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Why Bad Movies Matter

A couple of weeks ago, Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill swept the Razzies, arguably making it the worst movie of 2011.

Of course, that’s not true.

The worst movie of 2011 rests in the hard drive of some angsty suburban kid who is desperately looking for someone to understand his perspective through film in tribute to experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, especially after being rejected from every film school in existence. Whether you agree with that contention or not, it’s much more important to note that Hollywood really doesn’t care.

Since 1980, the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation has been in existence to call out Hollywood on mailing it in with the films they make and release. Every single year, the Razzies find, probably without trying hard at all, several movies to call shitty with a statuette, usually ones that are critically panned across the board and commercially flopped. Catwoman, All About Steve, Battlefield Earth, Gigli, The Love Guru, and, most recently, Jack & Jill are movies that seem to unite people in hate. Still, they were made, haphazardly, and continue to be made just like the Three Stooges reboot that, from the trailers at least, looks like a lock for the 2013 Razzies.

Why is it that there is an official institution for calling bullshit on the studios that just gets laughed off?

Let us not forget that the so-called “biz” is absolutely a business and is more into playing the numbers game than ever. Currently, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is being adapted into a movie not because it would make a good movie — if you’ve read the book, you know that it really wouldn’t. The medium of film does not suffer “slice of life” stories well, yet there is enough caché in the name of Jack Kerouac and On The Road, not to mention the bankable names of Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Steve Buscemi, and even Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss, to make it an easy “greenlight.”

Jack and Jill, as of this moment, has a 3% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, but grossed almost $150 million worldwide. That means there were definitely more people than writer and comedian Halle Kiefer that saw it. With a reported budget of $79 million, why wouldn’t that be a win for Adam Sandler?

In high school, if you could confidently predict that you were going to score at least a B on a test without studying or taking notes, then scored an A, why would you ever study or take notes? Why would you try to make Little Miss Sunshine, which, to this day, has made just over $100 million, if you can make Jack and Jill and gross nearly $50 million more?

One could argue that the same amount of actual work was put into the production of Jack and Jill as Little Miss Sunshine, possibly even more given the production value of some Jack and Jill’s scenes. One could argue that they appeal to different demographics and nichés, thus having the intrinsic quality of the humor in either film unable to be compared. One could also stop playing devil’s advocate and admit that it’s easier to make a bad movie than it is a good one (Little Miss Sunshine has a 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes).

There is no way that just as much consideration into making a quality comedy was put into Jack and Jill as Little Miss Sunshine. If that were somehow true, then it would be ridiculous that either movie would exist next to the other.

The crux of this whole issue all comes down to marketing. Like any movie of questionable worth, Jack and Jill went on a massive marketing campaign, spanning billboards, buses, banner ads on the Internet, and more to effectively shove it down people’s throats in order to go and see it.   Simply, Hollywood makes bad movies because people will still go see them. If you want to see better movies, go see better movies and stop seeing bad ones, then make sure to tell everyone that you know that they should go see the better movie. If there’s no better movie at the theater near you, then don’t see a movie. It’s not the only form of entertainment ever. You do know that the Nerdist Podcast does live shows around the country and the Nerdist Theater is in Los Angeles, right?

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9 comments

  • I came to the conclusion a while ago that reality television (crappy though it may be) is the greatest thing to happen to television since electricity. Cheap, easy-to-produce shows that studios can crank out in bulk that bring in huge profits bankroll more expensive, riskier shows that probably wouldn’t get made otherwise.

    I have a feeling movies like this serve a similar function. If they can bankroll one Watchmen from a dozen Spidermen, it’s worth it.

  • Ben Z – You’ve got it all tied up there with a pretty bow, except for one thing: risk. The studio took a risk with Little Miss Sunshine and it paid off. Most independent and “artsy” films don’t typically have that kind of profit, no matter how good they are or how much critical acclaim they receive. I, personally, loved the films Observe and Report and Cedar Rapids, but they made nowhere near the bank or got the marketing that an Adam Sandler film would. The studios know that if they put Adam Sandler in a crappy movie like Jack and Jill that they’re almost guaranteed to make their money back, plus a big profit. Unfortunately for smaller films, it’s rarely the case.

  • I wish it was as easy as just going to good movies. What we have here is a chick and egg problem.

    My parents ended up renting Jack and Jill. I got the extreme pleasure in saying “I told you so!!!” We saw Chronic in the second run movie theater. I know I’m going to get flamed, but I’m going to say that I didn’t like either. I will say that I praise Chronic for attempting to be different. Ultimately the annoying Youtube style cuts did not work for me. I find it annoying on a small screen. On the large screen I could barely get though the movie.

    If I had to choose a movie to see again, I would pay to see Chronic. I could written Jack and Jill while recovering from a hangover within about 2 hours. It was so cliche and predictable. I bet clippy wrote it.

    The heart of the problem seems to be the desire to make lots of money in a short amount of time. The paradigm needs to switch to more of a stead stream of money over a LONG period of time. If you listen to the Nerdist podcast with Scott Siegler they talk about this very issue.

    If you like Scott Siegler, check out Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff
    and Mike Bennett. I’d love to hear a podcast with Mike Bennett. His series “One Among the Sleepless” is so cool. They all have pod casts books. Check ‘em out.

    -Diane. @dihard11

  • There is actually a very good book called The Economy of Prestige written by an English professor at U. Penn named James English where he presents an interesting view on the Razzies. His main idea is that the institution of prizes for particular genres and media are ways of legitimizing these forms as semi-artistic (such as the Clio Awards in advertising, or the AVN’s for porno) and illustrating and rewarding the works that exemplify the aesthetic to which people in a trade or industry aspire (as distinct from commercial success). He contended that the Razzies play a similar (and maybe more effective) role as a ritual to highlight the excesses or bad trends in Hollywood that run contrary to what film should be by “honoring” films that best exemplify this crappiness. Like how the Oscars set the boundary between the best and the rest, the Razzies set the boundary between the worst and the rest. I mean, in reality, the industry or public may pay very little attention to the Razzies. Though, in theory, I guess through mocking people like Stallone or Uwe Boll you can make the great stuff look even better–much like what happens in the high school social dynamic.

  • Not to poke holes in your theory, but you’re looking at the numbers wrong:
    Jack & Jill grossed $150 Million, but cost $79 Million. Therefore the movie made $71 million. If we look at it from a return on investment approach, the $79 million investment made about a 90% return.
    Little Miss Sunshine grossed $100 Million, but cost $8 Million. Therefore the movie made $92 Million. If we look at it from a return on investment approach, the $92 Million investment made about a 1150% return.
    As an investor, both the flat return and the interest rate return are better investments.
    Since you posed the question of, “Why make LMS, if you can make Jack and Jill and gross nearly $50 million more?” For the cost of Jack & Jill, I could make 10 Little Miss Sunshines. All I would need is for 1.5 of them to hit like LMS. So, let’s say instead of dropping $80M on J&J, I make LMS and 9 other movies. LMS has returned $100M. I just need the other nine movies to sum to $50M and I’m ahead.
    That is why you are wrong, math is awesome, and Nerdist needs someone who understands math and statistics like myself.

  • So this essentially boils down to Jay Sherman’s Pulitzer Prize winning criticism essay from English for Cab Drivers: “If the Movie Stinks, Just Don’t Go.”

    Man, I love The Critic.

  • “If you want to see better movies, go see better movies and stop seeing bad ones, then make sure to tell everyone that you know that they should go see the better movie.”

    Also, what gets seen in the theaters determines what movies the business continues to make. When we see good movies, we get good movies. When we see bad movies, we get bad movies. And when bad movies make money because teenagers want to sneak into an R-Rated film (i.e. “Wild Hogs”), Hollywood doesn’t notice.

    I used to be a movie theater fan. I still am, but I’m much more choosy about what I see in the theater. I’ll look at the film’s advertising and read a film’s review. Then I’ll ask myself: what would be more fun? Seeing this movie in the theater or staying home and playing with my dog?

    90% of the time, the dog wins.