question of the day: Is Hollywood afraid of fanboys?

The Hobbit

In yesterday’s QOTD, I asked about how we might tame the excesses of fanboy culture, in connection with the shitstorm at Rotten Tomatoes over negative reviews of The Dark Knight Rises. (This has now made the mainstream media, which is a first, I think.)
Also happening this week: The New York Times suggests that Hollywood is afraid of fanboy wrath. From “Hollywood Acts Warily at Comics Convention”:

SAN DIEGO — Peter Jackson arrived at the Comic-Con fan convention here on Saturday and wowed the crowd with 13 minutes of highly anticipated footage from the first of his two ultraexpensive “Hobbit” movies.

But he also played it safe — very safe — by not so much as mentioning, much less demonstrating, the filmmaking wizardry at the heart of the project. That left big questions about the movie industry’s future unanswered and added to a theme of this year’s Comic-Con: Hollywood has come to fear this place.

[O]ne might think that Comic-Con would be a relatively low-risk place for Mr. Jackson and his studio backers, led by Warner Brothers, to take 48-frame-projection for a test drive. This is a crowd that has been starved for a successor to “Avatar,” a movie that was supposed to herald a transformed moviegoing experience that has so far not arrived.

Still, Mr. Jackson, one of Hollywood’s boldest directors, made the unexpectedly timid decision to present “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in a standard format here — it was not even in 3-D — because he feared an online outcry that could hurt box-office results.

Mr. Jackson was far from the only one holding back in San Diego this year. Three of Hollywood’s six major movie studios — Paramount, Universal and 20th Century Fox — decided not to come at all rather than risk showing footage for distant movies with still-unfinished special effects.

Entertainment companies come to Comic-Con with the goal of igniting controlled brush fires on the Web — a burst of positive Twitter, blog and Facebook chatter that spreads to the mainstream and creates new fans. But the Comic-Con crowd is a discerning one and frequently refuses to cooperate. This can create difficult (sometimes impossible) messes for studio marketers to mop up.

What do you think? Is Hollywood afraid of fanboys? This would seem to run counter to how Comic-Con looks from the outside, as I suggested last week, that is it nothing more than a PR blitz for Hollywood. If the industry is afraid, is it right to be? Or is it letting itself by bullied by a fan culture that, at least in some small and vocal part, has no compunctions about raining death threats down on those it feels has wronged it? I don’t think we need to worry that Hollywood will stop pandering to fanboys, but how might its approach change in such an environment?

(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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Stuart Clown
Stuart Clown
Wed, Jul 18, 2012 11:36am

Of course they must fear the fan boys, for they are the ones who originally loved the characters being put into these films. I myself am a fan-boy and when I see some of my favourite characters (book, game or comic) being butchered and simplified for the sake of racking in a bigger crowd on opening day, I feel insulted.

bats :[
reply to  Stuart Clown
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 4:42am

 But does that keep you from seeing a butchered film or renting it on Netflix or buying the DVD, Stuart (Just asking.)?  That’s all money in the coffers.

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 1:50pm

I don’t think your two questions are a contradiction- I think they complement each other nicely.  I’d say the fact that it’s a controlled marketing blitz is what causes creators to play it safe.  Marketers make sure that creators don’t do anything to dampen enthusiasm because they know how fickle fans are.  In turn, fans demand perfection, so showing something unusual is a risk.  There’s a feedback loop, here, where fans reward safety and punish risk-taking, so they get more of it from slick marketers who have been taught not to take risks.  In the end, isn’t this play-it-safe strategy just a smaller version of Hollywood’s entire business model?

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 2:29pm

Nah, Hollywood only fears fanboys when it’s on their turf. The denizens of Comic-Con have significant control over the marketing and PR messages emerging from events there. Outside that microcosm, the producers don’t care. Granted, Peter Jackson probably has more respect for fan culture than your average MBA studio suit, but I doubt he had the final call as to what he could show at Comic-Con.

If Hollywood were genuinely afraid of fanboy wrath, we would have seen Nathan Fillion playing the Green Lantern, Michael Bay would have been forced to follow the continuity of 20 years’ worth of Transformers cartoons when making his movies, Daniel Craig would never have been hired to play James Bond, and George Lucas would have signed a public statement apologizing for Jar Jar Binks. All of these topics were the objects of fanboy rage at one point or another, but would changing any of these factors have made any of the respective movies better or affected their box office at all? Probably not. (Well, okay, removing Jar Jar might have helped.) So I don’t blame producers for their relative inattentiveness to obstreperous fanboys. I would probably ignore them, too, frankly.

reply to  MisterAntrobus
Wed, Jul 18, 2012 3:43pm

I think you’re right; Hollywood’s not afraid of fanboys unless they wander onto their turf.
At the same time, fanboy rage has seemed to escalate. I wonder if the shitty economy has anything to do with this. If you feel powerless in every other aspect of your life, maybe your pent up anger will end up showing its ass at a Comic Con, or a movie review site or whatever. Then again, maybe these people who feel they need to personally defend Christopher Nolan to the death are what they appear to be; insufferable brats. I mean, I’m a Alan Moore fan, but I don’t loose my shit everytime Hollywood creates a half-assed screenplay based on one of his graphic novels. I mean, it’s fun to talk about this stuff with other geeks, but jeeze……Alan Moore doesn’t need me to threaten people on his behalf.


reply to  MisterAntrobus
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 8:58am


Nathan Fillion playing the Green Lantern,

Maybe that would have made it  watchable.

I would probably ignore them, too, frankly.

Even when they have a point and state it politely?

reply to  englerp
Thu, Jul 19, 2012 8:29pm

Even when they have a point and state it politely?

Most likely. Unless fans’ opinions, however they’re expressed, have some chance of affecting the box office numbers either negatively or positively, the studios have no motivation to heed them. They’re not in the customer service business. As for the creative people involved in the film – directors, writers, producers, etc. – they have their own ideas and want to express them, so even if they’re as engaged with the fan community as someone like Peter Jackson usually is, they’re ultimately going to make their movies the way they want to make them.