— by RACHEL COYNE —
Question: If a movie opens without a built-in rabid fanbase of tween girls, sci-fi fanboys, and/or indie film snobs, does anybody see it?
It seems that now more than ever a movie’s success is determined before the movie even opens. Movies that are based on beloved books, a part of a popular franchise, or helmed by directors with cult followers are talked up and hyped to death long before even the first production photo is released, let alone the trailer. A movie doesn’t even necessarily need to be good anymore to succeed at the box office; all you need is to tune into a popular trend and create a slow-building buzz.
Whether you loved them, hated them, or just didn’t care about them, here were the most hyped movies of 2009:
“Star Trek” – Could “Star Trek” be believable without William Shatner or Patrick Stewart starring in it? Would audiences embrace a new cast of young actors portraying characters they’ve known and loved for ages? Did anyone want a prequel to one of the most popular film and TV franchises ever known? Well, whether the answers to these questions were “yes” or “no,” everyone sure loved to discuss them. Then this new-fangled “Star Trek” opened, and audiences and critics embraced it with open arms. And a whole new generation of sci-fi geeks was born.
Was it worth the hype? I’m not much of a sci-fi fan, but when a movie this difficult to get right gets it right, I have to say it was worth it.
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“Inglourious Basterds” – Ever since “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction,” director Quentin Tarantino has had a fan following like few filmmakers have ever seen. But in an industry where most directors crank out at least one movie per year, Tarantino takes his time between projects, choosing to only work on movies he’s passionate about. Which of course leads his followers to practically foam at the mouth when he has a new movie coming out. Both volumes of “Kill Bill” and “Grindhouse” garnered lukewarm responses, so “Inglourious Basterds” was eagerly awaited as his redemption.
Was it worth the hype? Not only was it loved by audiences and critics, an ultraviolent movie about Nazi hunting starring modern-day matinee idol Brad Pitt is creating Oscar talk. Definitely worth the hype.
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“The Twilight Saga: New Moon” – Oh, “Twilight.” I don’t understand the attraction, but there’s no denying that America has gone insane for sexless, swoony, sparkling vampires. Never underestimate the power of tween girls and their lonely mothers; they helped rocket a chaste love story that received middling to poor reviews to box office gold. And with two more volumes to go (it is only two more, yes?), we’re all going to have to steel ourselves for the continued insanity over Bella, Edward, and Jacob (I haven’t read any of the books or seen the movies, so it kills me that I know the characters names so easily).
Was it worth the hype? I haven’t seen it, but based on the consensus that it just wasn’t a very good movie, I’m going to have to say no. Just because something is insanely, inexplicably popular, doesn’t make it hype-worthy.
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“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” – The sixth installment in the “Harry Potter” franchise is the one that sets everything up for the final showdown. But even if it wasn’t, people would have still gone crazy for the boy wizard. All of the “Harry Potter” films have been incredibly successful, and it was a fore drawn conclusion that “Half-Blood Prince” would be no exception—and of course, it wasn’t. Harry and company are growing up, and preparing to cast spells and take names in the final two films (the last book has thankfully been divided into two movies). If you think “Half-Blood Prince” was hyped, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Was it worth the hype? I have lukewarm feelings toward the “Harry Potter” movies since I feel like they pale in comparison to the excellent novels. But “Half-Blood Prince” was fun, touching, exciting, emotional, and did an excellent job of setting us all up for the end. Totally worth the hype, and I’m totally ready for the next part.
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“Avatar” – The movie that James Cameron had in the works for 12 years had so much riding on it, I’m surprised it didn’t implode from all the pressure. It was originally going to be his follow-up to the juggernaut that was “Titanic” in 1997, but the special effects technology he needed didn’t exist yet. So he waited, and toiled, and tweaked, and built, and created for the next dozen years. Finally, “Avatar” was ready for the theaters, but early looks at it had people wondering if it was a movie about Smurfs in outer space. But despite any apprehension, people wanted to see the project that one man had worked on so relentlessly for so long. And fortunately, they liked it. Even the critics liked it … for the most part. And now there are people showing up to midnight screenings in blueface; the very definition of success.
Was it worth the hype? I admit I haven’t seen “Avatar” (it’s just not my kind of movie), but judging from all the positive feedback and its reign at the box office, I’d say it was worthy of all the chatter.
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Follow Rachel Coyne on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TheOpinionatedB.