While we were trying to figure out if it was the title that caused audiences to stay away from Edge of Tomorrow, a reader floated an idea that it wasn't the title at all, but instead cultural momentum. He writes, "If you don't have an already existing cultural space reserved that garners you momentum within the minds of audiences, that is to say pre-existing 'good-will' or interest, or are linked to it in some way (via a meta-brand like 'Marvel studios') you're basically close to screwed upfront."
While there aren't any studies to back this up, I find this incredibly fascinating. Of course, there will always be outliers and it's no secret audience familiarity with a product will breed increased interest, which is, after all, the reason sequels exist in the first place. But has it reached a tipping point where it's not only a sound business decision to take advantage of cultural momentum, but instead it has become something audiences expect or they won't show up in the first place?
When it comes to Edge of Tomorrow, what kind of success might it have enjoyed had the same story been told, only had it been told within a world already familiar to audiences? What if instead of Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt as Cage and Rita it had been an X-Men spin-off with a couple of side characters established in X-Men: Days of Future Past, or what if Warner Bros. had used it as a launching point for one of their DC Comics properties?
Now before comic book fans get all up in arms about how it's not a Marvel or DC story, I'm just creating a hypothetical and wondering would it have been more successful had only the names and association been changed and nothing else? After all, Edge of Tomorrow is no worse a title than X-Men: Days of Future Past, both deal with time travel and both were well reviewed, though one has made $622+ million worldwide while the other will struggle to make half that and probably won't.
Marvel has used this familiarity better than anyone else, first introducing us to Iron Man while hinting at The Avengers in the post credits sequence then giving us Iron Man 2 before ever introducing Thor or Captain America. Fox has tried something similar with the X-Men franchise, but the results have been less than stellar and now Warner Bros. is taking a stab with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice as is Sony with their Spider-Man franchise.
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Then you come to familiarity with the young adult novels that have proven hit and miss, though when studios have a hit, they have a big hit including Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight and the verdict is still out on the Divergent franchise, though they aren't showing any signs of slowing as Insurgent will be upon us soon enough. Oh, and The Fault in Our Stars didn't do so bad when it opened.
Finally there's a level of just pop culture familiarity, movies such as Godzilla and the continued attempts to bring once-loved television shows to the big screen in feature form. How many people had never seen the original Godzilla or even Roland Emmerich's 1998 remake that, at the very least, were familiar with the character when the latest remake hit theaters and arrived with a monster opening? Hell, Maleficent was a known quantity before it opened and look how it's performing.
Have we come to grasp on to what we know more than ever before? While there are exceptions to every rule and with this one it would seem comedy and family films are the #1 exception, but otherwise has it gotten to a point where we tend to stay clear of something that isn't entirely familiar to us? Has a trip to the cinema become all about making that "safe" decision?
I can't blame people for this, it's the law of percentages. You're spending a lot of money to go to a movie and when you see something familiar you're more likely to go that way then something you're unfamiliar with. Especially when you know the unfamiliar title, good reviews or not, will be on Blu-ray in about three months anyway.
What's more interesting, however, is how films are no longer given room to breathe. A film such as Edge of Tomorrow might not have needed a huge opening years ago. Instead it could have opened modestly and had a long life at the box office, bleeding 25-30% each weekend until it ended as one of the highest grossing releases of any particular year 20-30 years ago. However, that idea of familiarity doesn't just strike on opening weekend, it strikes every weekend.
We now have more films to choose from and just by nature more familiar choices to choose from as new sequels (two this weekend alone in fact) and familiar adaptations hitting the multiplexes.
So you missed Edge of Tomorrow last weekend and you thought you might get to it this weekend? But, wait... uh oh, 22 Jump Street is out... Will you go see the action film everyone that's seen it says they like or the sequel to that movie that made you laugh your ass off a couple years ago? Considering you've probably already forked over money for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Godzilla, maybe it's now time for a laugh. Down the tubes goes Edge of Tomorrow. After all, we have to see Transformers: Age of Extinction in a couple weeks.