Best Movies of the Summer?

Continuing my jerimiad that we are in a cultural crisis, I present to you the top movie rentals of last week.

  1. 21
  2. The Bank Job
  3. College Road Trip
  4. Step Up 2 The Streets
  5. Vantage Point
  6. Drillbit Taylor
  7. The Bucket List
  8. Shutter
  9. Fools Gold
  10. 10,000 BC

This extraordinary pile of crap probably cost the studios more than $400 million to produce and at least another $150 million to market. Here is a similar list of most popular Pay TV movies from the summer of 1976.

  1. Jaws
  2. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
  3. Rocky Horror Picture Show
  4. Shampoo
  5. Dog Day Afternoon
  6. Pink Panther Returns
  7. Three Days of the Condor
  8. Nashville
  9. Barry Lyndon
  10. Monty Python and The Holy Grail

I rest my case.

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0 Responses to Best Movies of the Summer?

  1. Dan says:

    Amen. But that doesn’t mean good movies can’t get made. It’s been a few years now, but “Gosford Park” isn’t exactly an old movie, and it’s (in my opinion) one of the very best movies ever created. WAL-E (or however it’s spelled) just came out this summer and was another fine proof that moviemaking isn’t dead. Bill Murray has been in “Lost in Translation” and “Broken Flowers” the last few years, yet more evidence.

    It’s just that even more of the movie dollars than usual get spent on the same repetitive, mind-numbing, scatological crap from the likes of Eddie Murphy and Will Ferrell, two guys who know how to be funny and should be kneecapped for pretending like they’ve forgotten.

    I guess I’ve ceased hoping for a return of the day when you might have three or four good movies to choose from at the theater, and assumed that I’ll get more like three or four decent movies per year.

    Thank God for Turner Classic Movies.

  2. Brian says:

    Well…. when you put it that way.

  3. Armand Asante says:

    I just replied again in the Rock n Roll thread before I read this post.

    I fail to see how you rest your case though.
    We are all in agreement that the record and movie industries are culturally bankrupt.
    No argument there.

    All the more reason to cease supporting them and their outdated economic models.
    After all, they are not adding anything worthwhile to our culture.

    Maybe kids DO need to rethink their habits. They should do all in their power to stop funneling copious amounts of money to these dying Behemoths that only churn out crap in return.
    They should fileshare and pirate movies out of a moral obligation to our culture and society.

    We’d all be the richer for it.

  4. Dan says:

    How can there be a “similar” rental list for the summer of 1976? I can’t imagine that every film released in 1975 was available on the (only a year old) Betamax format the following summer the way that every piece of crap made last month is available on DVD now.

    I’m certainly not one to argue that the “top of the charts” in either movies or music is better now, but I don’t think this is a fair comparison…

  5. Jon Taplin says:

    Dan- I was using the most popular Pay TV movies of 1976

  6. dragonmage06 says:

    College Road Trip made the top three?! I think I may CRY!! I mean, it’s bad enough Drillbit Taylor is on that list and it’s even worse that none of those movies are good, but there are some of them that are pure ridiculous crap. What are people watching these days that make them feel the need to shell out 8 or 9 bucks to have someone stab needles in their eyes?

    This is why I’ve stopped going to the movie theaters. Most of the movies coming out now seem repetitive and predictable and mind-numbing. Thank God for Netflix, where I can get movies from the era when good movies were coming out.

  7. Dan says:

    OK, but I still think it’s an unfair comparison–those with PayTV in ’76 were only the most dedicated fans. Also this is pre-Star Wars, hence pre-“summer blockbuster” i.e. let’s go diving for the lowest common denominator. I’d certainly agree that the quality of the most popular movies in ’76 was better than the quality of the most popular movies now, but I’d suspect that the biggest drop was finished by ’90 and that it’s only gotten incrementally worse since. Just off the top of my head of course, wouldn’t want to sully this with any facts. :-) Dan

  8. Rick Turner says:

    Go see “The Fall”, “Tell No One”, and yeah, “the Dark Knight”…the last for a one person movie…

  9. Rick Turner says:

    Oops…only one was Hollywood…

  10. Josh says:

    I think Dan is on the right track here. No data to back it up, but I would guess the demographics for current DVD renters would be quite different from 1976 pay channels. DVDs are a slowly dying, cheap distribution channel and the titles imply a younger audience. Pay channels were a newer technology in ’76—pricey and I’d bet skewing far older.

    Apples to quinces?

  11. michaelmeme says:

    Jon, why not go box office to box office?

  12. Jason says:

    I don’t question that most movies release are crap, but it’s a much more difficult case to make that one, the overall quality of movies is worse than it was 30 years ago, and two, that the decline in quality is solely sue to cultural corruption and not other explanations.

    For example, are more movies being made today than 30 years ago? If so, that would explain a lot of a perceived decline. There is only so much talent in the world, and it may be more difficult now to gather enough of the right people for a single project.

    Are there financial reasons why movie executives would be more risk-averse today than 30 years? That would explain Transformers and sequels, but it wouldn’t necessary mean the culture is in decline.

    Do distribution factors affect the type of movies being made? I’m going to answer my own here and say yes. A lot of a movie’s revenue comes from global distribution, and nuanced character-driven dramas don’t translate as well as blow-em-ups. Action is the lingua franca of the world, and that’s motivation for movie execs to focus on producing mindless action movies.

    On a personal level, I have never seen so many well-written TV shows than I have in the past few years. This American Life mentioned the idea that we may be in the Golden Age of Television, and I agree. What does that say about our culture?

    An unsaid belief behind claims that the culture is in decline is that people have changed, and that’s something I don’t believe. Human nature never changes. and never will. There are reasons for why things are the way they are, and those reasons are often complex and hard to figure out.

    There was a psychological study that gave people a choice between having a slice of cake or an apple. The people offered the choice on the spot chose cake, and the people who said they would get their choice in a week choose apples.

    I suspect that a lot of the perceived decline in culture is that technology has given us tools to make it easier to pick cake but not enough tools to make it easier to pick apples. I have some classic movies on my Netflix cue that have been hovering around the 10 spot for a year now. We’re not in decline as much as in imbalance, and that’s something I’m optimistic can be changed.

  13. Jon Taplin says:

    Jason- I suspect your theory is right–more movies are being made and so that would lower the quality level of the “pool” of movies.

  14. Ken Ballweg says:

    In addition to the selective audience of pay for view in the 70s, there are other major factors skewing this comparison. The 70’s saw a major shift in who made movies and who had control. Biskind’s “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” is the definitive work on the change of the old studio system to the new Film School Wunderkinds. Consider the list: Coppla, Bagdonovich, Kubrick, Allen, Cassavetes, De Palma, Altman to name a few, and by ’76 segue into the holy trinity of Scorses, Speilberg and Lucus. But then consider how they got control.

    The dam broke, not because the general public was supporting great art, but because the old guard got too old, the audience for experimentation became a major monetized demo (all you radical and hippy wannabes could stick it to the man by going to “Five Easy Pieces”), and the studio system was in a panic.

    Picking the biggest sea change in film that turned the kids loose in the sandbox doesn’t make the worst of now an auger of the death of culture. Those golden years you keep lamenting the loss of were about making bucks, just like now, only to do it the Man had to give the Kids control to get product that could pull ’em back from that devil’s invention, TV. Rentals now are more comparable to what TV was in the 60s, so the comparison is skewed. People will go out to see the good and the over promoted (as before), but to kill an evening, minor curiosities unworthy of $12 are worth $3 just to get through the night.

    For just straight movies, if you compare the oughts with the 60s or the 50s you’d find equivalent dreck in the black list years.

    The top earners of the 70s (according to IMDB list of top $$ makers ever) have a few from your list but also include the really bad, and the mediocre, all chock ablock together with the great. Puttin’ butts in the seats, in order of earnings (low to high): “Jaws 2”, “Every Which Way but Loose”, Kramer v. Kramer”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “American Graffiti” , “Towering Inferno”. “Rocky”, “Blazing Saddles”, “Smokey and the Bandit”, “Close Encounters”, “Superman”, “Godfather”, “Rocky Horror…”, “The Sting”, “Grease”, and, of course “Star Wars”.

    Some great stuff there, but I think a few of the top earners of the oughts are able to stand up to the best on that list: “Lord of the Rings trilogy”, The Batmans, definitely the Pixar releases (while not top grossers, throw in the Ghibli Studios catalog and you can make a case that animation is now going through the kind of sea change features did in the 70s), “Juno”, “The Departed”, The Bourne Franchise. And that’s just the money earners. Throw in “Pan’s Labyrinth”, “Amelie”, “Lives of Others”, “Der Undrgang”, “There Will Be Blood”, “Eternal Sunshine…”, “Oldboy”, “Into the Wild” and you’ve got healthy film art still going on despite the money machine. As always, eyeballs and box office are not always the best indication of lasting films.

    Even as an unrepentant boomer/hippy Jon, you really should rethink this “Why forty years ago, compared to these damn kids these days, we had our shit together; and we did it barefoot, slogging through forty lines of snow to get there.” trope. Nostalgia of the aging can be precious, other times it’s every bit as much eye rolling, giggle fodder as it was when we were the “Kids”.

  15. Jon Taplin says:

    Ken- Your critique of my old fogey rant is well deserved. I still think Jason’s point is right though. It’s like Gresham’s Law, bad money drives out good. In other words, too much counterfeit culture tends to degrade the whole scene.

  16. Ken Ballweg says:

    To quote David Byrne:

    “Same as it ever was….”

  17. JR says:

    What a clear sign of the times.

    Kind of like comparing the new Gong Show to M*A*S*H or All in the Family.

  18. slimpundit says:

    The real reason your comparison is skewed: The only people renting movies these days are those who are too incompetent to download them from the internet. It’s not a culture crisis, it’s an entire nation’s inability to progress at the same rate as the rest of the higher developed countries in the OECD; and that’s with a giant headstart.

  19. Hugo says:

    Put me down for “Wall-E”.

  20. Hugo says:

    Oh, and I’d rather visit a mortuary than a Blockbuster store. I get hung by the way the walls are stacked fairly to the ceiling with the transitory detritus of Hollywood. Sixteen copies of shit athwart twelve copies of more shit, and so on, all the way around the store. I happen to love American and English films of the Forties. Unless it’s “Casablanca” or “Mrs. Miniver”, you’re SOL. Same at Netflix.

    So whether Jon’s stats are representative or not, they’re his stats; he and his partners made them happen. And oh, what I wouldn’t give to have Hollywood making, and clever hotshots delivering to my home for a fee, films of the quality of Jon’s Big Ten ’76.

    Only one or two American pictures of that calibre come out of Hollywood OR the (necessarily still more PC) Indie machines per Year! From the innovators of the Thirties through to the auteur young Turks of the Seventies, artful, often original, and generally wonderful stuff was coming out every month and even, for long stretches of history, every WEEK.

    Now, I find it hard to locate a new movie I wouldn’t be ashamed to be caught viewing expensively. Not even a guilty pleasure anywhere; no longer, the well-turned B-film. It’s the fricking producers. They have no taste, especially in writing, and they hedge their bets until the outbox consists solely of market-tested formula pictures. We do have a wealth of talented actors, and there’s never been a shortage of non-schlock writers, but their stuff is ground into the One Safest Gamble until we’re expected to leave the theatre pleased at yet another viewing of the aging satyr Michael Douglas in another slick “erotic thriller” that some hacks are paid to call “noir”. No Noir picture ever was an “erotic thriller”, though there sure were some Romantic Thrillers. The latter were, for the most part, art, and welcome additions still to our distinctive, beloved cultural history.

  21. Hugo says:

    Beg your pardon, Jon. I didn’t know whether I had your proxy vote, even though it was you and John Hurt who referred me to the film. So let’s say that’s three votes for “Wall-E”, despite its obvious elibility for this year’s “Happy Feet” award for Pedantic Greenism.

    Such a smart picture! So much thought in Burbank!

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