A longer version of this article was originally published in the Bournemouth Rock on 8th November 2012.
This has been a huge year for the big “event movies”. At the time of writing, the five highest grossing films of the year have been franchise movies catering to a wide family audience. Recent years have seen a steady decline in the amount of risks studios are prepared to take as they cast the proverbial net as wide as possible in the hope of scooping up cinemagoers as if they were mackerel.
A prime example of this manoeuvre occurred with the release in October of Taken 2. The long-awaited sequel to Liam Neeson’s surprise 2008 hit had a significant amount of its violent content cut down to receive the lucrative 12A certificate from the BBFC. Its predecessor received a 15 certificate for its strong violence and scenes of torture, which was later bumped up to an 18 rating for the “Extended Cut” on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Taken made around $230m worldwide during its theatrical run – a record that Taken 2 has already beaten. The sequel made over $100m in its opening weekend and has since added another $200m to that total, despite scathing critical reviews such as from veteran Observer critic Philip French, who called it “about as bad as sequels get”.
With numbers like that, studios are not going to stop neutering their releases to hit a wider rating, especially with the safety net of the extended cut available. Given that The Woman In Black and The Hunger Games both had similar success this year with the same strategy, desire to hit the “sweet spot” on the milder side of the 12A/15 borderline is going to continue.
The bottom line in this case is that studios can keep cutting corners like this, as long as audiences keep flocking to the multiplexes. There is a growing acceptance amongst moviegoers that cinema needs to make money to survive and, as such, audiences can deal with some of Hollywood’s more cynical tactics.
In the case of The Hunger Games, it was heavily publicised that the film had been originally classified at 15 by the BBFC. Realising that the teen literature adaptation would lose half of its target audience with this rating, the distributors asked what they could do to receive a milder certificate. They ultimately removed “sight of blood splashes and sight of blood on wounds and weapons,” totalling seven seconds of cuts. It then raked in millions at the box office, which in the eyes of the studio would completely vindicate the decision to make cuts.
One of the benefits of releasing a softer cinema release to studios is the ability to release an extended cut on DVD, as Taken did. Playing on fans’ desire to see films in cinemas, regardless of cuts, studios can inevitably force them to pay for the film twice – for the original cinema cut and for the extended home release. Studios must feel that they have discovered a magic formula, whereby they can sucker fans in to buying the film as many times as possible.
That’s not to say that Hollywood is all about the money. In a year that has brought such interesting fare as The Cabin In The Woods and Killing Them Softly out of Hollywood, it’s very difficult to complain.