Hollywood adopts a softer touch for changing times
As young men turn away from the cinema, film makers are scrambling to fill the gap by tailoring their products for a new, largely female audience
It has been Hollywood's equivalent of America's dependence on foreign oil, and just as damaging. For more than three decades - ever since the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977 and the blockbuster was born - the lifeblood of the Hollywood movie studios has been the easy dollars they've made from the undisputed champs of the box office: adolescent males.
Their taste, often crass and testosterone-fuelled, has to a significant degree determined what movies have been made by the Hollywood studios. Their enthusiasm has made stars out of people like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Young males have been particularly valuable because they have always swarmed to movies during the all-important first weekend of a film's release and because they have gone back again and again to see films they liked.
Boys are now more entranced by what they can find and do online
But, now, in the first significant shift in box office viewing habits in a generation, the young male audience is deserting American cinemas. Adolescent boys are now more entranced by what they can find and do online, and by video games.
This has caught the Hollywood studios by surprise. They are desperately revamping their production schedules, scrambling to appeal instead to the only two growing sectors of the movie audience - women and the family audience.
For decades women have had a raw deal from Hollywood taste-makers. But it is they - or rather adolescent girls - who have turned out in vast numbers over the last two weekends, blissing out on the dream of having young British heartthrob Robert Pattinson sink his teeth into their soft, proffered throats - which he does with such relish in the vampire movie Twilight. The film took an astonishing $70m on its first weekend and, with a strong showing over this Thanksgiving weekend, was expected to take a total of $150m in its first two weeks. "Hollywood was confounded by the popularity of the film," wrote the LA Times.
Even younger girls have made films such as High School Musical 3: Senior Year and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour huge hits this year. Older women are also getting in on the act, making Sex in the City, Mamma Mia and The Devil Wears Prada box office blockbusters recently.
"Females are turning out in huge numbers," says Bruce Snyder, president of distribution for 20th Century Fox. "They are turning movies into event titles, making a picture's opening look more like a male action movie than a genteel female movie that would play out over a long period of time."
What's even more surprising is that earlier this year women made up almost 50 per cent of the audience for the kind of film that in the past would have been strictly a male preserve: The Dark Knight, the latest in the Batman saga, which has now taken close to a billion dollars worldwide.
The studios are also re-jigging their production slates to beef up the number of films aimed at the family audience. Most of the major studios now have 'family' divisions and Sony Pictures joined the fray this month, announcing it was putting a number of major family-friendly films into production. These include remakes of the perennial children's favourite Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Karate Kid and Ghostbusters as well as adaptations of the Goosebumps books.
Sony became aware of the importance of the family audience last year when its animated film Alvin and the Chipmunks, which cost $70m, made $360.5m at the box office worldwide.
The movie studios were, rightly, criticised for many of the films they made in the past for adolescent males. Now some are hoping the new emphasis on family films will have a beneficial social effect.
"In a world where kids are increasingly ensconced with some device and they disappear into their Facebooks," says James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Media, which offers parents a guide to media, "a family movie is a great way to share something together." Hollywood certainly hopes so. ·
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