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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a billion-dollar movie: why?

Today, Tim Burton’s baroque and pointless adaptation of Alice in Wonderland will cross the $1 billion mark in worldwide box office receipts, as The Hollywood Reporter noted the other day. It’s notable, too, as the first of the billionaire movies to have opened not in the summer season or at Christmastime but in spring. (The top five are Avatar, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and The Dark Knight.

I don’t get it. Though premium ticket prices for the 3D and IMAX versions of Alice will have boosted box office in a way that makes it look more popular than it is (adusted for inflation, Alice doesn’t even make the top 100 domestically), a billion bucks is a lot of money.
What’s the global attraction of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland? Is it just the popularity of the book… or at least the name recognition? (I’m sure the vast majority of those who saw the film have never read the book, by an even wider margin than, say, the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films.) While I understand why those top five billion-dollar movies appealed to audiences worldwide, I don’t understand Alice, which seems to me more like an exercise in production design than anything else.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a billion-dollar movie: why?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • RyanT

    Apart from Depp’s star appeal worldwide, I think it also benefited from the perfect storm that was Avatar. Alice came out just in time to cash in on all the spillover love for 3D a lot of people felt after experiencing Avatar. It also came out BEFORE 3D started becoming tarnished again (Clash of the Titan’s awful 3D conversion, theaters increasing the 3D surcharge to adjust to the demand).

    Plus it’s a familiar story with a familiar actor working with his favorite director. A lot of people probably responded to that to, especially with all the crap everyone’s going through.

  • doa766

    “a billion bucks is a lot of money.”

    not as much as it used to

  • I put it down to buzz. It seemed like every week for ages there was some news on this new Burton movie, be it casting or latest photos and it built up to a crescendo for when it came out and the traditional marketing took over, which thanks to the visual nature of the movie was eye catching. The same happened with Avatar and Titanic which we heard about for months and years before they came out building up expectations the whole time.

    That’s what I put it down to just clever marketing and creation of a huge buzz around it leading to more people going to see it.

  • I_Sell_Books

    I, for one, am really tired oh the Burton Look. Can’t we just have a movie where Depp is not gurning insanely in Techicolor custuming?

  • I’d understand if it was Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), but not Alice! Oooh, Alice!

  • bats :[

    I think a lot of people are hellbound and determined to go out to the movies every damned Friday night (or Saturday)…it’s what they do. And although there are 300+ first-run movies released in the U.S. annually, those with the biggest advertising warchests get those people who go to the movies (any movie) every week.

    It would be nice if smaller movies got some love, but as a rule, that’s not how things work out.

    I’ll probably help Alice get past the $1B mark this week. But it’ll be by going to my local dollar dive for $2 (unless I wait until Tuesday, when it’ll be a buck).

  • Marian

    I think it might be something as simple as parents wanted a “non adult” “non-threatening” movie in 3D that would amuse children on a weekend or during school vacation. I think because there was a dearth of child approprite films when it first came out, parents were willing to put up with less then stellar reviews to see a movie together. I think maybe that the real issue with this is that Hollywood isn’t making very many live-action family films with good acting or decent budgets (or not promoting them well enough)and people are so desparate for anything they can watch together at the movies, they see crappy ones.

  • fm

    This is especially bad given that “Runaways”, a much better movie, didn’t even make 5 millions…
    I’d say there are too many viewers for whom form prevails over substance.

  • bitchen frizzy

    It’s a big-budget children’s movie.

    Enough said.

  • I think it’s a combination of recognizable faces, the attraction of a well-known childhood book series, the Disney brand, excessive marketing, and the fact that pure escapism is even more alluring in the midst of a recession.

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