Is the Media Trying Harder to Convince Us That Cinematic Flops Have Been Hits?
Not long ago I wrote about how film critics have become much more prone to give good reviews of films this past decade or so — in spite of the fact that no one (well, not anyone sane) seems to think film has actually got better (and many regarding the situation as having got worse, artistically).
These days it seems that the coddling of the film industry by the entertainment press extends to a similar bias in regard to appraisal not just of the quality of films, but their commercial performances — attempting to convince us that a move that, relative to the investment of resources in it and the expectations held for it, may actually have been a disappointment, was actually a success, more frequently than it might have done before. (Just off the top of my head I can recall such cases being made this year for The Batman and Thor 4 and Black Adam, with Black Panther 2 starting to seem to me a candidate for the same treatment.)
The motivation for this seems obvious enough. All other things being equal (for instance, if there isn’t a bottom-line advantage in treating something as a failure, like the preference for taking a tax break on Batgirl to actually finishing and releasing the movie) no business wants its product, no Artist or Suits wants their creation, to be called a failure — and the press is highly accommodating that way. At the same time there is a desire to present films one personally favors — or wants to be seen as favoring — as successes; to depict the public as sharing their tastes and valuations. (Thus did the “woke” crow over Wonder Woman and Black Panther, while the right crowed over Top Gun 2, with neither much interested in the abundance of details of the films and their reception that complicate their triumphalism.) And the last three years have created enormous ambiguity about just what counts as a success. (People have very short memories — but the near-normal box office of the summer of 2022 was a long way from the still severely hobbled box office of 2021.) The result is that it was easier for people to come to the conclusions they wanted to draw.
Still, that what the mainstream of entertainment journalists says so often seems at odds with the reality — in this case, a more easily checkable reality than aesthetic appraisals (box office grosses and reported budgets are only part of the story, but plenty to enable even amateurs to make reasonable guesses about success and failure) — likely adds to the cynicism about the mainstream media and the bitterness of the culture wars in which argument about any given Friday’s release has become so prominent.