The Last Jedi, money, and confirmation bias

There are some stories making the rounds talking about The Last Jedi’s historic money-making fall-off, dropping as much as 69 percent in gross from the previous week. These kinds of stories have always struck me as entertainment industry navel gazing. Inside baseball.

“He’s 3 and 2 pitching in July when there is a blimp flying over the stadium and a cat runs on the field. But 1 and 4 in July when there is rain and NO blimp.”

And yet, as limited the audience for a story about a movie’s take might seem, it has been showing up in my social media the past few days surprisingly often. Twitter shares, Facebook feed, online groups I frequent — typically flaunted by someone who didn’t like the film.

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“What do you mean we’re not doing well in China?”

First of all, some perspective on the numbers (quoting Forbes:)

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the third-fastest movie to reach $400 million ever, behind The Force Awakens and Jurassic World.

  • Based on current numbers, the movie is predicted to have a cumulative domestic box-office of at least $600 million on the low end meaning the film’s final tally would place it in the top five or six highest-grossing movies in the domestic box-office of all time.

  • Yes, that’s still way below The Force Awakens ($936 million.) Every Star Wars trilogy has seen a drop at the box-office in the second film with a rebound in the third.

  • Fourth-highest grossing picture of all time, Jurassic World, also experienced a massive drop in its second weekend, falling from an opening weekend gross of just under $209 million to a second weekend gross of $106 million before going on to be the fourth biggest film ever. Likewise, both The Avengers and Age of Ultron saw massive dips in the second weekend (albeit not as massive) and currently sit in the #5 and #7 spots respectively.

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“If you let me on the damn door, I bet we do 2.5 billion instead of 2.1.”

Articles analyzing the numbers of insanely high grossing films are becoming more popular because they feed the nerd culture wars. Unless you’re in the industry you really only see them when they relate to nerd properties. Nobody gives a shit if Titanic didn’t do as well domestically between weeks 3 and 4 in the UK, or if Gone with the Wind (the highest grossing film of all time adjusted for inflation) didn’t do as well in the northern states on a Saturday. But the fact that Batman v Superman took a nose dive the second or third week in theaters is important because it validates my opinion that Marvel is better than DC.

In reality, even TOTAL gross is an almost irrelevant measure of a movie’s value, either personal or aesthetic. My favorite movie of the past few years, Blade Runner 2049, bombed. Edge of Tomorrow, now cult for being underrated, bombed. Children of Men, Fight Club, and Office Space all did terribly in theaters.

But the Fast and the Furious 7 is the sixth highest grossing movie of all time.

Based on purely anecdotal evidence, I believe there are two driving factors to the proliferation of this kind of entertainment news.

Full disclosure, I am a nerd. One of our defining traits is that we care passionately for certain media. Star Trek The Next Generation, Batman, Blade Runner, and Back to the Future were all defining properties in my life because they helped inspire and push the boundaries of my childhood imagination. And while I think there is some beauty to the idea that Marty is one of our new cultural myths or Fight Club our contemporary prodigal son, there is also a byproduct that creates a toxic aspect of nerd culture. Since, for many people, who tether their identity to these properties they don’t own and have no control over, when George Lucas pushes out the prequels, or when Abrams reduces the rich moral philosophy of Star Trek to ‘pretty people blowing stuff up,’ or when Snyder makes the goody-goody corn-fed Iowa superhero, emo and morose, it feels like a personal insult. “They’re destroying my childhood,” and by extension, my identity.

Nerdy properties also generally attract smart intellectual fans. And one of the ways that the insecure nerd validates itself (I am speaking from I-do-this-all-the-time experience) is by overuse of their intellect. The serial-pedantic-contrarian. They are the first to follow up on someone’s expression of love for a particular show with, “Yeah but season ‘X’ was really sub-par,” or, “Show ‘Y’ did it better.” This kind of mind thrives on criticizing because it is far easier to dissect something than it is to build something up and celebrate it. The tragedy of the contrarian nerd is in not realizing that their need to validate themselves prevents other people from having the experience that the nerd holds so dear, resonant personal joy in the light of a piece of media.

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“KID this movie’s mise-en-scène is a waste-a LIFE.”

In college, I started noticing a trend. I had many close friends who hated going to movies with me and wouldn’t let me near their favorite films. I couldn’t stop myself from picking the thing to pieces. Fixating on the minutia. I was someone looking for things to pick apart rather than someone trying to find ways to enjoy and celebrate. When my friends were defensive with me I would think to myself, well they just can’t handle debate or criticism.

In a lot of ways, I’m still that guy. Just with slightly more functional filters, a mortgage, and a bad back. I’m not advocating for the abandonment of taste, just for some self-awareness and perspective. Criticism and discussion are important and a cultural good, but the context and intent of criticism matter.

All of that is to say…I still haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet. Can’t wait?

Source: https://medium.com/@iannitram/the-last-jedi-money-and-confirmation-bias-15cfab769536