Below are the top-selling movies in the U.S. last weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, which tracks these things.
Let’s study them a little.
The Big Sellers
No. 1 was “Suicide Squad.” The film is based on an old premise — a bunch of bad guys/losers recruited to fight evil — that was hackneyed back when NBC turned it into a TV show called “The A-Team” in the 1980s. (Naturally there is talk of a new A-Team in the next year or so.)
Atlantic critic Christopher Orr trashed the film’s premise, execution, characters and plotting and then noted “the almost countless flaws. . . the senseless, lackadaisical killing; the desperate, maudlin attempts at emotional connection; the risibly silly climax, which rather resembles the ending of either Ghostbusters except that it’s played straight; the cliché-ridden soundtrack . . . .” Otherwise, Orr thought the movie was fine.
Top film in the U.S., three weeks running.
No 2, “Sausage Party” also did well in its second week. It’s a computer-generated cartoon for grownups, or at least people over the age of 17. The story involves a bunch of foul-mouthed and horny supermarket products seeking sex and the meaning of life. (Yes, really.)
The movie is not politically correct and so ignited a couple of conflicts within the broader social justice community. The first was whether a Latina taco character on the make was lesbian or bisexual. The second was whether white people had any standing to comment on the first issue. (Again, yes, really.)
No. 3 was “War Dogs,” a buddy comedy about a couple of 20-year-old potheads who through a series of events become entrepreneurs in the international weapons game. It is said to be funny and based at least somewhat on a true story, which makes a person worry for the future of our military in this troubled age. But, hey, it’s a goof, so never mind.
What do these movies have in common? CYNICISM. They congratulate audiences for being comfortable with gratuitous violence, extreme vulgarity and the idea of incompetents selling large amounts of deadly weapons in an era marked by ongoing wars and terrorism.
Ha ha ha ha ha.
The Second Tier
No. 4 was “Kubo and the Two Strings,” a story of a boy and two animal friends who work together and use a magic suit of armor to overcome a vengeful spirit. It is lauded for its innovative technique and so may attract film students as well as children.
No. 5 was “Pete’s Dragon,” a Disney story about an orphaned boy who is taken in by a friendly dragon; they defeat invaders seeking to destroy their idyllic forest home. One critic called it “just a damn good movie, one I would recommend without hesitation to any audience of any age.”
No. 6 was a misconceived repeat of Ben-Hur, the Charleton Heston epic that mesmerized the country and won 11 Academy Awards in 1959.
Given its production budget, the sixth-place opening weekend was a disaster.
Certainly the audience of seniors who liked the first Ben-Hur 56 years ago and wanted to see a new version was a small one.
Another limiting factor may have been the movie’s strong Christian theme of conversion at Jesus’ crucifixion.
(The Christian movie market is now a marginal one. Two films with themes of life after earthly death have done well among the faith community, and a recent African American family story involving prayer and reconciliation drew many black churchgoers. But the movies’ very limited appeal may reflect the country now, which seems to be post-Christian or maybe majority secular.)
In fact, the Ben-Hur promotions emphasize its action scenes, which are said to use newer technology to very good effect.
What these three films have in common is this: SINCERITY.
Filmmakers should promote sincere themes in children’s movies. As I’ve said before, small children are earnest; they identify with kind and high-minded characters. It is only over time that they become accustomed to and, I would argue, infected with skepticism.
Adult moviegoers, on the other hand, seem less interested in sincerity now.
This is just my observation. Make of it what you will.