“Hidden Figures” and Breaking The Myth of the Blockbuster Movie

In researching a chapter on the film Hidden Figures (for a new book on Women’s History on Film) I was happy to read this clip that supports the fact that there IS an audience for films that are not explosion-packed blockbuster tentpoles meant for young male audiences…. But I was really taken aback when I learned that while the studio allotted 25 million to Hidden Figures… that same year they had allotted 125 million to a movie no one even remembers…Monster Trucks.  When, oh, when, will THAT craziness end?

In an article in The Atlantic by David Sims:

“In its first weekend of wide release, Hidden Figures defied tracking numbers and for the subsequent four-day Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, Hidden Figures increased its gross, making $26 million and staying at number one, holding off the expansion of La La Land and Paramount’s broad-skewing children’s adventure Monster Trucks.  And yet Monster Trucks is a patently silly piece of kids entertainment about a young man who finds a squid-like monster living in his truck. It stars Lucas Till, hardly an A-lister (though he had a small role in the recent X-Men movies), and cost $125 million to make—$100 million more than Hidden Figures. Devoting such a large budget to a film with little brand recognition that was basically guaranteed to get terrible reviews was quickly regarded as a disastrous decision. Viacom, the company that owns the Monster Trucks studio Paramount Pictures, took a $115 million write-down in earnings last September in anticipation of its failure (it opened to a lackluster $15 million last weekend). This is what Hollywood’s emphasis on big-budget films with “broad appeal” inevitably leads to: hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on toy-focused action films with no real audience. For the cost of Monster Trucks, Paramount could have made five Hidden Figures—smaller films, focused on telling grounded stories to fill a market gap that studios continue to ignore. That Hidden Figures’s success has to serve as a lesson to Hollywood in 2017 is ridiculous, but the lesson is nonetheless there to be learned. Audiences are hungry for films that look beyond the movie industry’s narrow worldview. It’s time to start delivering them.

All I can say about that is its fodder for every writer out there pitching a new project to shut down any executive’s questions about audience numbers.  And writers need all the fodder they can find to fight back when they know they are correct.

Dr. Rosanne Welch