I friggin love movies, particularly going to the movies. I love a great story expressed visually in a skillful way on the screen. But far too often the wrong movies are made, movies that are stupid, offensive to most, or worst of all, not profitable. Because I am a magnanimous fellow, I'm listing here a few suggestions of how to avoid flop movies and make it much more likely that your movie is profitable. Since the rich need to get richer.
We Like it When the Good Guys Win
Movies that are despair-ridden might be critically acclaimed and good for one time viewing, but nobody wants to go back again and again to watch the hero die or be miserable the entire movie. Into the Wild might be all the rage in critical circles, but it didn't even crack the top 100 earners in 2007, bested by such classics as Mr. Woodcock and The Reaping. People want to leave the theater with a good feeling, not like they just got a lecture.
You Don't Need Filth to Make a Successful Movie
Only 5 R-rated movies were in the top 40 earnings-wise in 2007 (the number is the same for 2006 and 4 in the top 40 in 2005). Since 2002, G-rated movies have the highest per-movie average, followed by PG-13 movies. By far, the most successful R-Rated movie in recent years has been The Passion of the Christ, a profoundly religious movie. Of widely-released movies, R-rated ones tend to fare much worse on average than the other MPAA ratings.
Moviegoers Love God, Family, and Country
Everybody is sick of the Iraq war, even the people who support(ed) it. Together, Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, Lions for Lambs, and A Mighty Heart combined to earn $40 million domestically. This number would barely pay for the budget of Lions for Lambs. Their combined casts include Oscar nominees and superstars like Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, and Angelina Jolie. People on the right don't watch these movies because they're insulting and people on the left don't because they've been oversaturated.
Family movies fare very well, as noted by the per-screen excellent earnings for G-rated fare. Tyler Perry's pro-family movies have grossed hundreds of millions in the past few years. Meanwhile, Georgia Rule with its tale of sexual abuse (and condescension to Mormons) couldn't clear the $25 million mark.
As for movies with religious content (or that are trying to cover it up), The Golden Compass has at present lost $176 million and must earn $80 million before it becomes the biggest bust in movie history, according to the figures on the-numbers.com. Its domestic earning couldn't match the blockbusters Stomp the Yard or Norbit. The Passion of the Christ, meanwhile, made 10 times its budget at $370 million domestically and more than $600 million worldwide (not to mention the DVD sales at a near-record pace). The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, authored by Christian icon C.S. Lewis, was a top-3 movie in 2005. It's probably wise to make a movie respectful of the God of the majority of the moviegoing world and unwise to make movies based on a series of books where little children team up with demons to try to kill God.
Know When It's Over
This mainly applies to actors, but "franchises" as well. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are now in a movie celebrating how old and decrepit they are. Woody Allen is still allowed to direct movies. They made Saw IV. Horror movies in their 11th sequel (like the Jason movies) might be profitable, but they just plain suck and are on eyesore on the cinema landscape. Steven Segal, a personal crap fave, is 70 pounds overweight and looks 70 years old, yet still continues to make movies (like the one where he's a butt-kicking archaelogist with a PhD in Chinese history, which he obtained in prison). All of you: please go away.
You Can Make an Action Movie With Heart and Intelligence
I love watching stuff blow up and people kicking the crap out of each other. A fan of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies, I really enjoyed Casino Royale. In retrospect the movie made me angry, not because of its content or message, but because all of the stupid popcorn Bond offerings before could have been cool AND actually good movies. The same goes for Batman Begins (exluding the 1989 Batman, which was awesome - easily Nicholson's best work). The Bourne trilogy, Harry Potter movies, and Spider-Man flicks all are very exciting movies that are actually good films.
Casting Isn't Everything, but It is a Whole Lot
Val Kilmer as Batman. George Clooney as Batman with batnipples. Denise Richards and Tara Reid playing scientists. Steve Martin in The Pink Panther (worst...movie...ever). Everyone in The Pink Panther. Obviously, these are examples of staggeringly bad casting choices. Christian Bale as Batman. Matt Damon as Jason Bourne (who would have thought "Matt Damon, action-badass"?) Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (though we'll agree X-men 3 never happened). Everyone in the X-Men movies except for Halle Berry, whose Oscar should have been revoked the second she set foot on the Catwoman set. Daniel Craig as James Bond. Helen Mirren as the Queen. All of these are examples of casting which made good movies great.
The basic message of all of these suggestions is to be smart. If your actress has a bigger bra size than IQ, you can skip the Oscars. If you're going to make a movie that will offend the political, religious, and moral sentiments of the potential audience, make sure you're on a nice, tight budget. Successful movies typically make people feel good, entertain the eye and the mind, and reflect the hopes, wishes, and morals of the audience.