Posted by: Jeff | May 10, 2010

Theories of Film Audience Preference

I saw Iron Man 2 yesterday. Even for someone who wasn’t blown away by the first installment, I was pretty surprised by how disappointing the sequel turned out to be. But as Joe notes, it just finished off its opening weekend with a $128M domestic box office take.

A lot of critics have praised the dialogue in the film, which is certainly good, but it’s ultimately just well-delivered banter decoupled from any meaningful story or character arcs. Worse, the exposition and development dedicated to SHIELD and its adherent characters – Nick Fury, Black Widow, Stark senior, etc. – serves no purpose and brings the mid-section of the film to a dead screeching halt. (Obviously, this material was shoe-horned in as a setup for the much-anticipated Avengers movie.)

So what did the film in for me was bad pacing and construction; the second act really does feel horrendously long, confused and dull. And I would think that, if anything could kill a film’s appeal with mainstream American audiences, it would be length and poor construction. Nobody buys theater tickets in order to be bored. On the other hand, Transformers 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, and Spiderman 3 – all towering examples of bloated length and bad construction, in my humble opinion – made off like gangbusters. Transformers 2 took in $108M domestically for its opening weekend, and topped that off with $402M total. Pirates 3 opened with $114M and eventually reached $309M. And as Scott Mendelson notes in the comments to Joe’s post, Spiderman 3 took in $336M after a $151M opener. So it will be interesting to see if Iron Man 2 performs comparably. (Mendelson predicts a $340M domestic take. I’d also note that Iron Man 2 is a good 20 to 30 minutes shorter than these other examples.)

Here’s my bigger question: Am I wrong that mainstream audiences react negatively to poor construction? I can understand a highly-anticipated movie doing well its opening weekend despite such a flaw, but the above examples all seem to indicate at least some staying power beyond that.

Or is it just that my definition of boring doesn’t match up with general audiences’ definition? Transformers 2, Pirates 3 and Spiderman 3 were all wall-to-wall action, if I remember correctly. To put it crudely, will audiences tolerate length and poor construction on the condition that something is blowing up on-screen at regular intervals? And again, how will Iron Man 2 perform in comparison, since it has a long middle stretch with no substantial action at all?



  1. For the record, my $340m prediction was based on the original $133m opening-weekend estimate. It was basically 2.5x said opening weekend. Since 2.5x of $128m is 320m, I think that’s a safer bet at this point. Even if it fails to crack $300m domestic, it’s already doing big numbers overseas, so another $650 worldwide take isn’t out of the question. As always, next weekend will tell the tale.

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