A Will Smith movie opened No. 1 at the box office last weekend. That’s not news. Smith is Hollywood’s $6 billion man; that’s what his films have grossed worldwide. What is news, or what passes for news in the click-trolling age, is that the romantic con-man caper, “Focus” only earned $19 million in a weekend in which the competition was less than formidable.
And suddenly we have headlines such as “Is Will Smith Over” and in the Washington Post, “Not Even Will Smith can open a movie anymore.”
A couple of things about that: There are some simple factors as to why “Focus” didn’t pull in the blockbuster grosses of such Smith hits as “Independence Day,” “I, Robot" or the “Men in Black” films. One simple explanation is that the film received mediocre reviews. Another is that the severe weather kept moviegoers home last weekend. And another is that “Focus” is a more modestly budgeted, smaller scaled, more adult film than the event films that had been Smith’s stock in trade. Each was released in the summer, blockbuster season. “Focus” is the first Will Smith to open in the spring since the romantic comedy, “Hitch.”
Is Will Smith losing his A-list luster? If “After Earth” didn’t get him booted out of that illustrious club, then nothing will. But times have changed. The days when audiences would flock to see “Cocktail” just because Tom Cruise was in it--critics be damned--are probably over. They didn’t even go see Tom Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow,” and that movie was pretty much awesome.
Economics has to be playing a part. Ticket prices in 1988, when “Cocktail”: was released, were about $4. They are about three-times as much today, and that makes moviegoers more discriminating; especially when the multiplex isn’t the only game in town. Streaming and On Demand are lower priced, not to mention, more convenient alternatives.
And so they may take a pass on Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks in the bland “Larry Crowne,” but they will line up to see her in “August: Osage County” and him in “Captain Phillips.” If a film has good word of mouth and critical acclaim, if it has the buzz, if it’s generating awards talk, moviegoers will be more likely to check it out.
For studios, franchises, sequels and reboots, more than stars, are today’s surer things: “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games,” the superhero films in the Marvel universe; if you make them, audiences will come.
Is Will Smith over? Ask again in summer 2016 when DC’s “Suicide Squad,” in which Smith uncharacteristically portrays the Batman villain, Deadshot, comes out. Or ask again later this year, when “Concussion,” an ensemble sports drama, is released.
In Hollywood, it’s still the same old story: You’re only as good as your last film.