series Walk on the Wild Side in his write-up, though. Not judging, merely stating facts.
2] Spider-Man: Far From Home
$21,000,000 / $319,659,412
OK, of the Phase 4 info-bomb dropped on San Diego Comic Con this past Saturday – and excluding Blade because we don’t even know what that is yet, going gaga for that is akin to going gaga for a post-it note pitch at an after-work pub banter session – I’m most excited for Shang Chi. One because it’s being handled by Destin Daniel Cretton and Short Term 12 was fantastic. Two because, if Feige’s promise that this Phase is going to be more distinctly genre-focussed holds water and doesn’t just add minor trappings onto the general MCU aesthetic, it’s got to be a martial arts flick and I fucking love Hong Kong martial arts flicks. Three because TONY FUCKING LEUNG is going to play The Mandarin HOLY SHIT. And four because Simu Liu’s casting as the lead might get more people to check out Kim’s Convenience which is a show I’ve been really enjoying watching recently.
3] Toy Story 4
$14,600,000 / $375,533,349
Saw this again last Tuesday. Ugly-sobbed again. Honestly might be on the level of its predecessors rather than noticeably under them, come to think of it. It’s so philosophically rich and satisfying.
$6,000,000 / $23,834,810
In case you’re wondering why Jaume Collet-Serra didn’t helm this, since it otherwise seems so up his specific alley (mainly because he’s made this film before), it’s likely because he’s still working on that Jungle Cruise movie for Disney that I still don’t believe is real because why would one company be so adamant in trying to turn Jack Whitehall into an international Thing?
$5,100,000 / $57,596,465
Last Christmas, my Nan got me an old copy of Beatles for Sale on vinyl and, having never listened to that particular record in full before, I was shocked to recognise the pre-chorus melody in “No Reply…” because it turned out that Garbage had jacked it wholesale for their own pre-chorus melody in their 1995 hit (and one of my favourite songs) “Vow!” Same lyrics and everything! …well, I thought that was pretty cool.
$4,000,000 / $16,081,864
Hang on. I’ve just realised that Natalie Portman apparently becoming Thor in Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder means she’s going to have to undergo the patented MCU Shredding procedure which, combined with the return of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, means the resultant film is going to be the biggest bisexual thirst trap ever snuck into mainstream cinemas. I am HERE FOR THAT! They should throw in Captain Marvel as well whilst they’re at it, since I’m still not over admiring Brie Larson’s back muscles, to guarantee that billion dollars they clearly desire. GIVE US GAYS WHAT WE WANT!
$3,800,000 / $340,040,714
Here’s where the non-Lion King Free news goes, I guess. Lulu Wang’s indie sensation The Farewell goes wide in a fortnight but its expansion is already doing absurdly well: ballooning to 35 theatres, it brought in $1,171,750 for a PTA of $33,473 (easily the best non-Lion King Zero Sugar average of any film this week) and just a fraction away from cracking the Top 10 already. Maybe this’ll be surprisingly huge? Decidedly not huge, however, was the financial expansion of Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense which, in typical Bleeker Street fashion, was dumped onto 550 screens with no advertising and left to fend for itself. It could not: thirteenth place with $1,055,658 for a PTA of $1,919. Somebody give it a UK distribution deal for me, please.
8] Annabelle Comes Home
$2,660,000 / $66,582,201
In other horror news, Brooker covered Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die and was “not mad, just disappointed.” That’s the most stinging criticism one can give anything, let me assure you. The next-most stinging criticism one can give anything is invoking the spectre of Movie 43, which he also did. Brooker takes no prisoners.
$1,599,155 / $22,482,183
You know, Local Cinemas, I can’t say for certain that I would have gone back to watch Midsommar again – my keen survival instincts try to limit the amount of times I expose myself to trauma no matter how weirdly beautiful it may be – but I would have at least liked the option to decide for myself. Who are these people wanting to go and see Lion King Cherry at 9:30pm every single night of the week and why haven’t they been sectioned?
10] The Secret Life of Pets 2
$1,530,000 / $151,551,165
Spay and neuter your Cats, folks.
Dropped out: Men in Black: International
Callum Petch must be incapable of love.