Over the weekend, I’ve seen a lot of articles pop up by reputable (or at least very large) outlets wondering if Steven Spielberg has lost his touch at the box office. This is due to Disney’s The BFG severely underperforming at the box office. I’m sure it’s clickbait heaven when an article questions the potential demise of a beloved pop culture figure, but I’m not in this game for clickbait. And these articles and their writers (or more likely their editors) don’t know what they’re talking about.
Directors Don’t Really Matter
First of all, they probably don’t take into account how little wide audiences care about directors anymore. Yes, we still have prominent figures like Quentin Tarantino but even he’s not a guarantee; The Hateful Eight made less than half of what Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained did. The prestige of directors has faded for the general public thanks to a multitude of factors, the strongest being that there is more promotional material available for upcoming films than ever before. Movies are sold on their own merits instead of propping up some talented figurehead as an indicator of the film’s quality. In a way, the system has turned against someone like Spielberg whose name alone was enough reason to see a film.
I also take issue with the idea that Spielberg has “lost his touch.” Any self-respecting film fan knows that box office dollars do not always equal a good movie. Spielberg has continued to be one of the most solid directors working in the industry regardless of his films’ grosses. Like all directors, he has his share of misfires but nothing so egregious as to say he’s less talented than he ever was. This is doubly irritating when The BFG was the best-reviewed new release going into the weekend. Spielberg hasn’t lost anything except maybe patience with sensationalist headlines.
Successful Movies Are Sold, Not Made
My biggest complaint about putting The BFG‘s weak numbers on Spielberg’s shoulders is the same complaint I have every time movies bomb: why don’t people write more about the marketing of the film? The trailers and commercials for The BFG failed to showcase a strong narrative thrust for the film and that is crucial to getting audiences in the theater. A concept alone isn’t enough to get people interested anymore; strong characters and an interesting story need to be front and center. Unless you’re a property with a built-in audience like comic book films or Star Wars, you can’t get by with simply flaunting a wacky idea.
The BFG Never Stood A Chance Against Finding Dory
The last element I’d like to highlight is what was playing alongside The BFG. You had two new releases (The Legend of Tarzan and The Purge: Election Year) that offered adult audiences a good variety of choices. And in terms of children’s entertainment, there was Finding Dory. Even in its third week in release, the Pixar film crushed it at the box office. That success sapped a lot of The BFG‘s potential audience. When a movie doesn’t do well opening weekend, it’s important to see what else was playing at the time. Lest we forget the summer of 1982, Blade Runner and John Carpenter’s The Thing were both trounced by a Spielberg film that was in its third week of release.
Anyone claiming that The BFG failing at the box office has anything to do with the director of the greatest film ever made is dumber than the people who let Cameron Crowe make Aloha. Oh, and that movie made more than The Thing did in its entire theatrical run. Perspective, people. Perspective.