Last weekend, Ben-Hur attempted to convert the masses with two different ad campaigns: a rock-em sock-em action movie for secular audiences, and an inspirational, heartfelt drama for religious folks. It worked like a charm.
The numbers I see have Ben-Hur making $19.5 million in the US, a little over $40 million when you include the rest of the world. This is less than half of a $100 million production budget.
I’ll leave the question of how big a flop Ben-Hur has been to Hollywood accountants But it’s got me thinking:
What do you do if a part of your movie might not agree with your target audience? What if it’s something they really need to hear? If you can just get them in the theater, you can have your say and make your point, but how do you get there?
(This is where I’ll put the usual caveats about taste and not pleasing everyone all the time.)
Last year, when the trailers for Mad Max: Fury Road were released, it too, looked like a slick action movie. Brooding male hero, damsels in distress, heartless villain, cool cars. Should do well among young men.
When it was released, the reviews were very good. In particular they noted the depiction of female lead Charlize Theron’s character, Furiosa, who is just as bad ass as Tom Hardy’s Mad Max, if not more so.
Naturally, there was a minor kerfuffle on the Internet (one angry blogger called for a boycott and got some press coverage.) Ire was directed at the trailers that masked the “feminist propaganda” in the full movie.
False advertising really strikes a nerve in people- How dare you take my hard earned money with a lie! But is there another way to get people who need to hear your gospel to buy tickets?
I don’t know.
I suspect the people who get angry enough to call for a boycott would never be convinced by your movie anyway. People change, sure, but it’s not like in the movies. It takes a whole lot longer than 90 minutes.
People are nothing if not tribal. We want movies to speak to us, not them. They’re for the fans. If we get a whiff that you’re trying to include someone else, we’ll be royally pissed. We don’t want to hear any message that isn’t for us.
And like any tribe of humans, we have our rituals. They must be performed correctly and completely. If not, the balance of the cosmos will be out of whack.
I mean, it’s not like us vs them tribalistic thinking has every gotten people into trouble. If only there were a way to break through that deeply ingrained facet of human nature.