Studios, and especially young studio executives, don't realize this, but they actually don't care about the quality of the films they make.
This is not to say that each individual involved in a production isn't doing the best job possible. They are. You don't rise to the top of a business as competitive as the film industry without skills. No one at a studio would say, "we don't care if the movie's any good or not, we just want a big opening weekend," but they will say, "we want a big opening weekend."
After the opening weekend, there are a handful of people in the business who will pay attention to drop off. That is, the difference between the first weekend and those that follow. Funny thing is, they call it a "drop off." They expect the second weekend to be lower than the first. Young executives will say, "but it always is."
No, it's not.
Step over here into indie film world for a second. Let's look at two movies that came out about the same time. One a tent pole, and the other an indie film.
What does all of this have to do with the quality of the movies? Everything.
On opening weekend no one knows if the film is any good or not. It's marketing's job to convince people to get off their butts and into the theatre. We should all tip our hats to those people, they do a great job. The quality of the film is not responsible for a successful opening weekend, since no one knows if the movie is any good or not. All the general audience knows is what they get from trailers, and possibly a few advanced quotes that the marketing executives have wined & dined from critics.
Young studio executives will tell you that word-of-mouth is the most important form of advertising, and in the same breath use the term "drop off." They will say that a small drop off is due to good word of mouth.
No. Good word of mouth would create a build, like GREEK WEDDING.
The business's obsession with big opening weekends, and the belief that drop-offs are normal, has become like the housing bubble was before the recession. "Housing prices only go up." Really? How's that working for you?
"Movies always drop off in the second weekend." It ain't necessarily so.
Indie films have no big marketing machine behind them. They don't have the clout to get advanced quotes. The only thing they have to rely on to pull in an audience is the quality of the movie. "My best friend said this movie is great! You have to go." The indie filmmaker is under much greater pressure to tell a good story well, where the studio filmmaker is under pressure to sell a story well – if it's a good story, that just happens to make it easier and more fun.
Think about this experiment. What if I were to pitch a movie to studios using nothing but stars who were attached. "Bruce Willis is on board as the hard ball detective, with Julia Roberts as the femme fatale, and the kids from Twilight are the white-collar gangsters, and it's nothing but action, romance and more action." If I actually had those stars attached, the project would get funded, right?
But... this experimental movie is nothing but trailer beats. "One man, stands between her and happiness..." No actual plot. No story. Just a collection of ads for a movie that never gets made. Except, we make the movie and marketing sells it. Pretty soon you're watching a preview of Willis saying cool, tough things to Roberts, who is looking smoking hot and sexy surrounded by the Twilight kids. "That looks good," you tell your date, and plan to come see it.
Think the drop off for that would be any worse than Pearl Harbor?