The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The ethical quandary when you pay to watch a movie you know you’re going to hate

with 31 comments

“I just don’t get it!”

My friend Johan threw out his hands in a gesture of frustration and raised his voice enough to grab the attention from a few of the other guests in the pub.

We were both attending the monthly gathering of science fiction fans in my city, but as so many times before our conversation had slipped into an adjacent topic. We were talking about the current state of cinema, which had brought him into a rant mood.

He continued:

“First they complain about all the bad movies that come out of Hollywood. They go on and on about how much they hate the latest pointless remake of the movie so-and-so. But the next minute they tell you that they’re totally going to go to a theatre to watch it, just to see with their own eyes how much it sucks!”

“Arrrrgh! Why don’t they THINK! Why don’t they think about the consequences? It’s their fault that we’re stuck with those movies!”

Then the conversation moved into the qualities of Prometheus, but when it became clear that I – as opposed to him – actually thought it was pretty good, he raised without a word from his seat, setting course for the bar to get something tranquilizing.

Consumer power
But in my mind I dwelled a bit longer at the question. I could see his point. It’s all about consumer power. I’ve always been a strong advocator of it. People can talk as much as they want about how conditions should be better at banana plantations. It’s only when you start buying the organic and fair trade bananas, ditching the questionable ones, that they’ll start listening and change things for the better.

Money talks. And why wouldn’t that be as true in Hollywood? The box office doesn’t register any difference between different movie goers.

So what if you hated the movie? You paid the same price for the ticket as everyone else. Your body’s presence in the theatre was noted and counted and you can be certain that someone will analyze it, making conclusions about what kind of movies they should focus on in the future to be sure to make a profit.

I would lie if I said that I expected the remake of Total Recall to be any good. And yet I went to see it and added to the sales. This means that if Hollywood comes up with the idiotic idea to do a remake of Blade Runner, I’m one of those who should be blamed.

The only thing I can come up with that justifies my behaviour is the fact that I’m a blogger. If I after watching a bad movie do my best to tell the world about how bad it was, preventing other people from spending money on it, I might have done it for a good cause. My single ticket will bring less to the film than the ten tickets I’ve prevented from being sold.

An alternative is of course to do a little bit of cheating. I’ve heard confessions of film buffs who will go a long way to help out small movies they think need support. Whenever they feel like watching a crappy blockbuster movie at the multiplex for whatever reason, a type of film they don’t want to support, they buy a ticket to the indie film of their heart instead. And then they sneak into the blockbuster without being registered.

Strictly speaking it’s an act of deceit and probably illegal. But as long as the ticket price is the same and the theatre doesn’t lose any money on it, I can’t really condemn it. It may be a fraud, but it’s with the best of intentions.

But those few people are an exception. Many, many others go and watch movies they really don’t care for, too lazy to make an effort to check out the alternatives.

Johan was right to be frustrated – not with Hollywood, but with the theatre audience. As long as they keep supporting the bad movies financially, that’s the kind of movies that will be made.

If we get bad films, it’s because we’ve asked for them.

Written by Jessica

September 7, 2012 at 8:53 pm

31 Responses

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  1. Jessica, I’m as guilty as you are when I go see a remake of a film I loved. However, when I do (and last year’s Straw Dogs remake/debacle is a good example) and I hate the film, I make sure everyone knows about it. Films like that get bad press from me, so I guess if I dissaude one person from seeing it, it all comes out even in the end.

    And BTW- I actually kinda liked “Total Recall”- but still, no one has come close to making a real Philip K Dick version of that film, and they never will. I guess my expectations are too high!

    Karl Kaefer

    September 7, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    • Yes, spreading the word about how bad it is makes up a bit for putting your money into it. But you need to be pursuasive! At least one needs to be put off from seeing it.

      Well I think there was too much of action and too little of ideas in the remake. Though it looked beautiful. I’ll give it that much.

      Jessica

      September 9, 2012 at 9:38 pm

  2. I’m not entirely sure how my film choices turn into support for individual films since I pay a lump sum to the theatre for unlimited tickets. I imagine they still have to pay on toward the distributors for each ticket I get so my broader viewing of theatrical releases is raising all boats, good and bad and probably doing a small part to keeping less ambitious projects coming. I do steer clear of things I can tell will be truly terrible, but I am watering down the effect of my purchase power.

    That said, I’m not sure individuals are that powerful. There is too much path dependency in what succeeds and what doesn’t. Many people live places where they don’t really have much choice in what to watch a given week so the only way for them to punish the industry for lack of quality is to stay away from the theatre altogether.

    Bondo

    September 7, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    • Yes, I figure they keep some kind of statistics, provided you register when you use your unlimited tickets…

      I agree that the consumer power is limited for the individual and yet – it’s the only tool we have really, isn’t it? And because of this we should use it with some thoughtfulness.

      Jessica

      September 9, 2012 at 9:39 pm

  3. For what it’s worth, I doubt that people who go to a movie they expect to dislike are a statistically significant factor in the sales. Movie bloggers do that (well, those that don’t get comped free tickets), but most people aren’t critics, professional or otherwise. And people with a love of bad movies do that… but they are a rare exception. Everybody else takes the sane approach of not going to something they think they’ll hate, most of the time. I’d be willing to bet that those two groups combined don’t make up even 1% of a movie’s audience, and if you look at films that have a poor audience rating on RottenTomatoes or IMDb, they’re usually movies that don’t perform well at the box office either.

    Of course, there are also the people who go to a movie they expect to hate because their date wants to see it, but at least in those cases somebody thought it was going to be good. 😛

    Morgan R. Lewis

    September 8, 2012 at 2:09 am

    • Maybe you’re right. We might think they’re more common than they really are since we notice them as they say their view loudly. Most people – hopefully – refrain from movies they don’t like, watch movies they like and don’t make a huge deal of it.

      Jessica

      September 9, 2012 at 9:41 pm

  4. There are so many reasons why we stick to the morally questionable choices. The regular bananas are cheaper than the fair trade ones, the downy soft paper bleached to perfection feels god on your bum as opposed to the DDR-sandpaper.kind that somehow passes for toilet paper and maybe all your friends are really psyched about the movie version of “Rederiet” even though you yourself would much rather like to watch what ever they are showing at the artsy fartsy theatre next door.

    I do believe that the people your friend are talking about, the ones who really know a movie is going to suck, who gripes about shallow Hollywood suckiness and still buys the ticket are few and far between. Therefore, their power as a consumer group is not that large. The large group, the one who at least theoretically would have any sort of impact on the movie industry, is the group that gladly swallow whatever Hollywood sees fit to ladle into their hungry movie maws. The ones who actually enjoy endless sequels, remakes, Beck- and Wallander-installations. And since they would be hard pressed to give that enjoyment up, since it’s hardly a question about the survival of the planet or the welfare of people on other parts of the world, I would say that we are stuck with the present situation. At least as far as consumer power goes.

    Sofia

    September 8, 2012 at 10:09 am

    • Ouch, that’s a very pessimistic way to see it, isn’t it? Hm. Thinking of it you may wonder why we’re still here, blogging. It seems to be in vain then? 😦

      Jessica

      September 9, 2012 at 9:42 pm

      • No no, not at all. Although Hollywood still has the lion part of the movie cake, there are still a lot of other players out there. And those we can reinforce by going to their movies as well, buy them on DVD and say nice things about them (if they deserve it, naturally). I believe in positive impact where we contribute with something, rather than negative impact, where we try to take something away.

        Sofia

        September 10, 2012 at 6:11 am

        • I agree that we can make a bigger contribution by supporting the small titles in whatever way we can. But in the end every ticket matters. And sadly, when we go and watch a truly bad blockbuster movie, our ticket fee is also taken as a vote.

          Jessica

          September 10, 2012 at 7:19 am

  5. Personally I don’t choose a film lightly when I visit the cinema. My time and money is restricted but when a film looks as good as Prometheus did and then disappoints. I think the movie going public have a right to moan. film’s like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy are affording the audience a level of intellect. Why can’t others? That’s the type of material I wouldn’t mind spending my time and money on.

    Mark Walker

    September 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    • Expecations. They can play bad tricks on us. I wonder if there isn’t a point where the expectations get so ridiculously high that they can’t ever be met and you’re bound to be somewhat disappointed. And at that point: is it really still a good idea to see it in a theatre?

      I’m a bit like you as of picking films. My time and resources are limited and I don’t get invintations to press screenings. I get a few free prescreenings thanks to my loyalty card at the theatre, but that’s all. If I’m available I’ll always go to those prescreenings, regardless of movie. I count on that it won’t show up in the statistics at the box office and make any impact.

      Jessica

      September 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm

  6. I once went to cinema with a friend to see a blockbuster movie. It was incredibly awful. In my point of view. Others liked it; not as much as I despised it but still they found it quite enjoyable. I didn’t know if it was just my personal mood so a few days later I went to the cinema to see it again. I still think it is one of the worst films I ever saw. But I blew up the statistics a little, knowingly.

    Oh, it was a movie you saw a few times: https://thevelvetcafe.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/is-your-film-collection-snoop-ready/#comment-7649 .

    Hauke

    September 9, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    • Haha, that’s quite ambitious I must say, to rewatch a film to see if it was just your mood that made you dislike it. I probably should do that with some films, but the thought has never occurred to me. It feels like a little bit of a waste that you did it on THAT particular movie, even though I don’t dislike it as much as you do.

      Jessica

      September 9, 2012 at 9:50 pm

  7. Well, since I have an unlimited card (which costs me 20 euros a month and really allows me to see as many movies as I want) I guess I only count for the amount of people who have seen a movie. If I don’t like a movie I will usually write about it, so I guess that’s my way of warning people if they shouldn’t see something. I usually have a pretty good feeling though if a movie will be bad and won’t go….recently made the mistake of seeing The Watch, which was a waste of my time…

    Nostra

    September 10, 2012 at 9:17 am

    • May I ask where in Europe you get such an offer? Here (Germany) a single ticket is around 10€ on average so such an offer would be highly unlikely. You can only get tracking cards to collect “bonus” points which in turn you can use to buy another ticket. It would take roughly 22 full paid tickets to get the “free” one so I don’t take this offer.

      Hauke

      September 10, 2012 at 7:22 pm

      • He lives in Netherlands, I think. It sounds as if Germany is pretty much the same as sweden, though it only takes half as many full paid tickets to get one for free here.

        Jessica

        September 10, 2012 at 8:32 pm

      • Yeah, this is in the Netherlands and it’s the Pathé chain which is doing that. Single tickets are that price over here as well, so you don’t need to go often to get your money’s worth 🙂

        Nostra

        September 12, 2012 at 8:36 am

    • That’s a good deal I’d say. We don’t have anything like that here. Though I do get some “points” thanks to being a frequent guest at the theatre, points that I can use in exchange for free tickets.

      Like you I have a feeling for what I like so I rarely see movies in the theatre that I dislike. It happens mostly if I’ve gotten the chance to see a free prescreening.

      Jessica

      September 10, 2012 at 8:31 pm

  8. Excellent post, Had never thought of this issue from this point of view but you and Johan are absolutely right! Great analysis.

    fernandorafael

    September 10, 2012 at 10:55 pm

  9. I’ve been in this situation before, but only when I’m in a group and the movie choice isn’t mine to be made. I can never bring myself to refuse an invitation to the cinema, even if I know I’m gonna hate the film. So I guess I’ll be continuously contributing to the output of bad films. Shame. 😦

    Squasher88

    September 11, 2012 at 1:24 am

    • Well at least you can share the content of your heart blogging about it and pointing people to better movies.

      Jessica

      September 11, 2012 at 11:49 pm

  10. One thing that I have tried to do to use my consumer power is to see the independent films during their first weekend if possible, and save the blockbusters for week three or four of their run. The bigger film still ends up getting my money in the end, but at least they don’t get to report it in their opening weekend statistics. Plus, the smaller film probably gets a little bit of a bump, possibly allowing it to stay in theaters for a while and have a chance.

    nevertooearlymp

    September 12, 2012 at 12:28 am

    • Kudos to you for taking that stance! You are really making an effort. Even if it’s a small contribution, every sold ticket counts for the smallest films.

      Jessica

      September 12, 2012 at 9:10 am

  11. Lobby, I don’t know how I missed THIS when it’s the thing I complain about the most. (I absolutely would not see ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ and my film friend concluded that I was stubborn as a jack-ass.) I could probably do a little better job. (I did see ‘Total Recall’ … And then felt dirty.)

    Still, I have a bit of a finance background, and I have to wonder about the trade off. That it, these franchise reboots are relatively known quantities for investors, so I doubt if we the consumers pulled the financial rug out from under them that you would see ALL of those same dollars going into more original films. Some dollars, but not all.

    theskepticalmale

    September 13, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    • “The sceptic male”. Hm. Who are you? You’re calling me “Lobby”, so you clearly come from the FS community. Anyway: I’m glad you’re with me. I really don’t think you can shrug off the power you hold over the film industry as you choose what you watch.

      Jessica

      September 14, 2012 at 11:46 pm

      • All I am saying is that, from the production side, the money currently pouring into franchise films would not necessarily be diverted to the kind of films you want to see if we as a group stopped patronizing franchise films. Franchise films are economically more of a known quantity; but non-franchise films involve more risk. If franchise films stopped becoming a known quantity, some of those current investors would probably stop investing in films altogether and for example, buy Subway franchises or build office buidlings instead. If THAT is the case, then the number of non-franchise films would not necessarily increase.

        – sdb_1970

        theskepticalmale

        September 15, 2012 at 1:34 am

        • Hey there! And now I found your blog too, even if it was tricky! You won’t escape my link list. 🙂

          Jessica

          September 16, 2012 at 8:20 pm

  12. This is something I think about quite a bit, as it happens. “Voting with your dollar” is a very real and very sound economic principal that I try as hard as I can to apply uniformly across the whole of my spending habits– in other words, I give a lot of judicious thought to how and where I spend my money. There are a number of reasons one votes with their dollar; the biggest is quality of product, which is why I tend to shop at Hannaford or Whole Foods for my groceries (the latter only when necessary), and why I do a lot of focus and research before purchasing big-ticket items like, say, a new car or a new stereo system.

    But voting with your dollar is also, in fact mostly, about bucking the system and financing services and products that you think deserve it more than others. I shop at farmer’s markets religiously in the summer (and in the winter whenever I am able, though that’s harder because there are few winter’s farmer’s markets that are close by to where I live) so that I can bypass big grocery corporations (even the ones that I like) and finance the source of the products I buy directly. I make sure to never pay to see the latest Hollywood remake or big, dumb tentpole blockbuster, which is easy for me to say because I see most of my movies for free via press credentials anyways. I will buy my Blu-Rays through smaller vendors instead of Best Buy. And so on and so on.

    That brings us to paying to watch a movie you know you’re going to hate. Personally, I don’t think that’s possible, because you never know how you’re going to feel about a film until you’ve watched it. Case in point: I thought Prometheus looked great, and while I liked it, it disappointed me. Better case in point: I thought The Bourne Legacy looked great and I wanted my money back after seeing it, even though I saw it for free. (Not that I think anyone has the right to get their money back if they see a movie they don’t like.) That said, I understand the spirit of the question, and if you think there’s a really high chance you will not like a film, don’t pay to see it. It’s that simple. That means you relinquish any right to an opinion on the film, which can be bad for film critics, but it also means you’re not part of the collective unconscious that lets the movie industry get away with making terrible movies. I think that’s infinitely valuable.

    Andrew

    September 17, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    • You’ve really thought this over. I can’t say that I’m quite as rigorous about using my consumer power as you are, but I think you’re doing the right thing. It doesn’t make sense to keep complaining about terrible movies while doing very little effort to actually support the good ones there are.

      Jessica

      September 17, 2012 at 8:22 pm


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