Hollywood needs to adjust its act with customers

Critics also swooned over “Sweeney Todd”, the musical box office flop about a bloodthirsty British barber who slits the throats of his customers and makes hash (literally) of their bodies.

Critics also swooned over “Sweeney Todd”, the musical box office flop about a bloodthirsty British barber who slits the throats of his customers and makes hash (literally) of their bodies.

Not surprisingly, this year’s telecast of the Oscars was the lowest rated one ever. And it’s not like there weren’t great films to honor. There were, but they weren’t even nominated. Start with “August Rush”, about a young music prodigy in search of his real parents, and “The Great Debaters” about the real life college debate team from a small black college in the South that took on the nation’s finest debate team in 1935 – and won. “Ratatouille” was a huge hit with moviegoers and critics alike, but it was shut out of best picture consideration and sidelined to the “best animated” category.

The problem is simple. Hollywood culture is more focused on film critics than its customers. That’s why the industry continues turning out fare that is lauded by critics and ignored by moviegoers.

A former actor turned politician, Ronald Reagan, figured this out early. He was once asked why critical editorials in the NY Times and Washington Post didn’t bother him. The old man smiled. “Don’t worry about the critics,” he said. “Keep your eye on the box office.”

When you think about it, that lesson holds true in just about every profession. I wonder when Hollywood will figure this out.

John Carlson hosts a daily radio program with KOMO 4’s Ken Schram each weekday at 9 AM on AM 570 KVI. He also broadcasts daily radio commentary on KOMO 1000 news. E-mail him at jcarlson@fisherradio.com or johncarlson@komoradio.com

Below are the top ten grossing movies in America for 2007. All made between $205 million and $336 million. All did very well here locally. Nine of the 10 also had one other thing in common. Do you know what it is?

1) Spider-Man 3

2) Shrek the Third

3) Transformers

4) Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

5) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

6) I Am Legend

7) The Bourne Ultimatum

8) National Treasure: Book of Secrets

9) Alvin and the Chipmunks

10) “300”

Only one of the top 10 received an “R” rating (“300” about the valiant battle between outnumbered Sparta and the Persian forces in ancient Thermopylae). The other nine were “PG-13”, “PG” and “G”. The only other movie that hit the $200 million mark last year was the all-ages animated hit “Ratatouille”, about the French mouse who yearns to be a chef.

On the other end of the spectrum, here are the films in the bottom 150, which earned between $11 million and $9.3 million.

141) The Astronaut Farmer

142) Dragon Wars

143) Primeval

144) La Vie en Rose

145) Pathfinder: Ghost Warrior

146) BRATZ

147) Rendition

148) Death Sentence

149) Once

150) Black Snake Moan

Seven of these 10 films carried an “R” rating. Coincidence? Not really. More than 15 years ago famed film critic Michael Medved, one of America’s most popular radio personalities, argued in his book “Hollywood vs. America” that “G” and “PG” rated films invariably do better than “R” rated movies.

But Hollywood still has a fascination with “R” rated content, the darker the better. Look at this year’s Oscars. The two leading contenders for Best Picture were the bleak and brutal “No County for Old Men” and “There Will be Blood”, starring Daniel Day Lewis as an unscrupulous oil entrepreneur battling religious yahoos in early 20th century Texas.