LESSON #1: WE’RE RUNNING OUT OF THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO— By this point of any movie year with the calendar crossing into November, we would have film festival buzz from around the world announcing new films emerging for Oscars. We would have one or two big-studio early Oscar contenders like Joker, A Star is Born, The Departed, or Argo that dropped in October to beat the pack in a weak month of mostly horror offerings. The first weekend in November has delivered Marvel and James Bond movies over the years. We would be weeks away from a Disney/Pixar Thanksgiving tentpole with December not far behind for both prestige and blockbusters.
But this is 2020. None of that feels present or possible. A parade of top-flight movies like No Time to Die and others continue to flee to 2021. Wonder Woman 1984 appears to be the only one left and one has to think it’s a matter of time before it blinks too. Folks, that’s the reality and it’s a meager one. We (and investors) are going to have to continue to be sustained by digital and VOD events and small indies, even if they are lesser than what we hoped. We’re at a “something is better than nothing” point with 2020.
LESSON #2: HOW MANY HAVE YOU SEEN?— If the box office year ended today, the box office champion of 2020 would be Bad Boys for Life with a $204 million domestic total. Inflation set aside, that would be the lowest annual champ since 1995 when Batman Forever was king with $184 million. By a large margin, 2020 is the lowest earning industry year since 1981. Removing the 2019 carryovers, the rest of the 2020 top 10 would include Sonic the Hedgehog, Birds of Prey, Dolitte, The Invisible Man, The Call of the Wild, Tenet, The Gentleman, Fantasy Island, The New Mutants, and Like a Boss. How many have you seen? If you dive to the digital charts, the most-watched movie is Hamilton, followed by Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, My Spy, Extraction, Phineas & Ferb the Movie, and Mulan. How many of those have you seen? If those fingers from the second list outnumber the first, that will tell you how bad of a year it’s been.
LESSON #3: THERE IS NO BAILOUT COMING— On the heels of theater chains circling the drain (AMC) or completely going under (Regal), some folks are hoping for government rescue. Keep dreaming. If regular citizens can’t get better than a one-time check that barely equates a month’s livelihood, frivolous non-essential businesses like movies aren’t a priority. Unlike massive economy drivers and bigger special interests like the auto industry, the film industry is fluff. There’s no money in it for the government to bail theaters out, no matter who wins this as-yet-undeclared Presidential election. Rescue is going to have to come from someplace else.
LESSON #4: MOVIE PRESIDENTS > REAL-LIFE PRESIDENTS— I don’t know about you, but when I watch a good fictional movie President of the United States, I daydream what it would be like to have that character actually be the Commander-in-Chief in normal life. I see Michael Douglas in The American President, Bill Pullman in Independence Day, Kevin Kline in Dave, Harrison Ford in Air Force One, Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact, and many others and get lost in those dreamy thoughts compared to the times of today. I want that kind of real President, unfleshed out policy backgrounds be damned (because we know movies don’t actually cover all that). Even with that specificity of imaginative wonder, good characters like those are part of the escapism of movies. Coming out of this election year, go ahead and indulge in a President that will throw a man off his plane. Who’s your favorite movie President?
LESSON #5: FIND MOVIES THAT BRING JOY— The first three lessons of this column have been rough. The COVID-19 virus is experiencing a second surge. The Presidential Election has set off its hostile tizzies on both sides. Man, we just need a lift. We need movies that punch with joy. In the recommendation slot of WWLTW, I present this video submission from the Film Positivity channel on YouTube (give them a like and a subscribe). Their ten choices of Cinematic Joy are excellent. What would be yours?
DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication. As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society. As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts. Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#144)