Edge of Tomorrow has made less money in its month-long release than Transformers: Age of Extinction made in the past week. This seems to be giving many people agita, leading them to decry the current state of cinema and the stupidity of the moviegoing public. Me? I don’t give a shit. Let me tell you why.
For one thing I’ve largely made my peace with the stupidity of the moviegoing public. The average moviegoer is either actually an actual dummy or is willfully a dummy - ie, the kind of person who approaches film with a ‘turn your brain off’ attitude. I’m horrified by this attitude, but I suspect a lot of these people would be horrified by my unthinking, ill-informed attitude towards stuff they care about, like cars or wine or conspiracy theories about Benghazi. Not everybody is going to approach the movies with the same level of engagement, love and intelligence with which you and I approach them. And that’s okay. It’s not great, but it’s okay.
I’ve made such peace with the stupidity of moviegoers that the more I like a film the more I believe it will tank. I’m like the canary in the box office goldmine - if I get super excited about a movie the mass audience is probably going to simply ignore it. I’ve watched many of my favorite films from the last couple of years get absolutely passed by when it comes to the mainstream audience. So it goes.
Sometimes I get bummed when these movies fail. The failure of Cloud Atlas bummed me out (although I saw it coming like an extinction level event meteor in the sky) because I worry that the Wachowskis, should they continue failing at the box office, will have a hard time getting their wild, expansive and smart visions financed. I was worried about the middling box office performance of Pacific Rim because I wanted more stories in that world, and it seemed quite likely that we would never get them (thankfully the modern box office landscape is more complex than it was a few years ago, giving Pacific Rim 2 a chance at life).
But I’m not worried about Edge of Tomorrow. I think people - even dumb people - should see Edge of Tomorrow because it’s really well made, and it’s really fun, and it’s a very good time at the movies (even if it runs into some third act problems). But I don’t care if it doesn’t make any more money.
See, Tom Cruise is going to be okay. His career has been changing over the last decade, and I don’t know if he’s quite found the right sweet spot to get himself back at the top spot of the movie star ladder he once occupied, but it isn’t like Cruise is going to find himself shut out of Hollywood. He’s not going to end up sleeping in his van if the movie doesn’t recoup its costs.
Doug Liman is going to be okay. He’s already got his next project lined up, a remake of the Sylvester Stallone WWII soccer movie Victory. Emily Blunt is going to be okay; nobody’s going to judge her for the success or failure of the movie - although her performance, which is excellent, could open new doors for her, even if the film isn’t profitable.
Even more than that, Edge of Tomorrow is going to be okay. The movie exists, and it’s good. The lack of general audience interest isn’t going to change that. When the movie comes out on Blu in a couple of months it’ll be the same movie. And Edge of Tomorrow isn’t a franchise-starter. There aren’t ten more stories to be told in this world - it’s over. I wouldn’t want to see a sequel straining to pick up the threads from this film, so maybe the fact that it underperformed a bit is good.
There are some who look at Edge of Tomorrow underperforming and think Hollywood will decide to avoid smart, witty scripts as a result. I hate to break this to you, but too late. They already do. And let me give you more bad news: if Edge of Tomorrow had been a smash hit the lesson Hollywood execs would get from it wouldn’t be “Let’s make more smart, funny, character-driven blockbusters!” but rather “More mech suits! More time loops! People like infantry battles, so more of those!”
You only have to look back at The Matrix to realize how little Edge of Tomorrow’s success would have mattered. When that movie became a huge blockbuster - an unexpectedly huge blockbuster, mind you - we weren’t suddenly deluged with movies that dabbled in Eastern mysticism and existential ponderings. We got bullet time and pleather outfits and movies that looked like they were shot in an aquarium. The Matrix may have influenced other creators, but it still would have influenced them if it had been a bomb as well. Look at Jodorowsky’s Dune for a very compelling argument that even a failure can have a massive creative impact.
So I don’t care how much money Edge of Tomorrow makes. I’m happy it exists. I’m happy that the people who found it did. I’m happy that Tom Cruise got to give a terrific performance. I’m happy that Emily Blunt got to kick ass. I’m sad that more people won’t have a chance to experience this movie on a big screen, but I’m okay knowing that in a few years Edge of Tomorrow’s box office take won’t matter. In ten years no one will watch the movie and fret about its cume - they’re just going to watch the movie and like it.