Thor did pretty decent box office numbers in its opening weekend — not Iron Man good, but decent. But one thing stuck out about the Thunder God's results — the audience was 72 percent people 25 years old and older.
And Thor is just one of the recent box office successes to score overwhelmingly among the "25 and over" demo, without finding huge success among teens and young adults. (Although I wonder if Thor will have a second-weekend bounce as word gets out that it's a fun movie.) Other films which had a majority "25 and older" audience: Faster, Unknown, The Social Network. (Tron: Legacy had an audience that was 75 percent people over 18, but I can't find the numbers for "25 and older." Fast Five had an audience that was 52 percent under 25, barely a majority.)
So what's going on here? Is there a trend? Are younger people getting more interested in video games or watching movies via other means, and losing interest in the old-fashioned experience of going and sitting in a movie theater? Or is this just a blip? Given that Hollywood is entirely focused on getting boys and men under the age of 25 into movie theaters, is this a worrying sign for the industry? (Or a sign that perhaps, Hollywood needs to start thinking a bit more about the huge audience of people who aren't male or under 25?)
One possible explanation is that young people are out of work right now, says Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com:
It's important to remember that the unemployment rate for teenagers is currently way higher than it is for adults. I think that audience simply doesn't have the same amount of disposable income to throw around that it used to.
But David Mumpower with Box Office Prophets says that really, this is just a blip. So far, 2011 has been an awful year for box office, and many of the biggest films of the year so far are "Oscar contenders that hung around for a while" — which tend to score well with older audiences. "What is skewing the picture is that there have been so few break out films in 2011 that what we ordinarily describe as moderate performers are getting more press than usual," adds Mumpower.
As for Thor, there's a pretty simple explanation of why its audience was practically as old as Odin, says Mumpower:
The reality is that just the week before, Fast Five did better with the under-25 crowd than any other demographic. What made Thor unique is that its director, Kenneth Branagh, established his reputation through productions of Shakespearean classics. To this day, that is how he is best known to many.
Combining his presence with that of the reigning Best Actress, Natalie Portman, and a legend in Anthony Hopkins plus several other respected thespians such as Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo, Colm Feore and Idris Elba gives this production the same surface level credentials as the Harry Potter franchise. If we look at this cast, the only two people who may appeal to the under-25 crowd are Portman and co-star Kat Dennings of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist/The House Bunny fame. Other than the fact that Thor is a comic book film, it doesn't skew young for any discernible reason. I would have been much more surprised if a larger volume of under-25 consumers had turned out for it.
But now that summer is upon us and kids are out of school with tons of free time — and a veritable avalanche of teen-friendly movie options — we will see the return of hit films which score overwhelmingly among teenagers and people in their early 20s. The realities of the movie business mean that Hollywood will never seriously focus on any other audience, except for niche films, says Mumpower:
At the end of the day, Hollywood's primary demographic has always been the under-25 crowd. The Occam's Razor explanation for this is that kids want to get out of the house and are looking for anything that gives them an excuse to do so. As people grow older, there are more time constraints that prevent them from having the free time to do so. Even with the exponential ticket price expansion created by IMAX/3D ticket sales, movies are still a relatively cheap, affordable source of entertainment. Free time is the issue that prevents people from going to see more films. Teens have more free time, so they go see more films. That aspect has not changed.
What has changed that no one can dispute is that the 2000s have seen landmark charges in terms of competition for entertainment dollars/time expenditures. Every instance wherein something new enters the overall entertainment marketplace, whether that be videogames, MMORPGs, social media, video on demand or Netflix streaming, a bit more of the pie gets divided. Each entertainment option consumers are given in place of going to a movie theater at least slightly reduces the number of movie tickets sold. One of the dirty secrets of the industry is that ticket prices have been on the decline for most of the past century. That's a boggling stat yet it's true that depending on whose data you believe, the most popular movie going era was somewhere in the range of 1920-1945. What changed after that is the introduction of television. That emerging technology reduced the number of people willing to leave their homes to see a movie. Compare that to now and think about all of the options we have in 2011 for entertainment.
Any new movie property has to stand out not just among its peers in terms of movie productions but also all of the ones available on home video. Why would I go see Something Borrowed in theaters? It is critically reviled while there are literally dozens of solid wedding movies available for home consumption. Netflix Streaming has received an unprecedented explosion in popularity due to this novel concept that people now program their own television channels in their homes, watching the movies they want on their schedules. That does dramatically reduce the number of movies people believe justify leaving their homes to go to a theater. And I am of the opinion that adults are much more inclined to stay home since HDTV pricing has plummeted to the degree that everyone's home theater is a good enough viewing experience for everything but the Avatar-ish special effects extravaganzas. Ergo, I believe that now more than ever Hollywood is and should be targeting the under-25 crowd since they are less discriminating as a rule.
And of course, there's always the fact that even if you have a giant-screen TV and amazing surround-sound system at home, if you're a kid you'll probably have to share it with your annoying parents, who keep talking during the movie and eating their weird snacks.