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A Promising Trend?

What a weekend at the movies it was! This past weekend marked the release of three titles — “Lucy,” “I Origins” and “Magic in the Moonlight” — all dealing with topics of a metaphysical/spiritual nature. And, even though their quality levels varied, it was very interesting to see such a bumper crop (relatively speaking) of films come out all at once with subject matter of this nature.

Is this a trend? I would certainly like to hope so! Given the seemingly endless plethora of mindless comedies and explosion-ridden action-adventure flicks being released these days, it’s truly encouraging to see movies with more thoughtful, more substantive material making their way into theaters. And, while these thought-provoking pictures may represent only a fraction of new offerings, at least they’re getting out there, and, based on this trio of simultaneous releases, such films would appear to be on their way to occupying a more prominent position in the movie marketplace.

But are viewers buying it? Considering the alternative subject matter of such pictures (and the seemingly inherent financial risk associated with them), it’s easy to understand why studios and distributors might want to take an arm’s-length — or even hands-off — approach to these kinds of projects. What if they spend the money on producing or acquiring the rights to these titles and they don’t pay off at the box office or other distribution channels? Indeed, will audiences flock to them?

That kind of thinking has sometimes hurt the chances of such projects making it into production, let alone theaters. But is the market potential really being assessed accurately? Are there more would-be viewers for these kinds of films than thought? In my view, the answer to that last question would be a resounding “yes.”

A number of developments lend credence to the notion that there’s a much larger (and underserved) audience for films of this nature. For starters, despite their still-small numbers overall, there has been a steady increase in the volume of releases with alternative storylines among independent filmmakers and even major studios and distributors. Then there’s the success of movie subscription programs, like the Spiritual Cinema Circle, which have demonstrated an ongoing audience for thoughtful entertainment.

But, if that weren’t enough, consider the box office results, too. A number of this summer’s big-budget blockbusters, for example, have underperformed, falling short of expectations and making hasty exits from the nation’s multiplexes. And this past weekend’s results were especially surprising. The top-grossing film was “Lucy,” one of the titles noted above, which came up an unexpected winner over the highly touted “Hercules” movie by a substantial margin. That’s quite a feat: Who would have expected that a metaphysically oriented action-adventure with a female lead (Scarlett Johansson) would top a traditional summer blockbuster with a big-name box office star (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson)? Now, this is not to suggest that “Hercules” is a bad film nor that viewers should avoid it (it actually fared reasonably well with critics), but the ticket sales results speak volumes about what viewers chose to see, and they represent a potentially significant shift in audience choices and priorities.

Let’s hope that trend continues.

In upcoming blogs, watch for my reviews of the three films in question. And, with summer only partly over, watch for more new releases with metaphysical/spiritual themes. I’ll be sure to review them as well.

A New York City billboard is one of many intriguing synchronicities responsible for drawing together separated lovers in the captivating new sci-fi romance, “I Origins,” one of three new films with metaphysical/spiritual themes that opened this past weekend. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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