Why Mid-Budget Movies Are Important for Theaters - VRGyani News and Media

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Why Mid-Budget Movies Are Important for Theaters

In a volatile summertime marketplace full of unexpected underperformers and struggles to get certain demographics out to the movie theater, a pair of films have shown that success in summer 2021 doesn’t have to be defined solely by big blockbusters. Old and The Green Knight, though based on source material (albeit properties not widely known by the general public), were presented to prospective moviegoers as largely original projects. Despite this aspect, as well as both hinging their respective marketing campaigns on atmosphere and imagery rather than spectacle, both titles have ended up doing quite well, with Old exhibiting some of the best week-to-week legs of any major title in the summer of 2021.

The success of these two movies serves as the most recent reminder that the theatrical exhibition space is not just a domain for big-budget blockbusters. It can also be home to more challenging fare aimed at older moviegoers. The success of these two titles also reaffirms something that’s been true for years now: studios need to return to regularly making mid-budget movies. The bread-and-butter of outfits like Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures have largely migrated over to the various streaming services but the likes of Old and The Green Knight demonstrate that there’s still plenty of financial viability in bringing these projects to the silver screen.

RELATED: How 'The Green Knight's Bumbling Sir Gawain Proves Movies Need Flawed Heroes

Of course, major studios have done themselves no favors in terms of not only being largely unwilling to make these kinds of films but also being largely uninterested in the ones they do produce. Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the first films theatrical studios have sold off to streamers or dumped on premium-video-on-demand services have been comedies, courtroom dramas, and other genres exclusive to the world of mid-budget filmmaking. For instance, Lionsgate kept franchise pictures Spiral and The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard on a shelf for a theatrical bow but abruptly dropped the acclaimed comedy Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar on PVOD services with minimal fanfare.

This lack of interest in mid-budget films isn’t just exclusive to the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, though. It’s something that plagued the industry in the years directly preceding this event, too. The 2010s as a decade were largely devoid of mid-budget genres that used to dominate multiplexes like romantic comedies and courtroom dramas. The former genre’s demise can be attributed to box office duds like How Do You Know, but misfires like that shouldn’t doom the genre. If superhero movies could keep getting green-lit after Green Lantern, theatrical movie studios shouldn’t have fully abandoned romantic comedies after How Do You Know.

But this domain and other mid-budget genres were weeded out by theatrical studios and found a new home: streaming. Interestingly, Netflix hasn’t been able to launch ongoing franchises by emulating big-screen blockbusters like Bright or 6 Underground, but they did score genuine pop culture phenomenons with low-key fare like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before or The Kissing Booth. It wasn’t so long ago that Hollywood regularly produced movies like these for the big screen in the form of titles like 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars. But the scarcity of these films in the theatrical space created a void that streamers could move in and fill.

It isn’t just streamers that are helping to keep mid-budget movies off the big screen, though. Theatrical studios themselves bear the brunt of things by failing to greenlight these projects, crafting such an exclusionary future for big-screen cinema with a limited understanding of what a theatrical experience can accomplish on the part of movie studios. It's this drastic shift in priorities that has led actors like Ben Affleck and Tom Hanks to glibly predict that the future of theatrical cinema will have no room for things that aren’t blockbusters.

News of the World might be the last adult movie about people saying interesting things that’s going to play on a big screen somewhere,” Hanks told Collider back in December 2020. “Because after this, in order to guarantee that people are going to show up again, we’re going to have the Marvel Universe and all sorts of franchise movies."

For example, it can be exhilarating to watch mid-budget comedies with a crowd. The sensation of laughing with a room full of strangers while experiencing the most hysterical moments of This is the End, for instance, can be such a gratifying experience. Ditto watching a good courtroom drama like Just Mercy on the big screen that has everyone on the edge of their seats. Or a romantic drama like Crazy Rich Asians that keeps a crowded auditorium captivated with the larger-than-life emotions on-screen. And watching Knives Out with a packed auditorium of strangers reacting profoundly to each new twist and turn is akin to euphoria itself, it just makes an excellent movie all the more enjoyable to watch.

It isn’t just spectacle-driven blockbusters that are worthy of big-screen experiences. Several genres best suited for mid-budget confines also make watching films in this format so satisfying.

On top of all that, mid-budget films allow for a wider range of experiences to get explored. With lower financial risks compared to the budget of The Suicide Squad or Jungle Cruise, studios, in theory, can use midbudget features to explore provocative and challenging material. A great modern example is the $20 million budgeted Hustlers, a box office hit that centered its narrative on sex workers. The very fact that the film focused on sex workers, let alone depicted them in a compassionate light, would’ve been impossible to pull off in the domain of a big-budget movie.

On top of everything else, producing mid-budget films ensures that the domestic marketplace isn’t only reliant on a handful of blockbusters to keep box office momentum going. That may seem like a good idea when something like Avengers: Endgame is raking in the dough but not all big-budget titles become automatic successes. You need mid-budget films to compensate, or even serve as a replacement, for the severe box office bombs like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Dark Phoenix. The past is full of examples that prove that relying just on big-budget fare to carry the day doesn’t work 100% of the time. Producing mid-budget films creates a necessary balance in this marketplace.

As the theatrical experience returns, the film industry needs to recognize that they cannot just return to the status quo of cinema right before the pandemic began. It’s imperative to embrace mid-budget films again to ensure that a wide array of moviegoers are enticed to come back to their local movie theater. Genres that had been missing or shifted over to streaming in the years directly preceding the pandemic, like rom-coms or courtroom dramas, need to be produced theatrically again. This is especially true of smaller studios like MGM or STX Entertainment that are looking for more modestly priced fare to build their annual slates around.

When it comes to mid-budget fare, Hollywood studios need to remember a quote from a classic baseball movie: “If you build it, they will come.” Hit mid-budget movies from 2019, like Little Women, Ford v. Ferrari, and Downton Abbey showed that it isn’t just mega-expensive blockbusters that can thrive on the big screen. People have shown up for these films in the past, including in the very recent past, and they’ll show up once again. Don’t let Netflix and Amazon have all the fun, return to regularly making mid-budget movies again.

KEEP READING: Exclusive: M. Night Shyamalan Reflects on the Evolution of His Career, His Filmmaking Philosophy, and That 'Old' Ending



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