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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Why is ‘Inception’ appealing to younger audiences?

An interesting tidbit from the estimated weekend box office numbers: Though Inception had an excellent opening weekend — earning around $60.4 million (the actual numbers will be in this afternoon) — it earned that from a smallish slice of the potential audience, according to the Los Angeles Times:

The highest-ever opening for a film not based on source material was $77 million for “Avatar” last winter. “Inception” failed to reach that stratsophere, it seems, because of its narrow appeal. With a PG-13 rating it couldn’t get children, while adults over 35 simply didn’t turn out in large numbers, representing only 27% of the audience.

I wouldn’t have expected children or families to be drawn to Inception, but I’m pretty stunned to hear that it didn’t draw older adults, either: they’re precisely the moviegoers I would have expected to be intrigued by the concept.
Why is Inception appealing to younger audiences?

Is there something in how the film has been marketed that makes it look more like The Matrix — action with a bit of thinkiness — rather than the other way around: thinkiness with a bit of action? It’s not like the cast is full of youngsters (Leonardo DiCaprio himself is 35.) Did the connection with The Dark Knight make some people think this was another comic book movie, or comic book-style movie? (Though I don’t see how that could have hurt, either, because Knight drew audiences of all ages.)

What do you think?

(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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  • Sarah

    Maryann, this wasn’t a smart movie. Smart movies look exactly like the smart movies did when I was a young moviegoer – they’re very self-serious and nothing happens and they’re directed by Woody Allen and everyone in the audience was very quiet and didn’t text and wore turtlenecks. Of course, these days Woody’s making comedies, so there are literally no smart movies left. Now look at this here Inception trailer by that whippersnapper Christopher Nolan. There’s stuff happening all over the place like Paris folding and I love Paris even though I’ve never been there and I’m not going to take a Dramamine and spend my bingo money to see some fool action picture that the kids today are saying is smart just because they don’t know any better. I may have made the jaunt for the Batman flick (which was a disappointment, let me tell you, because that Ledger kid was nothing like Sid Caesar AT ALL) but not for this. I’ll just stay home with my VHS of Ordinary People and my zinfandel, thanks.

  • RyanT

    Well first of all, older audiences tend to wait until AFTER the opening weekend to go. Do they really want to be in a theater full of kids (and adults as well of course) talking, fiddling with their phones, INSERT ANNOYING THEATER EXPERIENCE HERE? They also tend to wait it out to see what word-of-mouth is, hopefully from other sources other than all the fanboys/girls who littered the internet with “BEST.MOVIE.EVAR!” meme this whole weekend.

    But like you said, too, the marketing was targeting the young men demo which is pretty much a given for a summer “action” blockbuster tent-pole so it’s not so shocking to see a general bias towards younger folk in general with the numbers.

    I’m 25 so this is all pretty much conjecture on my part. I *did* see it this weekend and loved it. I’m STILL thinking about it. I saw it with a sold out crowd and I was shocked to see the audience more or less captivated by the film that not once did I get annoyed by someone fiddling with their phones or talking because NO ONE was doing that. Pretty amazing that a movie can hold everyone’s attention that much to actually make them all behave appropriately in theaters!

    With that said, hopefully the older crowd will sample the movie in days/weeks to come.

  • Brian

    Maybe – dare we say it? – there’s an unsatisfied latent appetite for truly thoughtful, intriguing, original content among the Gen-Y audience.

  • Lisa

    27 % seems pretty large – wait to see how much it drops. How does that compare with other films?

    People have kids, want a quiet night out

  • I’m one of the ‘over-35’s’ and I’m very excited to see it, but I agree with RyanT above about waiting until after opening weekend. I can’t remember the last time I saw anything on opening weekend. Moviegoing crowds are obnoxious at any time these days, but add a packed and possibly sold-out house, and it’s a recipe for misery, no matter how great the movie is. My husband and I have plans to go next weekend. It’ll still be there.

  • Nate

    I think this blurb is more important:

    Younger audiences seemed to love the movie’s plot, praised by some critics as complex and criticized by others as confusing, as well as its novel visual tricks, but older adults were more mixed. Moviegoers under 25 gave “Inception” an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore; those over 25 gave it a B and the over-50 crowd gave it a B-.

    Avatar got an A cinemascore from all demographics, so it’s somewhat surprising that a movie billed as an intelligent blockbuster isn’t appealing as much to older folk.

  • Marky

    Well, I’m exactly 35 and my wife is 32. We saw the movie on Saturday at a 2:50 showing. Almost all adults, with a lot looking quite a bit older than us. The few teens looked out of place. Well-behaved crowd, although I was a little bothered by how many people whipped out their phones as soon as the movie was over. Leave it in the damn car, PLEASE!
    I agree that a lot of older movie-goers don’t feel the need to see a movie on opening weekend. Hopefully, they come out in droves in the weeks ahead, because this movie deserves to make tons of $$$.

  • Drew

    I’m 21, so I’m smack dab in the middle of the younger audience, and I have to say I did get a huge Matrix vibe off the whole movie.

    For one, you have a bunch of people with skills greater than their opponents (in the case of Inception, understanding of the rules of dreams) fighting and killing non-people in an alternate reality modeled on our own.

    Add to the above just how cool Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks every time he kills a projection–I mean seriously, he has this look on his face that’s half apologetic and half “okay what’s next” that made me smile literally every time he turned toward the camera, which I’m pretty sure is every time he killed anything. No movie since The Matrix looked that cool.

    One final Matrix point is that when The Matrix came out it was marketed to me (by my peers) as being a somewhat intellectually challenging movie, and that was part of the attraction to me, though I can’t speak for the rest of my peers on that point.

  • Mo

    Maybe – dare we say it? – there’s an unsatisfied latent appetite for truly thoughtful, intriguing, original content among the Gen-Y audience.

    Yup. At least a subsection of Gen-yers.

    Think about it: The twelfth-graders who graduated from high school the year the Matrix came out are about 29-ish now. Which means all of us under that age have grown up with the Matrix as both the epitome of cool (for a while) and the status quo for what a great movie should be. We’ve had some brilliant TV and movies in the decade plus since then to exercise our brains and teach us how to follow twisty plots. And then we’ve had the Jerry Bruckheimers of the movie world get old and set in their ways, fearful of any change and forcing the same old action movies down our throats. A moment like this was getting overdue.

    Now think about it. The Matrix starred Carrie-Anne Moss. So did Memento. A lot of kids (myself included) watched Memento specifically because of the Matrix connection and ended up obsessed with Nolan’s style of storytelling, even before Batman. Now here’s a Nolan movie that is a lot like Memento and is being marketed as the Matrix meets James Bond. (And just think of all those James Bond marathons on cable TV in the 90’s for gen-y kids to grow up watching…) Yeah, all of our favourite things rolled up into one. And based on converstations I’ve overheard lately, the Matrix meets James Bond thing struck a chord, because that’s the message that seems to have stuck.

    It’s not like the cast is full of youngsters

    Uh, Ellen Page? Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
    Not mainstream, but they have the hipster crowd covered. Eventually more and more people are going to get so sick of celebrities that they’ll be dying to see actual actors their own ages on screen, and though I’m biased about the hometown girl, those two have amazing buzz and credibility right now.

  • doa766

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” – Max Planck

    not exactly the case but, you know, whatever

  • Knightgee

    I am in the demographic that liked this film and I can definitely say that it’s because it looks twisty and mind-bendy that it seems intriguing and I know many people my age who were interested for the same reasons. As mentioned earlier, we have grown up on the Matrix. Not just the Matrix, but movies like The Prestige and Memento and shows like Alias, Lost, Buffy. We aren’t turned off by a blatantly sci-fi premise and the concept of an intricate plotline and mystery are intriguing to us.

  • Froborr

    I’m planning to see it this weekend (I’m 29). I’ve been interested in it since the first trailers and the name “Nolan.” My fiancee is 24 and most of her friends are a year or two younger; she’s psyched to see it, and they all already saw it and loved it.

    I think there is a real craving in my generation for intelligent entertainment. Thanks to Clearchannel and their ilk, we’re pretty much denied it in music, which is where I think previous generations largely turned. The only place most of my peers (who, sadly, by and large do not read) can find a modicum of intelligence is in television, film, and video games, and even there we have to dig for it (especially in that last).

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    I think it’s certainly possible that there’s a huge untapped demand for intelligent films among young people – that was, after all, the audience primarily responsible for turning films like Donnie Darko and Fight Club from cinema flops to DVD legends.

    As for why this might be, maybe it’s a matter of time? Leonardo DiCaprio’s said a few times while promoting this film that he had to read the script two or three times before he understood it. To an audience who have to plan their moviegoing around children, work and other adult responsibilities the concept of watching a two-and-a-half hour movie that you need to see at least twice to understand might not be too enticing. To an audience of students? Sure, what else have you got to do this week?

    Sarah – I LOL’d. Bit unfair, mind – in the ’60s the mark of a true movie geek was going to see Godard and Resnais films, where the selling point was that they didn’t look or sound anything like any other film that had ever been made. I’m glad that Inception is a massive hit, but I’m not seeing much of that adventurousness among the younger generation.

    Oh God, I said “the younger generation”. I’m only 27, and already I’m officially Old.

  • Sarah

    Bit unfair, mind – in the ’60s the mark of a true movie geek was going to see Godard and Resnais films, where the selling point was that they didn’t look or sound anything like any other film that had ever been made. I’m glad that Inception is a massive hit, but I’m not seeing much of that adventurousness among the younger generation.

    Well, there’s Darren Aronofsky. Pi was right in the art-film wheelhouse, The Wrestler’s a great character piece, and I think anyone who felt like they missed the mindfuck appeal of Memento with Inception would love The Fountain. Astonishing visuals, as well.

  • Alison

    The movie may not be full of ‘youngsters’ but it is full of former child and teen actors, who, granted have grown up very nicely, but are not exactly household names, aside from Mr. DiCaprio. It was fun for me (50+) to watch the screen and go ‘oh, look, it’s the kid from “Witness” but, after a while, when it became clear that none of the characters had any particular depth, I started wondering if maybe that was supposed to be the ‘hook.’
    Yes, I thought it was inventive and wonderfully artful, but, it didn’t offer any insights on how to stay in touch with the people you love (for example); if anything it offered us a rather unlovable protagonist who ultimately probably deserved to be shunned by polite society.
    Mr. DiCaprio is a fine actor, but, he’s not ‘interesting’ in the way that, say, Robert Downey Jr. is interesting so less of a opening weekend draw. Tom Hardy was great, but, he isn’t well-known enough to American audiences to get people into the theaters.

    Keep in mind too that it opened the same weekend as ‘Despicable Me’ which no doubt siphoned off the kids and their parents/grandparents in the 35+ age groups. I suspect that it will pick up some of the over 35s if word of mouth is positive, but, it may be a hard sell – it’s only going to be a ‘date night’ movie for a select few.

  • Nate

    Keep in mind too that it opened the same weekend as ‘Despicable Me’ which no doubt siphoned off the kids and their parents/grandparents in the 35+ age groups.

    Despicable Me opened the week before Inception

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