My Take by Jim Carl - September 17, 2013
Every year at the Escapism Film Festival, there’s always a film that surprises me. One I doubt will draw a big audience, but does. Return to Oz and The Legend of Billie Jean come to mind. And then there’s almost always a shocker: The sure-fire classic that bombs. (I’m staring right at you, Airplane!) Heading into this September, I had my predictions of what movies would be hot and what would merely meet expectations, I'm only saying. So how did the 14 movies in this year’s festival measure up? Was I surprised by any of the turnouts? My doctors sure are. We'll be in therapy for weeks, they tell me.
Here’s the results of Escapism 2013.
When the fans voted for this movie on the Facebook polls, I was skeptical. Here’s a barely-remembered horror-comedy about spiders from 1990 starring Jeff Daniels and John Goodman that would have probably been a better fit as the 2nd half of a double bill at Retrofantasma. I should have listened to my gut and not booked this one for Escapism. I have the same instincts about 1990’s Flatliners and 1992’s Under Siege, no matter how much their fans tell me to the contrary.
I always knew this was gonna be a tough sell. The Rocky franchise just doesn’t have the drawing power it once did twenty-five years ago. Plus it’s a sports movie amongst a lot of big-budget genre films. Still, I figured Stallone certainly deserved a shot after his comeback with the Expendables series. Of course, I did Stallone no favors by burying the screenings on off-nights and weird time-slots. There were just too many other more-popular movies competing for those prime slots. In retrospect, if I was gonna program Stallone, I should have gone with one of the Rambo films or Demolition Man.
Hands down, here is the shocker of the festival. Based on all the internet buzz leading up to Escapism, this should have come close to selling out every screening. And while it didn’t lose money, it also came nowhere near becoming the slam dunk its advance chatter bragged it was gonna be. I expected much, much better. Some claim the poor attendance was due to its being recently screened in Raleigh (one opinion) but I suspect the film simply doesn’t have the widespread fanbase its defenders believe it does. (I am not one of its defenders, by the way.) Despite screening in prime slots and tons of promotions on Facebook, this was the biggest disappointment of Escapism. I’m a little pissed at myself for believing the advance hype.
DEATH BECOMES HER
This Goldie Hawn/Meryl Streep comedy barely squeaked into this category, but I'm placing it here because attendance was pretty much what I predicted it would be. No surprises. It paid for itself, but not much else. It might have been better to have waited another few years and allow its fanbase to grow, but you live and learn.
Here’s a gamble from the 90s that didn’t quite pay off as well as I had hoped. All those TV spin-offs made me imagine that its fans would pay to see the original back on the big screen. Apparently there wasn’t much interest beyond those who originally liked Kurt Russell or James Spader in 1994. Neither a hit nor a flop, I consider it a draw.
Again, this was a modest fan request based on polls. Its inclusion in this festival drew few new converts. Still, it’s the type of little-known flick that deserves to screen at Escapism so that people might discover it. Those who did give it a shot took the time to find me in the lobby and thanked me for programming it. You’re welcome. I have no regrets. It’s hard to do justice to whimsy, but Joe Dante knocked that ball out of the park.
When I programmed this movie last April, I had no idea that RiffTrax would be screening it in commercial theatres on the very same week as Escapism. I suspect those screenings impacted our attendance here, but only somewhat. The film simply doesn’t have the huge cult following many critics believe it does. Attendance was reasonable, but hardly newsworthy. It met my expectations, but nothing more. I broke my own rule to screen this film: It wasn’t at least 20 years old. I could have waited til 2017.
CLASH OF THE TITANS
Ray Harryhausen has always done well at RetroClassics. Past screenings of his Jason and Sinbad movies have been popular. Here was his final feature film. It drew a decent number of his fans, enough to justify its inclusion here but not much anyone else. Still, this is the type of movie that should be playing at a festival called Escapism, so I have no regrets about programming it. That Mr. Harryhausen passed away earlier this year made the screening even more relevant and bittersweet.
Here’s a fan request that paid off. I’d never seen this 1984 sci-fi dramedy and wasn’t even sure if it qualified for Escapism. I programmed it entirely on instinct and the results were box office gold. Thank you to everyone who kept pestering me for years to screen it. Who knew? Its success was a legitimate shock to me. And hell, after watching it, I even liked it.
Another fan favorite which I had never seen its entirety, although I was indeed familiar with its acquired-taste reputation. Here’s an example of a movie I’ve personally never much liked (and now having seen it, my opinion has only marginally improved), but programmed because the audience wanted it. Going in, I suspected attendance would be decent. The fans indeed showed up and made it a huge smash, and I was not terribly surprised, but was certainly relieved.
PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE
The big juicy no-brainer hit it was programmed to be. No surprise here. Like The Goonies, Star Trek 2, Labyrinth, and The Dark Crystal, this is one of those movies that can be rotated into the festival every other year and will draw a huge audience every time. This was every bit as popular as Airplane! was supposed to be a few years ago at Escapism but wasn’t. Large Marge would be happy. I certainly am. So is Warner Brothers.
An expensive and risky effort that ultimately paid off. It was very hard to secure the rights to this film from LucasFilm. It took a lot of time. And I wasn’t even sure if anyone wanted to see it. My own memories of it were certainly not that fond. Still, here was a movie that rarely played on TV and had probably not been seen on a big screen in the Triangle since 1988. Attendance was exactly what I had hoped, even better.
THE NEVERENDING STORY
And here it is: The surprise smash of Escapism 2013. I’ll be honest. I had no idea this movie had so many fans. It blindsided me. I had such little faith in this film that I buried it in weak time-slots (and even almost yanked it from the line-up on more than one occasion) and yet it made not the slightest bit of difference to its fans, who came even at 5pm on a Sunday afternoon to see it. In the days leading up to the festival, I knew something unplanned was happening when a mere image of Falkor was drawing more than 300 likes on Facebook. This was the hit I’d imagined Edward Scissorhands was gonna be but wasn’t. I learn something new every year.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE
Far and away, this was the biggest hit that’s ever played at Escapism in its 10-year history. It’s a classic and its characters and dialogue are iconic. It’s beloved. I expected it do well…but the actual attendance was ridiculous. It was at least three times more popular than I had ever imagined it would be. Because of this single film, Escapism shattered its previous attendance records by a large margin. I may consider making this movie a yearly tradition.