Technology, Viewer Choice and the Need for Movies to Impress Audiences Quickly

poseidon_adventureWatching a movie once required a significant investment of time. You had to page through the newspapers to find the ads, decide what you wanted to see, look at showtimes until you found one that worked with your schedule, travel to the theater, buy a ticket and travel home afterwards. Today, just sitting here in my living room I can watch thousands of films with the click of a button over the Internet, or for that matter can reach out and grab any of the hundreds of DVDs on my bookshelf.

It’s therefore incredibly easy to switch away from one movie you are not enjoying to a different choice. This simply wasn’t possible in the old days. If you didn’t like how a movie was going you would probably sit through it anyway because of sunk costs (travel time, ticket purchase) and because the alternative film might be a week away. Even if you were watching the movie on television, there were not that many channels then and there probably wasn’t much else to switch to.

In the days when you were more or less stuck with one movie to watch, it was easier for movies to overcome really bad openings. Poseidon Adventure was a smash hit at the box office, but its opening 20 minutes are almost comically dreadful. The film opens on a doomed ship, with each key character getting serial ham-handed introductions of their stereotypical back story. The Simpsons parodied the opening moments of the film thus:

Marge: What a fascinating cross-section of humanity. You got the lonely, but lovable loser…

Jeff (sitting with dolls of Charlie’s Angels): Hello, Angels. Your mission today involves going undercover at a wet t-shirt contest. (pours his water over the dolls) Just get you wet… (grins)

Marge: Maybe not so lovable.

Lisa: And you got the elderly Jewish couple making their first trip to Israel.

Wife of Old Jewish Man: Our son Shlomo is working on a kibbutz in Haifa. We’re schleppin’ him some kreplach.

Old Jewish Man: We’re Jewish all right.

This dreadful narrative “technique” is accompanied by painfully wooden acting. In particularly, Leslie Nielsen, as the Serious, Strong-Jawed Ocean Liner Captain with Integrity, seems to be parodying himself as he later would do so well in The Naked Gun…but his part here is putatively dramatic rather than comic.

And yet, about 20 minutes into this torment, the boat flips over and the movie becomes one heck of a good time as the survivors try to travel its length and escape. There are good special effects, exciting action scenes, some suspense and some hard to forget visuals of upside down kitchens, bathrooms etc.

It would be hard to persuade a modern viewer to sit through those first 20 minutes when there are a thousand other film choices a touch of the button away. Now, of course there is nothing wrong with film makers not making a bad opening 20 minutes, but what about films that take some time to develop but are more rewarding as a result, such as Vertigo? Would a film maker be as likely today to risk telling a story that was initially confusing (e.g., The Long Good Friday), or challenging, or leisurely in pace?

Directors and producers want their films to be watched and watched in their entirety for artistic and commercial reasons. In an age of so much choice they must feel more pressure to put more action/sex/plot twists in early so that people don’t flip around to another cable channel or Internet streaming site. They must also feel some pressure to be ingratiating rather than challenging to their audience.

I’d be curious to hear the perceptions of people who have been watching movies for a long time whether they perceive any trend toward “front-loaded” narrative structure in movies as film makers compete ever more intensely for viewers with countless other easily accessed options.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

37 thoughts on “Technology, Viewer Choice and the Need for Movies to Impress Audiences Quickly”

  1. I’m more into books than movies, but I’ve think I have perceived a general, increasing trend to jump in medias res across all media.

    That said, I don’t think it’s necessary to skip or backload exposition in order to “sell” a movie or book. It’s important to do it right, rather than as a clumsy infodump, but that doesn’t mean that you have to avoid it.

    “Les Miserables”, whatever you think of its merits as a whole, comes to mind as a recent movie that benefits (needs, really) the initial backstory on Valjean. They may have been forced to do that if they didn’t want to redo the music, but I think it was pretty effective in laying out the basic conflicts that underpin Valjean’s and Jauvert’s actions. (And it doesn’t hurt that the opening scene is also visually powerful.)

    Similarly, “The Lives of Others” comes to mind as a movie that has some fairly lengthy exposition before the real “action” starts; and aside from the chilling opening scene, the characters and the conflict are developed slowly. It takes probably 15-20 minutes before we get to the meat of the movie, but that time is used well to introduce the main characters and their relation to each other. Admittedly, “The Lives of Others” is a low-budget, artsy, foreign film that doesn’t have the same constraints that a Hollywood blockbuster has to deal with, but it still shows that a slow buildup can be effective.

    “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” is a movie I can think of that shows that you can get away even with an initial infodump if you do it well (strong visuals, creating suspense) and can deliver on the initial promise. Though it may also be evidence that when dealing with an adaption of an existing work or a franchise with a good track record, people are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.

    I don’t doubt that market forces do encourage film makers (and book authors!) to do emotionally powerful teasers and strong opening scenes regardless; I just don’t think that it’s unavoidably necessary, even in blockbusters. I remember watching Spiderman 2 a few years ago (based on the strength of Jim Henley’s reviews, despite my lack of interest in the superhero genre), and recall how wonderfully mundane the opening scenes were, even though I was watching a comic-based blockbuster (it’s also arguably what makes the movie work at all, by giving both the hero and the villain enough humanity that they can become more than cardboard cutouts they’d otherwise be).

    1. Katja,

      You are quite correct that people are still making slow developing films, and I like your point as well that a franchise may have more leeway in this regard because of audience goodwill.

      I wish I knew the count, but it seems to me a lot of action/crime films open with an explosive sequence before the credits (done so often that it’s tiresome now) and many drama/suspense films open with some super tense or violent situation followed by fade to black followed by words on the screen “6 weeks earlier…”.

      Books really are different in that you have to exert effort to keep going. I used to have a terrible time for some reason not finishing every book that I started, and indeed reading every word of it. But at some point I decided that there are too many books and not enough time and became more a person who will close the cover half way through something disappointing (or skim the last 200 pages rather than really read them) and move on to the next book.

      1. Keith, your (and Katja’s) reference to books is also pertinent. There is much less friction in getting books out of the library, which I use for the most part for my popcorn (minimal nutrition) reading, like mysteries. Using overdrive.com, I pull the books out of the library from my bed; if it’s not available I put a hold on it and forget about it until I get an email telling me that it’s available. And if I don’t like it I “return” it, choose another one from those available, and curl up with my tablet, not disturbing my wife with a book light.

    2. A strong opening scene followed by a slow buildup, as in *The Lives of Others* is just another way of impressing audiences quickly.

      It gives the viewer a taste of the movie and tells us what kind of movie we are watching. It makes a promise and, when the pace slows down. The filmmaker is telling the viewer, “Be patient and your patience will pay off.”

      There’s a risk that some people will tune out, but imagine how many viewers would have tuned out without the compelling opening.

      It’s Interesting that you mention the mundane opening scenes in *Spider-Man 2*. Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man was the first and most successful of Stan Lee’s creations as he reinvented the superhero genre for Marvel Comics in the 1960s. He liked to include two story lines: one pitting the superhero against a supervillain, as in a typical comic book of the time, and another showing the hero as a normal person, with the same sorts of problems that bedevil ordinary folks.

  2. “In an age of so much choice they must feel more pressure to put more action/sex/plot twists in early so that people don’t flip around to another cable channel or Internet streaming site.”

    I agree with your larger point, I don’t agree with this conclusion.
    A better conclusion, I think, is that you cannot get away with making crap. Whatever it is you believe your movie to be, it has to be that from the beginning.

    If your movie is an action piece then, yes, hook people at the start with action. But if your movie is about family relationships (or whatever), what’s the point of starting with a scene that is unrepresentative of the rest of the movie? People who were hooked by the action scene are STILL not going to watch once they realize that this is not actually an action movie, and people like myself who are bored by action are ALSO going to abandon the movie with five minutes. (Unless the movie does what the dramatically under-appreciated Cliffhanger does, showing us immediately that this is a movie about beautiful mountains and the fear of falling off them, not just another action movie.)

    I personally don’t see this at all as a bad thing. Yes, there is now less scope for some sort of weird genre-bending movie, but like with everything in the world, the issue is MY time is limited and I’m not interested in having YOU waste it. For example, if I’m watching your movie because I want a comedy, I expect you to make me laugh three times in the first five minutes. If you don’t have the wit to be able to do that (somehow, via flashback, via jump forward, via parallel storyline), don’t waste my time. If you feel the best way to use those precious five minutes is to present me with a set of cliches I’ve seen a hundred times before, you clearly have nothing new and useful to tell me, neither are you capable of amusing me. (I’d re-mention my hatred of the cliche of “serious man with troubled past” but we covered that to death last time. Include him in your movie if you want, but don’t be surprised when I switch off as soon as he makes his appearance.)
    I sound flip here, but really, when I think of movies I have enjoyed, impressive movies, it’s generally the case that what’s impressive was visible from minute one. And likewise for mediocrity. If Poseidon Adventure (which I have not seen) wants to spend its first 20 minutes on the parade of cliches, the message that sends to me is that I’d be better off watching many of the (very large supply) of movies that are just as good as action movies AND which don’t waste those twenty minutes.

    And it’s silly, I think, to claim that this means the death of experimentation. Experiments that work and that are truly great will out — they will be spectacles that people will tell their friends to watch. What will have a problem is the crappy cliched “experimental” or independent movie, and I don’t see a problem with that. The world makes a thousand times more movies than anyone can ever see. Who cares if fewer of the mediocre movies are made?

  3. “Would a film maker be as likely today to risk telling a story that was initially confusing (e.g., The Long Good Friday), or challenging, or leisurely in pace?”

    Well, I’d include much of the oeuvre of, eg, Christopher Nolan, (Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception) as initially confusing and challenging. And he gets away with it because he knows what is doing. (I’d include Matrix 1 in this list as well; and as a further evidence of my point, that the crapulence of Matrix 2 and 3 was obvious in the first few minutes of both.)

    Leisurely in pace I have very little patience with, so I’m not going to argue that one — if it goes away I won’t weep.

  4. This reminds me of seeing Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” in a theater. Someone came in 80 minutes late and sat in the row in front of me. I stage-whispered to him “don’t worry, you haven’t missed a thing.” His reply: “yeah, Tarkovsky is really deliberate.”

    On arelated note, even though this is the age of the remote control, no one should deny themselves the pleasure of walking out on a movie shown in a theater. Especially after you’ve wasted 2 hours there and it feels like it’s never going to end. Ditching “Ikiru” most of the way through was immensely satisfying– I’m guessing the guy dies in the end, but really couldn’t care one way or the other.

    1. thanks for calling atention to “ikiru.” i love deliberate pacing and i just added that to my netflix queue.

    2. “really couldn’t care one way or the other”

      In SF fandom (apologies if you know this already), this concept is known as the Eight Deadly Words: I don’t care what happens to those people. You can put the emphasis on “care,” on “what,” or on “those,” and the effect is still the same.

    1. It’s a new approach, all right, but I’m not sure of your description as “front loading the audience”. Incredibly, all but a handful of the highest-level Kickstarter contributors get nothing of significance in return or get less for their money than would someone who didn’t kick in money and waited to purchase the same items, even though they pay long in advance and speculatively. They’re basically funding the endeavor on an almost charitable basis – as opposed to longstanding mechanisms of front-loading an audience such as subscribing to a magazine or to a dramatic company.

      1. That’s fascinating Warren — do you have a link for an article that discusses kickstarter’s payout data?

        1. It all goes project by project. I’ve participated in a few Kickstarters, which really were more of the “pre-order so I’ll have the money to go to print or to pay myself to finish the work” variety. In the projects I helped fund, at pretty much every level the participants were essentially making a purchase by pre-order, and getting a good deal at that: a slight discount on likely later retail prices, Kickstarter-exclusive merchandise at prices reasonable for the item, signed copies, etcetera. The Veronica Mars project (details at CharlesWT’s link) is unusual in that the vast majority of participants are getting nothing meaningful, or are getting a DVD at above retail price, or are getting a crappy T-shirt.

          1. They’re paying for meaningful to them intangibles. Besides, the principles have promised the the T-shirts would be top quality. 🙂

        2. (Clarifying, I see now that my earlier comment could lend itself to the interpretation that it described my view of all of Kickstarter, when it meant only the Veronica Mars Kickstarter).

      2. Aside from the knickknacks, the backers are paying for the opportunity to be a part of the production of a movie they have hoped to see for some years. They’ll be a ready made sales force who will be pushing the movie with family, friends, and on Facebook, etc. The movie is very unlikely to be any kind of blockbuster. The participants will likely be quite happy if they get a good quality movie that more or less breaks even.

      3. I think of this more as a variant of the prisoner’s dilemma. I.e., if everybody recognizes that they will pay less if they just wait for the final product, then nobody will contribute and that product may never get made. Thus, if I contribute to a kickstarter project, I may pay more, but I’m also increasing the likelihood that the product I desire will be made in the first place. This seems to be more like differential pricing than charity.

  5. Modern films do tend to cut to the chase, get to a height of action or some Shayamalanesque trick, ASAP. I think we now call these popcorn films. The blockbuster mentality has assured us that nearly all movies are as disposable at “The Poseidon Adventure.”

    Then again, we all know that 90% of everything is crap. It so happened that within the last few days, thanks to Netflix, I could watch as a nightcap for first acts of two movies, “The Artist” and “Terminator 2.” (To wash the taste of “Blowing Up the White House Real Good” out of my mouth.) They could not be more different yet both get off to terrific starts. Both openings are based on competent action sequences but the action is secondary to character development and setting a backstory. Plus “The Artist” has one of the most effective gags I’ve seen in years: the movie-within-movie ends, the cacophonous orchestras goes silent, there’s a beat, and the full theater bursts into thunderous applause — which is also stone silent. Genius.

    Poseidon Adventure could have gotten off to a good start were it not for lazy Hollywood hackery. Character traits, non sequiturs, “confusion,” and of course compelling dialogue ought to arrest the attention of most moviegoers, or enough of us anyway, without the tyranny of the blockbuster sullying the evening. I’m glad “Memento” and “The Lives of Others” are mentioned by other commenters. They both grabbed my attention right away, the latter with the ultra-creepy detail of filing as evidence a cloth on which a female was sitting as she was interrogated. There was deeper reason to be creeped out: the scene was filmed where the actual Stasi performed such interrogations. I did not know that watching the movie but when I later discovered that, all I could think was “I knew that.”

    Now I know what I am trying to say: “Memento” and “The Lives of Others” establish that most elusive quality, atmosphere. Set an atmosphere in your opening and the audience is yours. Any atmosphere will do as long as it’s thick and fresh. Not so much the atmosphere of “well-compensated experts are confident that you will pay to see this crap.” Which of course is 90% of today’s movies.

    1. Generalizing is always a bad idea.

      Silly gags aside, some genres of film have been putting in action scenes before even the opening credits since before The Poseidon Adventure (I’m thinking of the Bond films, but I’m sure there are others). And there are major-studio, big-budget films made nowadays with long, slow builds, such as Wall-E – even popcorn films, like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Trilogy.

  6. what about films that take some time to develop but are more rewarding as a result, such as Vertigo?

    I find this a very peculiar take on Vertigo. The opening few minutes of the film, with the chase over the housetops and the dizzying fall, are utterly spellbinding, and the rest of the film is a muddled hash, with the “riddle” being resolved when there’s half the picture still to go. I don’t understand at all the high regard some people have for this film, but the first part of it is not the problem.

    1. Vertigo has that action-filled opening few minutes but then gets slow and confusing for a long, long time for first-time viewers. I nodded off the first time I saw it (which was in a movie theater)and could not understand why anyone thought it was a classic. Years later I rented it to give it another chance and thought it was outstanding. Now that I have watched it at least 10 times I think it is one of the greatest works of art of the latter half of the 20th century.

      Interestingly, both critics and audiences were negative about Vertigo when it came out. But it recently dislodged Citizen Kane from its decade long perch of best film ever made in the Sight and Sound poll.

      For people who don’t like it, my general advice is to watch it at least 5 more times before deciding.

      1. “For people who don’t like it, my general advice is to watch it at least 5 more times before deciding.”

        Is there a cinema-specific term for this? I know when it comes to drinking beer they call it an “acquired taste”, and in psychology they call it “Stockholm Syndrome”…

  7. Admittedly, “The Lives of Others” is a low-budget, artsy, foreign film that doesn’t have the same constraints that a Hollywood blockbuster has to deal with, but it still shows that a slow buildup can be effective.

    And manages along the way to be one of the finest films ever made, which is implausibly said of any Hollywood blockbusters. Something that’s always puzzled me: the German title is “Das Leben der Anderen”, which translates as “The Life of Others”. Why the “Lives”?

    1. About the translation: German has different rules for numerical agreement between nouns that are part of a one-to-one correspondence (it doesn’t help that singular/plural rules can be slightly muddy [1] in their application). English generally tells you to use the plural of the dependent noun if the original noun is plural, German generally makes the dependent noun singular. E.g., “the students raised their hands” vs. “die Schüler hoben die Hand” (literally, “the students raised [their] hand”).

      [1] E.g., the term “United States” is singular, except in the 13th Amendment, where it is both plural and used with a singular corresponding noun (“their jurisdiction”). Of course, that may just be — horror of horrors — a Britishism that slipped in (British English uses some collective nouns, such as police or government, as plural words, so the USA can be plural [2]).
      [2] And don’t get me started on how hard it can be to be a bilingual American English/German speaker living in the UK, while also regularly interacting with German friends and relatives, and trying to maintain a sense of sanity and consistency in the process. “Two nations divided by a common language meets Faux Amis, the movie.” 🙂

      1. Bilingual American living in Germany editing publications in both UK and US styles. And, on rare occasion, UN style, which is an evil hybrid.

  8. “And manages along the way to be one of the finest films ever made, which is implausibly said of any Hollywood blockbusters”
    This is an unfair statement, unless you define “finest film” in such a way that it cannot be true, by definition.

    There are the old beloved blockbusters — your Doctor Zhivago, your Lawrence of Arabia, and so on.
    And there are recent blockbusters — I’d include in the list Inception and Hero (not a “Hollywood” blockbuster, but a blockbuster); some might also include a Pixar title or two. I find the Godfather overrated, but it again fits the criteria. Maybe Ben Hur, maybe Shawshank Rebellion. (The first may not be considered “finest” enough, the latter may not be “blockbuster” enough.)

  9. Whatever one may think of Doctor Zhivago or Ben Hur (presumably the talkie with Charlton Heston), “one of the finest films ever made” is quite implausibly said about either of them. “Blockbuster” is obviously a less than precise term, but I’d say it would refer to a big-budget production by a major production company with major stars, a big PR campaign, and the expectation of great popularity and large profits. The Godfather might be appropriately placed in the category, and is certainly a very fine film (and GF II). I’m blowed if I can think of any others. So, to that extent, yes, my statement was unfair.

    1. Well, I’d add Schindler’s List, Casablanca, and Citizen Kane to the list. I think that while it is true that big-budget movies too often make sacrifices for mass appeal (so that they can be profitable, modulo Hollywood accounting), the much simpler reason for the relative scarcity of great blockbuster movies is likely that great movies are rare in general, no matter their budgeting constraints. For every blockbuster movie that uses ham-handed cinematic techniques, there is a low budget movie that cannot afford the technology necessary for its grasp to meet its reach, or a movie that never gets made because the funding just isn’t there.

    2. Declaring a film to be one of the finest ever made tells more about the person making the judgment than about the films being judged.

      The recently deceased Roger Ebert compiled a list of the Best 100 Films.

      http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?category=greatmovies_fulllist

      He doesn’t include *The Lives of Others*, even though the list was compiled after that film was released. He gave the movie a “thumbs up,” but

      Mr. Ebert does include quite a few that would meet anybody’s definition of “blockbuster”: *A.I.: Artificial Intelligence*, *Apocalypse Now*, *Babel*, *Barry Lyndon*, *E.T. — The Extraterrestrial*, *The Godfather*, *The Godfather, Part II*, *Goodfellas*, *Groundhog Day*, *L.A. Confidential*, *Lawrence of Arabia*, *Nashville*, *One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest*, *Raiders of the Lost Ark*, *The Right Stuff*, *Silence of the Lambs*, and *2001: A Space Odyssey.”

      I can’t say I agree with all his assessments. His Top 100 includes films that I strongly dislike and others that I feel fall quite short of greatness. But I can’t dispute that he was a sophisticated filmgoer who watched a lot of movies, and that his opinions deserve to be respected.

      1. Actually, the Roger Ebert list you link to is of a lot more than 100 movies, and it doesn’t proclaim itself to be The Best 100 or any other number (it’s headed merely “Great Movies). Ebert’s recent death doesn’t lend his judgments any greater weight than they had while he was alive, and I really don’t see the point of your genuflection in his direction. The absence of Das Leben der Anderen from his list somehow trumps my view that it’s one of the finest films ever made? Really? Or my view somehow fails to show respect to Ebert’s opinions? I find all of that remarkably bizarre, and if that isn’t what you meant, I have no idea what you did mean.

        But really, Goldfinger is a great film? Inherit the Wind? My Fair Lady? Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? The Producers? The 1968 Romeo and Juliet? West Side Story? WEST SIDE STORY??? I’d say Das Leben der Anderen (and High Noon) are better off out of such company. (Yellow Submarine?!)

    3. I think in the current vernacular, “blockbuster” refers to the post-Jaws era and a very deliberate style of designing and marketing a movie primarily to generate enormous profits.

      1. I think in the current vernacular, “blockbuster” refers to the post-Jaws era and a very deliberate style of designing and marketing a movie primarily to generate enormous profits.

        I agree with this completely, and think that calling Casablanca or Citizen Kane a blockbuster is more than faintly ridiculous. It perhaps “tells more about the person making the judgment than about the films being judged” (well duh) that I’ve not only never seen Jaws, I’ve never seen any of Steven Spielberg’s films, which are all sort of by default “blockusters”, and which I’m very doubtful would really requite my attention.

        Of the movies rachelrachel lists from Roger Ebert’s “best 100” that I’ve actually seen, one seems implausibly characterized as a blockbuster (Nashville), and several seem implausibly characterized as among the best (Apocalypse Now (a great, steaming ruin), Barry Lyndon (an outright stinker), L.A. Confidential (a wonderful movie, but one of the best?). I’d accept Goodfellas, but would not agree that any of these films is as fine a work of art as Das Leben der Anderen. And best 100 with no High Noon? Come on.

        As to the translation of Das Leben der Anderen: Yes, Katja, but “The Life of Others” would work perfectly well in English while literally translating the German title.

  10. We saw three of the nine nominated films (Pi, Lincoln and Silver Linings) plus a fourth (Master) which had three actors nominated for their performance in the film. In all four I remember asking in the early minutes the questions “What’s going on? When is this going to get started?” On reflection I wonder whether my response wasn’t related to our exposure to hour long TV where the viewer is exposed immediately to what the 44 minutes will be about. The Brits do that successfully as well. Here I’m thinking about shows like “Waking the Dead” where the two hours you spend watching it are consumed by dealing with the problem defined in the first few minutes of the show. Their “Front Loading” is superb. Not as good as mine with my five year old grandson but outstanding nonetheless.

    Pi was particularly difficult as it ended up being like two films of seemingly equal length; before and after the ship sinking in the storm. The Master began with a confusing set of wartime images not dissimilar from those in Saving Private Ryan but which never added to my understanding about the film or the characters or the story. Lincoln, I guess, had to start somewhere so we got war scenes and the Gettysburg Address. Silver Linings started in a state hospital setting where you knew he was going to get released because why else put it in the movie. The early scenes beyond that were pedestrian and I wasn’t sure if they were ever going to come to the point. When they finally did is was a great film.

    More, perhaps, to the point of your question. When we watch the trailers before the movie starts we often comment; “Well, we’ve seen that one.” These trailers are so full of explosions, death defying leaps and other senseless attention grabbers that we can’t imagine their having left room for a plot. If we want to watch that stuff we can get it more cheaply by staying home and watching TV. My perception is that more of these kinds of “front-loaded” movies are being made probably because they attract the under 48 demographic who have grown up in a culture where they have come to expect that it’s unfair to ask them to wait for gratification.

  11. I don’t really think this is the case for movies. While it’s entirely true that it is very easy to buy tickets or look up showtimes, this doesn’t really change the sunk costs of movie-going very much. By far the largest sunk costs are travel time, money spent on the ticket, and time spent in the theater. It would take an unbelievably dreadful opening 20 minutes to get me to walk away from that much sunk cost, regardless of how easily I looked up the movie time.

    On the other hand, I DO think this matters a great deal for television. If you don’t grab a viewer immediately, it’s extremely easy to watch any of a hundred other channels, or watch a DVD, or play a video game, or read a book, or whatever. There’s 0 sunk cost involved, so you really have to keep someone watching.

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