man of steel henry cavill

Movies are more of a direct-sale proposition: You buy your ticket, you get your movie, success or failure of the film is judged on how many of those tickets got sold. Buzz is nice, but if your buzz doesn't translate to ticket sales you get to be a cautionary tale about the difference between being well-liked and being a good-investment. If a movie is going to transcend low ticket-sales, it generally takes a long time. The Shawshank Redemption, thanks to endless airings on cable television over two decades, is regarded as a modern classic... but in its day it was a box office non-starter, and its latter day popularity is really only helpful in selling DVDs.

But certain amount of the new math is beginning to creep into Hollywood's thinking, bolstered - as you'd expect - by the sudden prominence of social media in the world of marketing. Audience feedback now comes back almost in real time, and while something as dramatic as Fred Silverman's "Rural Purge" doesn't appear to be in the offing, there's some growing evidence to suggest that the studio system is becoming more amenable to the idea of gauging success on something more than ticket sales.

Despite what otherwise-justified cynicism may tell you, Hollywood actually does care about whether or not people end up hating the movies they already paid to see... they just don't care that much. But in a movie landscape increasingly defined (particularly as concerns the moneymaking tentpole blockbusters that fund the rest of a studio's yearly output) by ancillary profit-potential in merchandise, streaming sales, sequels, etc. likability seems to be making a comeback. Seems to be, I stress.

Man of Steel is, financially, a major hit - already having moved over $600 Million in ticket sales worldwide. And yet its studio, Warner Bros., hasn't been popping much champagne over it in public. They're happy, certainly, but there's a notable absence of the boastful chest-thumping that they were doing when The Dark Knight was a sustained smash years ago, or that Marvel/Disney was doing on behalf of The Avengers. Part of it is that Warners got out ahead of the film's release with "leaks" about it potentially being the biggest hit of the year, sure. This was, of course, before Iron Man 3 went nuclear. But it's already being suggested that the studio is feeling genuinely wounded by the sustained drumbeat of criticism that the film is too dark, too violent and does disservice to its title character. Warners wanted this to be one of the most talked-about movies of the summer... but I promise you they didn't want so much of that talk to be "is it safe to take my kid to this?"

On a pair of slightly smaller scales, Disney's Lone Ranger reboot is being described as a failure across the board, even though it was a #2 opener and earned hundreds of millions. That's what happens when your film is prohibitively expensive and opens to scathing reviews and accusations of racism. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. expensive Pacific Rim endured weeks of "leaked" hand-wringing about its ability to connect with audiences despite a lack of name stars and a somewhat niche genre-grounding... only to open ever so slightly ahead of projections and thus be said to have exceeded expectations. Of course, it doesn't hurt that director Guillermo Del Toro is a darling of the new-gen film press that runs the table on social media.

That's not to say that being a Twitter Darling will replace selling buckets of tickets as the prime goal for a new movie any time soon, but the needle does seem to be moving and the definitions by which we gauge profit (immediate vs. long-term, for example) might be in the midst of a change the likes of which we may not have seen in a long while. Good change? Bad change? We'll see.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet. Recently, he wrote a book.

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