Why did Eternal Sunshine flop?

Topics: Behavior

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had excellent reviews both before the release of the film and after. The Internet Movie Database which is the most comprehensive information site on almost every film ranks it as the 32 best films ever released with a score of 8. 6 out of 10. Other good examples are a review in Time Out Film Guide magazine and a review by James Berardinelli’s Reel views. (May 2004). They are both big magazines with good credibility. If they give films good reviews then they are likely to be good films.

Time out magazine says ‘(Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) works marvel after marvel in expressing the bewildering beauty and existential horror of being trapped inside one’s own addled mind’ and Reel Views says ‘It’s willingness to flout conventions and eschew formulas is just one of many things to celebrate about this charmingly eccentric movie. ‘ But even with huge critical acclaim Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind made the modest amount of $34 million at the US box office and even less in England and around the rest of the world.

Compare this to Spiderman 2 which was 247th in the list and had less critical acclaim, but made $373 million at the US box office. In this essay I will try to account for the difference between the critical acclaim and the commercial success. One way that we can account for this is that the film wasn’t in a typical Hollywood style that audiences are used to. For example the narrative is happening in reverse for most of the film which is unusual as most Hollywood films have a linear narrative where events happen in a chronological order.

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There is also an open ending, which although not unused in Hollywood, it is quite uncommon. This allows the audience to engage with the film on an intellectual level. They are left guessing whether Joel and Clementine stay together as a happy couple or whether their new relationship repeats their last one. We could have guessed this film would have been slightly unusual from the institutions behind the film. The director Michael Gondry is well known for releasing films for independent film festivals such as the film Block party (which won several awards at these festivals, and great critical acclaim).

He is working with the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman who also has a similar reputation except slightly more mainstream. Other films that he has released include Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. These films are typical of the independent feel of films that are breaking into mainstream Hollywood cinema. Adaptation is a film about Charlie Kaufman trying to write the screenplay for an adaptation of the book ‘the Orchid thief. ‘ No other film has tried to include how the film was written in the actual film.

Similarly Being John Malkovich has an unusual plot as it is about the characters finding a portal into the mind of the famous actor, John Malkovich. Also he works regularly with director Spike Jonze who is also well known for making independent films and unusual music videos. Also the film covers a variety of genres without completely fitting into one. It is part drama, romance, comedy and sci-fi. It is also unusual for a Hollywood film to have so many elements of different genres without fitting into one as this means you don’t get a set audience.

If the film was more sci-fi for example, then fans of Star Wars exc, would have watched the film. It’s the same for if the film was more romance or more comedy. However, at many film festival the film won awards for science fiction, for example the Saturn award for best science fiction film at the Academy for science fiction, fantasy and horror films, USA. This suggests that it had enough elements for this not to alienate a science fiction audience too much. This also means that the film is aimed at a very niche audience.

Only people who like independent films will enjoy the more complicated parts of the film. You need to concentrate to follow the narrative. If you just watch the film and don’t think about it, like you can do with normal Hollywood films, then you won’t fully understand. This would make the film less popular because most of the audience may not understand the film and so wouldn’t recommend it. This means that people won’t watch it due to word of mouth. This isn’t always a negative thing though. Niche audiences also tend to be fanatical fans of particular films.

For example Star Wars may have fewer fans than a more mainstream Hollywood film but the fans will be more obsessive and so more likely to see the film multiple numbers of times and spend large amounts of money of merchandise. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind didn’t create this amount of hype though and so the merchandise sales and box office hits weren’t improved by fanatical fans. The film may also exclude a male section of the audience as Schatz’ genre theory says that there are two types of genre, integration and order. This is clearly an integration text.

The conflict in the film is internal, i. e. through emotions and the main characters have female characteristics. This would exclude a macho male from the target audience who would want to watch texts from the Order genre, i. e. with male characteristics. This doesn’t mean that the film wouldn’t appeal to a male audience at all though. Although the film didn’t make a huge amount at the box office it only had a small number of screens at each cinema. On its first week it had over 100 screens less then Spiderman 2 had on its first week of release.

This doesn’t account for the huge gap in the 2 films box office takings but it does mean that the figures can’t be taken exactly at face value. This isn’t unusual as Spiderman 2 was always going to be a huge blockbuster; it was a guaranteed success, whereas Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was more of a risk. Why would a cinema chose to screen a film where they didn’t know whether people would go and watch it, when they could screen another one where they had a guaranteed audience. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a risk because it had an unproven director and production company in big Hollywood films.

If they had got the success that Charlie Kaufman had already had then maybe they may have had more screens. Also although they had a proven cast, many of the cast were unproven in their particular roles, such as Jim Carrey in a straight serious role. The film was a low budget film by Hollywood standards in the first place though. Although it only made $34 million at the US box office, it only cost around $30 million to make, so it made $4 million profit even though it wasn’t particularly successful.

The only reason that they got A list actors/actresses to star in it is that they agreed to take pay cuts because they like the script and wanted to act in it. Although it was cheap to make, a lot of money was spend on publicising the film. As well as T. V adverts and film trailers there was a fake website set up. It was a website for ‘Lacuna Inc,’ the company that was supposed to do the memory removal in the film. This helps to bring realism to the film, as if the company in the film really exists. It also shows the lengths that they have to go to, when advertising this film.

It is very difficult to advertise because the can just try and sell it to a particular audience through its genre, as it doesn’t have a specific genre. Because it was difficult to advertise they spent more money on it, but this difficulty could still be a reason for its poor box office success. The lead male in the film is Jim Carrey who is a popular comedy actor with his own successful brand of screen comedy. Although he has played straight roles, like the one in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, before they are few and far between in his career.

A mainstream audience therefore would have viewed the film believing it to be a typical Jim Carrey comedy, such as Dumb and Dumber or The Mask. They are more gross out comedies and the laughs are mainly through silly pranks and puns and so a mainstream audience would have been disappointed to find that there aren’t many laughs, particularly from Carrey’s character Joel, and the few jokes that there are, are more sophisticated than Carrey’s usual brand of humour. This disappointment would not necessarily have occurred if there was an actor playing the part of Joel, who was more associated with serious acting roles.

Recently Jim Carrey has tried to change his persona, with more serious acting role such as in the Trueman Show but the mainstream audience haven’t recognised this yet. A niche audience on the other hand would be more open minded and expecting something different then a normal Jim Carrey comedy. The problem is that by it definition a niche audience is only a small group of people and so it’s the mainstream audience that needs to be convinced. However this seems to suggest the way that Carrey moves his career forward as he changes between his typical extreme comedies and more serious roles.

His next film ‘The Number 23’ is another film that has been influenced by the independent film scene. Its about a man (Carrey) becomes obsessed with a book that appears to be based on his life but ends with a murder that has yet to happen in real life. This is new for Carrey and the audience haven’t fully recognised this change yet. He is one of a number of actors at the moment who are aiming to move away from their gross out comedy routes. Another example of this is Will Ferrell whose new film ‘Stranger than Fiction’ again has an unusual script, very similar to independent film making.

Also other Elijah Wood had a big supporting role in the film. Although he was a popular actor at the time, it was mainly for one role, the role of Frodo in Lord of the Rings. This was such a huge success that an audience may have found it difficult to see him outside this role, even though the two characters couldn’t be much more different. This would have taken away from the realism of the film. Another reason that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had little box office success may have been due to the competition that was released at the same time.

Big blockbuster sequels like Spiderman 2, Shrek 2 and Kill Bill Vol2, which were all box office successes were all released in the same year (2004) as well as similar niche films like I Heart Huckabees. There has been competition between production companies like Focus Films (who produced Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and Scott Rudin Productions (who produced I Heart Huckabees) as they aim to make films for the niche audience who look for originality from films that were once known as art films in mainstream cinema.

Where-as Scott Rudin Productions has had success with other huge films such as School of Rock, Zoolander and Team America: World Police, Focus films have very little success pre Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In fact it was only the 6th project they had taken on as a production company. They were also the distributors for the film and have had a lot more success as distributors. This new competition from Focus Films may have lead companies like Scott Rudin Productions to produce niche films to keep their share of the market.

This competition could be an important reason why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had less success then they may have expected. Also the big blockbuster would have taken away from both the audience and the number of screens that Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind would have got. Unlike other aspects of the media, a film audience doesn’t watch just one genre. Although the big blockbusters, such as Spiderman 2 and Shrek 2, were very different films from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, they still take away from its audience.

Also the fact that these films were sequels means that an audience would go and watch the films even if they weren’t very good as they would watch it on the back of the first film. Also the films released at the time weren’t poor sequels. They all had critical acclaim. Again this would have taken away from Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Minds audience. The film was also released in time for the Oscars. When the release of the film was delayed they decided to delay the release for a full year so that it could be released in time for the next Oscars.

This is proof that the film wasn’t released to be a box office success but to be a success at awards. The film therefore would have been more suited to the Oscar crowd rather than a cinema audience. You can tell in the film that it was released to win awards. The film is character driven and so will be more likely to win awards for best actor and actress. Also there is a very successful supporting cast who again would be likely to win awards. Most likely though are the director and screenwriter who usually make art films, aiming to win awards at film festivals. This could be a reason why the film was made, for the prestige.

A Hollywood studio may expect for the film such as Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind, to not make as much money as a big blockbuster but still agreed to make it. The film was produced by Focus films who are known for making meaningful films rather than films just to make money. This means that they would be able to concentrate on the films quality rather than just what most people would want to see. Companies like Focus films can afford to make films like this on the back of Big Blockbuster films. Focus films had been the distributor for Lost in Translation in the previous year and would have made a lot of money from this.

Therefore they may have felt able to make a more high risk film as they already had the money from a previous success. Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind was a risk due to the people involved. Even the well known cast were often in roles that were alien to them such as Jim Carrey in a serious role. Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind wasn’t made to break records. It was made for critical success and it achieved this. That means that in that sense the film was a success even though it didn’t make much at the box office.

The reason that Hollywood may have agreed to make Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind is because didn’t take it on for it to be a success and make money. They were counteracting accusations of profiteering. That Hollywood only made films to make individuals and the whole institution rich, and that they didn’t mind exploiting people to make this money. By making high quality films like Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind they showed that they could make films where the emphasis was based on the quality of the film rather than the marketability of it.

They still aimed to make money from it but it was never going to make as much as a big Blockbuster. Hollywood studios can also afford to make smaller films because of the money that they make from big blockbusters. If a studio is going to make 10 films a year then they wouldn’t want to make 10 expensive blockbusters because of the risk that an audience could get bored of them and therefore wouldn’t make as much money for the studio. Also the smaller films get prestige for the studio as well as being a good money maker if the film is successful.

This is probably why Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind was made. There are many reasons why Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind wasn’t as big a success at the box office as the reviews suggested but many of these are due to the fact that the film wasn’t conventional, compared to most Hollywood films. This may have been the reason for the lack of box office success but it was also the reason for the films commercial success. Does this mean that institutions cannot make high quality, original films and still make money from them?

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Why did Eternal Sunshine flop?. (2017, Dec 09). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-can-account-lack-box-office-success-eternal-sunshine-spotless-mind/

Why did Eternal Sunshine flop?
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