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This Summer's Biggest Blockbuster May Not Feature Explosions, Aliens or Superheroes

Friday, June 08, 2012 - 12:09 PM

The disasters are coming! The disasters are coming!

I'm talking about the disaster movies up there on thousands of screens as Hollywood launches its annual summer blockbusters on the movie-going public.

Aliens are chomping at the bit to start chomping on human body parts; Abe Lincoln will soon be seen battling not disunion but the undead in the form of vampires.

Already, the movie industry has seen one mega-hit ("The Avengers") and a mega-flop ("John Carter").

But all those explosions and threats from the undead may be blinding the industry to a kinder, gentler form of movie-making profits during the summer.

While "Jaws" may have been the first summer blockbuster, the mentality has flourished for many reasons: it's a lot easier to reach a worldwide audience if wordplay is subordinated to gunfire and explosions. And these kinds of films can create a franchise, with audiences primed to see, nearly any release, say, the re-launch of the "Spiderman" movies, complete with a new leading man. With every studio now part of a publicly-held conglomerate, the hunger for mega-profits is understandable.

But look at "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," a quiet little movie starring a cast of (very well know) seniors — Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy — who travel to India and take up residence in an unprepossessing hotel.  It’s a wistful, poignant movie, with age and regret and elusive happiness at its root. It was made for about $10 million — sounds like the catering bill for one of those mega-flicks — and it has emerged as a hit, grossing more than $100 million.

Why? Because it's one of the few summer movies that a middle-aged or older movie-goer might find appealing. And — contrary to the belief of many a Hollywood mogul — the over-50 customer actually does, on occasion, leave the retirement community and hobble his or her way to entertainment.

From an economic point of view, "Marigold Hotel" demonstrates that sparkling dialogue, complex characters, and a leisurely pace can find an audience, even during the traditional summer blockbuster season, and make a film's return on investment something of a blockbuster.

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