BIG PICTURES: Hollywood looks for a future

David Denby in The New Yorker:

The current big-studio model is not only aesthetically depressing but financially bizarre. The familiarity of the numbers makes them no less astonishing. The average cost of making a big-studio movie is sixty million dollars; the average cost of marketing one domestically is around thirty-six million. Would-be blockbusters, or “tent pole” movies, like “King Kong” or “The Da Vinci Code,” which open simultaneously around the world, can run to three hundred million or more in total costs. Any big-studio movie is a bet against long odds. A worldwide theatrical gross of around four hundred million apiece for “M:i:III” and “Superman Returns” does not insure that either movie will be profitable, even though some of the ancillary-market dollar has yet to arrive. The five hundred and fifty million dollars taken in by “King Kong” was also considered disappointing.

How much theatrical gross is enough? Recent editions of Variety have featured an ad for the second “Pirates” movie that shows how much. A skull-and-crossbones motif is positioned over a number one followed by nine zeroes. That death’s-head billionaire, by luring studios to fresh big-budget follies, could hurt the movie business for years.

More here.