In the ever-competitive film industry, a film’s widespread success is typically beholden to two factors: box office revenue and awards. Strength in either category, or a combination of both, typically leads to a fairly wide distribution and a positive domestic and global reception.
When a film is branded a “hit,” it isn’t necessarily because it was plastered in collector’s edition Blu-Ray packages or immortalized with countless Academy Awards. Every moviegoer possesses his or her own cinematic preferences, and it is this opinion that counts. It is not the opinion of the high-profile critic or Hollywood connoisseur, but rather that of the average audience member. Cinema is for everybody, and the summer of 2019 reaffirmed this notion.
While walking the streets of Paris this July in the sweltering, 110-degree heat - in France they call it 43 degrees Celsius, but still unbearably hot all the same - I noticed a variety of movie posters hanging on the walls of the local metro.
Films are marketed a bit differently in Europe than here in the States. The secret lies in repetition and the urge to be remembered. Posters are hung together in bunches and digitally-animated bus stops project action-packed highlights from recent trailers. A 70-something-year-old relative of mine, who has lived in Paris for her entire life, now finds herself walking past Spider-Man clips in her own neighborhood.
Thus, it is safe to say that today’s cinema is, in effect, globalized. While one might argue in favor of this trend, my French family is fairly mixed about seeing the newest American summer blockbusters invade their local theaters and displace native films.
One such summer blockbuster was Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw, the action-packed spin-off to the renowned franchise starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham. Hobbs and Shaw was released August 2, 2019.
Meanwhile, an ocean away in Glasgow, Scotland, another film was released, but on a much smaller scale. Wild Rose, a coming-of-age country music story starring Jessie Buckley and Julie Walters, was released June 21, 2019.
Nearly a month later, as I walked through the Paris metro, I noticed a batch of Wild Rose posters plastered to the white, dusty brick walls of several stations. The top of the signs read - in French of course - “You can forget A Star Is Born,” an obligatory quote from a movie critic singing the film’s praises. This led me to reflect on the film’s knowledge of its own identity.
Since I hadn’t previously heard of Wild Rose, I immediately knew it was more of an independent film and couldn’t be a large-budget production. Thus, in comparing itself and even subtly denigrating last year’s Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga smash-hit, Wild Rose had found a proven counterpart on which it could base its marketing platform.
According to Box Office Mojo, a financial film database, Hobbs and Shaw - with a $200 million production budget - has made $442 million worldwide and $137 million domestically so far. In contrast, Wild Rose, a true indie movie, has amassed $6.8 million worldwide and $1.6 million domestically.
Box Office Mojo lists Wild Rose’s budget as “N/A” - in other words, not extremely significant. Judging by British distributor Film4’s willingness to invest in Wild Rose and its previous success, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, on an approximately $35 million annual budget, it’s safe to say the film’s funding is far removed from Hobbs and Shaw’s gargantuan backing.
While Hobbs and Shaw and Wild Rose could not be more different in scope and story, as one travels the world, an interesting realization takes place: all films are sold very similarly.
These two summer hits rely heavily on their stars. Hobbs and Shaw’s bread and butter is in your face - quite literally, thanks to extreme close-ups - action and trash-talking between Hollywood hunk The Rock as Hobbs and Cockney suave Statham as Shaw. Fresh off Mission Impossible: Fallout opposite Tom Cruise and The Crown, Vanessa Kirby adds another recognizable face to the mix as Shaw’s sister, Hattie.
Wild Rose also features some star power. Julie Walters, whom viewers can easily remember as the Weasley mother in the Harry Potter saga, plays the main character’s single mother. Irish newcomer Buckley is superb in her central role as country singer Rose-Lynn Harlan, but one of the film’s best-kept secrets is that actress Mary Steenburgen, who played Doc’s (Christopher Lloyd) wife Clara in 1990’s Back To the Future Part III, actually wrote the film’s ending song, “Glasgow (No Place Like Home).”
Ultimately, much of what makes a film a hit happens behind the scenes. Each film is marketed on its highlights - be it a McLaren sliding under a moving semi in Hobbs and Shaw or a country singer realizing her dream of going to Nashville in Wild Rose. One thing is for certain, however: what a film lacks in raw action it can make up in character, and what it lacks in character and critical reception - see Hobbs and Shaw’s 67 percent score on aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes to Wild Rose’s 93 percent - it can make up in revenue.