Frost/Nixon? Seriously?

I didn’t realize how terribly Frost/Nixon had done at the box office. Less than $15 million! Jeez, if you added up the value of all the Frost/Nixon advertisements I have personally seen, it would come close to $15 million. Somebody lost their shirt on this one; probably their shorts, too. You could have made more money renting out theaters as places for weary travelers to sleep.*

When your advertisements tell people that you’ve made a movie about the fact that some people in Hollywood don’t like Richard Nixon, one should expect this type of response. All of the old Nixon haters are dead or too old to go to theaters; all of the young hippies are curious why the movie isn’t called Frost/Bush.

Though that might not have done too well either. Despite a ridiculous media blitz during the most politicized year in living memory, W. was the 104th best grossing moving of 2008. I originally thought boxofficemojo had screwed up and not listed it, until I saw that their first page only listed the top 100. Of course, it was a big hit compared to Frost/Nixon.

*And, somehow, Frost/Nixon is only the fourth worst grosser of the Best Picture nominees; The Reader makes Frost/Nixon look like, um, well, a movie that people saw. A few weeks ago, I actually got a phone call from Sid Ganis advising me that a 30-second clip of my cat I took using my digital camera – GracieCoughsHairball3.avi – had been nominated for Best Picture, but I declined and suggested they nominate something that had reached a larger audience. Hence, The Reader. That’s a true story.

P.S. Paul Blart: Mall Cop has been the #1 movie for three consecutive weekends.

11 thoughts on “Frost/Nixon? Seriously?

  1. Tom

    I’m not going to rush to the defense of Hollywood this year as I — who really enjoy going out to theaters and who managed to see all five best picture nominees last year before they were nominated — have only seen one this year’s crop and have little interest in seeing the others. The one I saw, Benjamin Button is the only film I can recall since American Beauty that gets successively worse and worse every time I think about it.

    In some extremely limited defense of The Reader (which the g.f. and I are planning to see), it’s only been in wide release for a few weeks.

  2. Jamie

    YAY unpopular movies suck. Just how The DaVinci Code is clearly a much better book than The Sound and the Fury.

    Get a new meme, Apollo, this one is growing stale.

    (not defending the quality of Frost/Nixon here btw, but if you are somehow claiming that Paul Blart is deserved of a best picture nomination I think I want to hit you)

  3. Tom

    For the sake of clarity, I believe Apollo’s point is that Hollywood has a habit of shunning popular films that are award-worthy in favor of unpopular films that (may be) award-worthy.

    Where I think he goes wrong is in complaining that these movies aren’t sufficiently popular to be nominated without any reference as to whether they’re any good or not. If they aren’t good, he’s quite right to question the academy’s selection. If they are good, then the problem is either a matter of poor advertising or poor taste by the movie going public.

    Of the five best movies I saw this year, three were extremely popular: TDK ($532 M), Iron Man ($318 M) and WALL*E ($233 M). Two also did very modest business: In Bruges ($7 M) and Let The Right One In ($1.7 M).  All of those were infinitely better movies than The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ($112 M) whose popularity and critical acclaim are incomprehensible to me.

  4. Hubbard


    I’ve yet to read The Da Vinci Code, but I’d be surprised if it was worse than the unreadable wreck that is The Sound and the Fury. I get your point, but I’m not sure Faulkner deserves a high spot in the Western Canon.

    After all, if numbers are success, then McDonald’s is the best food in the world. . .

  5. Jamie

    How dare you disparage McDonald’s – you are clearly just a coastal elitist.

    Also “The Sound and the Fury” is one of my favorite American novels – I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

  6. Apollo Post author

    My point is that, considering the advertising budget that Frost/Nixon had, the fact that it completely bombed at the box office and hasn’t even earned back its production cost is a sign that people don’t like and don’t want to see the movie. If Hollywood thinks the very best it can produce is a movie that people don’t like and don’t want to see, well that’s sad. It’s the abandonment of entertainment for an immature film festival mentality. Obviously the masses aren’t smart enough know what real art is.

    The average ticket price last year was $7.20. At that price, and considering its total take, it’s probable that no less than 15% of the American people saw The Dark Knight. Presuming zero overlap in the audience of Frost/Nixon and The Reader (certainly wrong; I’d wager there’s at least a 50% overlap), and presuming no one seeing either movie twice (believable), no more than 1 out of 100 Americans saw either of those movies.

    It’s a sad commentary on Hollywood that they think their very best is so unliked.

  7. Tom

    My point is that, considering the advertising budget that Frost/Nixon had, the fact that it completely bombed at the box office and hasn’t even earned back its production cost is a sign that people don’t like and don’t want to see the movie. If Hollywood thinks the very best it can produce is a movie that people don’t like and don’t want to see, well that’s sad.

    You’ve a very fair point about advertising, but the rest of your argument fails because you have no idea whether Frost/Nixon or The Reader are any bloody good.

    If they are as lousy as their box office returns, then your analysis is absolutely correct. But if they actually are good movies that no one is seeing — and I don’t know either, because I haven’t seen them myself — then something else is going on (again, either poor advertising, or poor taste by the public, some combination of the two). For someone whom I know enjoys movies with little regard for their popular success, I must say your animosity here makes little sense.

  8. Apollo Post author

    Part of the problem with Frost/Nixon is that, despite plenty of advertising, people don’t want to see it. You’re correct that I can’t make any judgment about its content. But, as I’ve said, the best I can say about the movie is that it offers me no reason to watch it. Oh boy, some people still dislike Nixon. Why should I pay $10 to find out the details?

    An excellent movie needs to 1. Compel people to watch it, 2. Entertain people as they watch it,and 3. Inspire some mild level of thought afterward. I’ve seen movies that succeed at two of those, but fail at a third. Lebowski failed at the first, Atonement failed at the second, and American Beauty failed at the third. But a truly excellent movie needs to do all three. The Godfather. Gone with the Wind. Lord of the Rings. Those movies did all three. There are lots of movies I’ve enjoyed for various reasons. Lebowski was enjoyable, and inspired a mild level of thought afterward. So did In Bruges. There’s Something About Mary compelled me to watch it, and was enjoyable when I did. Few movies both compel people to watch and inspire thought without being enjoyable, but Atonement certainly was it. More common is the movie that doesn’t compel people to watch and isn’t enjoyable, but wants to inspire thought afterward. But if I wanted to think hard without being entertained, I’d have gone to class. These movies – the theatrical equivalent of Zippy the Pinhead – take the easy way out. Anybody, and I really mean anybody, can be thoughtful without being compelling or entertaining. Jeez, even Kant and Rawls could do that. What separates excellence from this faux genius is that true excellence can do several things at once. We ought not define down excellence because we happen to like some things that aren’t, honestly, excellent.

    If Hollywood can’t produce a single excellent movie in any given year, I guess that’s fine. It’s hard to produce excellence year in and year out, though considering how many people make up “Hollywood,” you’d think they could find at least one example of excellence. But, again, we shouldn’t pretend that the “best” movies of the year are excellent just because nothing better could be found. I gladly voted for George Bush over John Kerry, but that doesn’t mean George Bush was excellent. Sometimes the best available option will leave you just saying, “eh, couldva been worse.”

  9. Jamie

    What rankles, Apollo, is that this is a standard which you apply to no other industry that produces a product for mass consumption. I’m fairly certain that you don’t think Dan Brown or Tom Clancy deserve a Nobel Prize for Literature. I’m also fairly certain that despite winning “Best Political Blog” and being immensely popular you don’t think The Dish is the best blog out there. Its almost a near certainty that the Motortrend Car of the Year is not the best selling car worldwide. Would you agrue that “Dogs Playing Poker”, having sold many more prints than say a Kandinski masterpiece, is the greater painting? What is the better newspaper, The Washington Times or the New York Times?

    What this boils down to is: Oh boy, Apollo still dislikes Hollywood. Shocking. Can we move on?

  10. The Dude

    Lebowski was enjoyable, and inspired a mild level of thought afterward.

    That’s just, like, your opinion, man.

  11. Apollo Post author

    I don’t read modern literature and I don’t like modern art. They are already at the end of the road down which Hollywood is heading. I don’t give a rat’s posterior who wins Nobel prizes for literature, because whoever it is is going to be someone that the overwhelmingly vast majority of people, even in educated and literate countries, have never heard of. Modern art and literature are largely crap primarily because of their disregard for popular opinion. They’ve become the world of a snobbish few who sit around congratulating themselves on how smart they are. If you think I’m harsh on Hollywood, you should have been with us when Dorothy and I went through the Pompidou Center a while back. In the Picasso and Rodin museums, I thought the same thing of both of them: their work turned to crap once they got established and successful and decided to be artistes who didn’t care what others thought. I’m extremely critical of any type of artist who disregards the pleasing in favor of what he thinks is meaningful. If I were to rank professions based on how much I cared about what they thought, artists would be near the bottom. There are so many smarter people doing more productive and interesting things that I just can’t bring myself to care about the thoughts of an artist who can’t even be bothered to make something pretty.

    I want to like Hollywood because movies can be the most quintessentially American art form. They can be popular, entertaining, and mildly thought inspiring (Americans aren’t too big on the continental style of deep, brooding thought; that gets in the way) all at the same time. But when Hollywood turns away from that definition of excellence and begins to see itself as primarily an organ to make political statements or to allow would-be philosophes to wax on screen, I think something very imporant is lost. And that something was a fundamental part of the American culture I grew up in and would like to preserve, where the very best movies were enjoyed by the masses, and Hollywood elites understood that popular appeal meant something other than money.

    I’m not saying there’s a perfect correlation between popularity and quality. But what recent Oscar nominations have said is that there’s zero correlation, and that cannot be true unless we redefine what makes an excellent movie. I obviously don’t agree with Dr. Sullivan winning any best blog awards, but I would also disagree with some random unknown blog *ahem* won such an award, because being popular and developing an audience is part of being an excellent blog, just as it’s part of being an excellent movie.

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