Ian Harris: The box office woes of 'Blade Runner' shouldn't concern film lovers
“Blade Runner 2049,” like its 1982 predecessor, is a great movie. Also like its predecessor, it is a box office bomb. The film seems unlikely to break even on its $155 million budget (which, once marketing costs are included, is probably something closer to $300 million). Currently, internet movie culture is already declaring “2049” to be doomed to box office failure, and many are criticizing the studio for dumping so much money into what was “clearly” a movie with only a niche appeal. Warner Bros, Alcon Entertainment and Sony Pictures collectively poured somewhere close to $300 million into a three-hour long art house picture that grapples with themes such as the meaning of existence and what it means to be human. They might not make that money back. So what?
It’s been a strange phenomenon to follow over the past few years, watching as internet culture somehow became more and more obsessed with box office results. “Batman v. Superman” didn’t make as much money as “The Avengers” and was deemed some kind of commercial failure. Sure, it got bad reviews, but the behemoth still made an unholy sum of money, and more than made back its budget. “Wonder Woman” came out this summer. “Justice League” is coming out next month. It seems like DC movies are doing just fine. But to many internet movie pundits — it’s a testament to our time that I didn’t think that phrase was strange while I wrote it — the amount of money the movies make seems to be more important than whether or not the movies are actually any good.
The big studios have really pulled quite a number on film fans by getting them to care so intensely about how much money a huge studio makes on a movie. The implication in every article — how “niche” the audience of “Blade Runner” was, and how stupid it was of Warner Bros. and co. to invest in it — is that audiences don’t deserve movies like “Blade Runner 2049,” and if they don’t go to see them, they should keep getting fed derivative junk. This is backwards thinking. A film’s success as a piece of art is almost entirely separate from its success as a product designed to make money. Sure, you often get movies that do both, such as “Star Wars,” “Schindler’s List” or countless Steven Spielberg movies. But many movies that are considered classics today were either failures at the box office or outright panned upon their release. The original “Blade Runner,” which is now hailed as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, did terribly when it came out in 1982 and received mixed to negative reviews at the time. “The Princess Bride,” which celebrated its 30th anniversary this past week, wasn’t met with much success when it came out in theaters, but later found a second life on VHS, where it came to be known as a classic. In recent years, movie studios have used audience interest in the box office to almost blackmail audiences in a way, with the idea being that, if you liked a certain movie, it better make enough money or you won’t see other things like it.
But audiences shouldn’t really care how much money a movie makes. The only thing the audience should care about is if a movie is good. If you feel like your ten bucks was worth the price of admission, then you should be satisfied enough. If we don’t get another “Blade Runner” movie, so what? We got this one. Decades from now, when the current bubble of remakes and sequels and superhero sagas has popped, nobody will still remember or talk about “Thor: The Dark World,” “Ant-Man” or “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” The testament to a film’s power isn’t written when it's released, but in the decades to follow. Against all odds, “Blade Runner 2049" is one of the few sequels to a thirty year old classic that might actually be better than the original movie. Instead of worrying about how many people saw it in the past two weeks, we should be excited about the fact that generations of people will get to continue arguing about whether or not Harrison Ford is a robot until the end of time. Denis Villeneuve, who directed “Blade Runner 2049,” was only 15 years old when the original movie came out. There’s some 15-year-old out there right now whose imagination has just been ignited, and who, thirty years from now, is going to make the next science fiction masterpiece. That kid isn’t thinking about how much money the movie will make — they’re thinking about how cool the movie is going to be. That’s the real power of the movies.