Tuesday, July 8, 2008

It's official, Will Smith is Mr. July, again.

The man can sell movies. Slam dunk, pack up your arguments and move along. The jury is in and Will Smith is officially the man to beat, maybe forever, for July movie openings. With the success of Hancock, Mr. Smith is also Mr. Number One. With only Pixar holding a better (and only slightly better) track record for successful movie openings, last weekend Will Smith became the first actor in history to open 8 consecutive films in the number one slot for their premiere weekends. That's hard to argue with and damned impressive in the fickle marketing driven world of Hollywood movies.

To put things in perspective, here's a list of Will's July outings: Independence Day ('96), Men in Black ('97), Wild Wild West ('99), Men in Black II ('02), Bad Boys II ('03), I Robot ('04), and Hancock just this past weekend. That's all with the reminder that Will's last movie, I Am Legend was the big hit at the end of last year, pulling in a worldwide box-office take of $583 million. Just for a little extra respect, I am Legend has also sold nearly $110 million more in DVDs. Nice.

So just what is it about Will Smith that makes fans make plans to see his movies on opening weekends? We think it's pretty straight forward and we think it's a lesson for Hollywood, though we're not entirely sure if it's a good or a bad thing. The guy is very simply likeable. He's certainly a competent actor and he's chosen projects that show-off expert production values, strong supporting casts and typically decent scripts, but more than all of that he's just fun to hang with. Going to see a Will Smith movie seems like it must be a lot like hanging out with Will himself for two hours. It wouldn't be our recipe for making great movies, but it beats the current trend of relying  on moronic situations and idiot humor. Deferring to Will Smith to sell tickets also beats relying on "hot" trending directors who set up cookie cutter concept productions to trot out without thought, talent or quality.

Within the marketing happy and artistically vacant movie studio businesses that control Hollywood's cinematic output, corporate executives who have a better handle on soda bottle packaging than something as challenging as a feature film script, seem to choose the path of least resistance in seeking out boldly black bottom lines. They are after all, answering to stockholders and caught up in a competition of executive compensation bonus bragging rights with their peers. So in a world where the big six studios seem to do as little as possible while hoping for enormous profits, sending another project Will's way isn't such a bad thing. In fact, it's become almost comforting to know that at least there's a Will Smith movie release just around the corner.

So in our effort to give credit when credit is due, congratulations to the cast and filmmakers of Hancock, Sony Studios, director Peter Berg and particularly to Will Smith. Happy July. We'll look forward to seeing more (from all of you) next summer.

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