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Is Hollywood looking for the next new thing? That doesn’t seem to be the case these days. Movie theaters are filled with stories and characters you’ve seen before. Sequels and remakes are everywhere, along with spin-offs from TV shows (think 21 Jump Street and Get Smart) and movies inspired by video games (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) or comic books (most recently, Marvel’s The Avengers).
To get a movie made, it’s not always enough to have a big-name cast. A plot that has already proved popular can be the crucial element. Studio executives can easily envision full houses and wildly successful marketing campaigns.
It wasn’t always like this. For many years in the first half of the 20th century, studios and studio execs wielded impressive power, and each studio had its own niche for a particular type of film. Disney, of course, ruled in the cartoon sector; Warner Bros. was known for gangster movies; Paramount for sweeping historical epics and MGM for romantic comedies and musicals. Moviegoers knew what they wanted to see and whom they wanted to see; one big star could easily fill a house.
In addition, there were fewer entertainment options before TVs, VCRs, DVDs and the Internet, so everyone’s week typically included a visit to the movie theater. You didn’t need a national advertising campaign to bring in the patrons.
Today, studio titles are no longer household names. A modern-day Clark Gable no longer guarantees an audience, and no one lines up for “the next big Paramount picture”. So movie studios have had to study the art of audience creation.
Big studios use their big budgets to design showy marketing campaigns around blockbusters, often incorporating merchandising tie-ins with McDonald’s and other companies.
The studios control when and where their films will be released, which means they can shape the films themselves to suit the marketing campaigns. They also place teasers in coming-attraction reels, in hopes of getting viewers to eagerly anticipate their films. These days, with so many entertainment options competing for a viewer’s free time, even a movie with an Oscar-winning star may not draw an audience unless it’s part of a splashy marketing campaign.
That’s one of the reasons you’re seeing so many sequels these days. If a marketing campaign worked once, chances are it will again.
These campaigns have been particularly successful with teen viewers. This is a demographic that’s relatively easy to reach by advertising on MTV or on one of the many teen-oriented shows on network television. Teens also tend to buy more video games, fast food and other items that can easily tie in with a campaign.
What is most likely to bring in a male teen audience? Larger-than-life, action-filled special effects. Hollywood knows to fill its film trailers with car crashes and explosions to bring in the boys.