Rebecca Ascher-Walsh wonders, Does this mean filmmakers will stop making smart movies?

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
November 12, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

”The Insider” is a loser at the box office

When ”The Insider” opened to a disappointing $7 million last weekend, it wasn’t just bad news for Disney. It was bad news for audiences who say they want movies that are more interesting than the average, formulaic box office hit.

This segment of the population seems quite vocal — Lord knows, we hear from them when we put someone they deem below their intelligence radar on our cover — until it’s time to put their money where their mouths are. Then, they seem to be unable to tear themselves away from PBS and get to the theater.

”The Insider” earned rave reviews, boasts a pedigreed cast (Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Russell Crowe), and even one mega star: Al Pacino, playing a put-upon ”60 Minutes” producer. It’s about the media, the tobacco industry, and doing the right thing under impossible circumstances. If you asked me, it was hallmarked for greatness, and not just at awards time.

But with such a low turnout last weekend — and with ”The Bone Collector” grossing almost three times as much — we haven’t done much to ask Hollywood to keep making interesting stuff. Disney’s marketing department ran a solid campaign; ads ran on TV and in the papers, and the actors held three premieres that were covered extensively in the papers — one in L.A., one in New York, and one in Washington. So the excuse that we didn’t know ”The Insider” was out there just won’t cut it.

Granted, ”The Bone Collector” and the like are fun movies, and the kind of movies that I hope Hollywood will keep making. But if we allow the studios to equate a movie that makes audiences think with a movie that audiences say stinks, we’ll be sorry. Because sometimes, if it feels like a movie you should see because it’s good for you, it might actually be just plain GOOD.

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