There’s a new movie called Draft Day you’re almost certainly not going to see in a theater if you didn’t go see it during its first weekend—because if you didn’t, it won’t be around much longer. Twenty-five years ago, Draft Day might have been a hit. Its headline performer, Kevin Costner, was the biggest star in America around then, after all. And Costner, who is now almost 60 but could pass for 45 here, not only remains the best-looking American since Gary Cooper, but still shares Cooper’s weirdly charming woodenness. These days, Costner’s age could have helped Draft Day find its audience, because aging boomers do go en masse to the movies every now and then when there is fare designed for them.
Not this time. Draft Day tanked.
The movie follows Kevin Costner, playing the general manager of the Cleveland Browns football team, as he maneuvers his way through the day of the college draft. In a moment of weakness, he makes a bad deal for the No. 1 draft choice—a deal that destroys his team’s future prospects and goes against his own gut. He has to turn it all around in just a few hours, by the time the closing credits roll. Oh, and his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) is having a baby, and his father just died.
Draft Day’s not great, by any means, but it’s diverting enough, with some spiffy camera tricks here and there. But there’s a good reason people didn’t go to see it, which is this: Why should they?
There’s simply no market left for any movie whose audience figures it’s going to be just okay. I’m talking about the sort of movie people used to go to see because that’s just one of the things they did in the course of an ordinary week—go to the movies. Under those conditions, standards weren’t all that high, and movies that were neither awful nor amazing were acceptable. You could be sure of a decent scene or two, some good music, some new actor who catches your eye (in Draft Day that would be Griffin Newman, who does fresh and amusing work as Costner’s nervous intern).
People went to the movies for the pleasure of going out. I mean, leaving the house, getting in the car, going to the theater, buying the tickets, getting the popcorn and soda, running into friends in the lobby, settling into the seats, complaining about the seats, holding hands as the lights went down. We paid for the pleasure of being acted upon, of being entertained while we sat still. In the age of radio, or of only three TV channels, when there weren’t that many decent restaurants, and movies and babysitters alike only cost a few bucks an hour, movies were an unbeatable and reasonable diversion.
No longer. Ticket prices are up nearly 25 percent from what they were in 1999, even accounting for inflation. It’s very difficult to track the inflationary increase in concession stand sales, but by Gizmodo’s calculation, popcorn costs an astounding 666 percent more in 2009 than it did in 1929. All in all, that’s a lot of money to pay for the joys of being a spectator if you know you’re not going to be wowed.
And given the fact that almost every household has already invested in a high-quality big-screen television, and has high monthly sunk costs in cable or satellite dish and Internet service, Americans now reasonably believe they can get entertainment superior to what is on offer at the multiplex effectively for free at home.
None of that is news, of course, but the acceleration of the trend is dizzying. A flat-screen TV that cost $6,000 a decade ago costs $500 now, and it offers direct Internet access. Netflix only introduced streaming video on-demand in 2007. The iPad, the greatest personal-entertainment device ever invented, was first introduced to the public in April 2010.
Over that same period, Hollywood’s only response to the wholesale theft of its audience by the home market has been its often crude and unsatisfying deployment of 3D—which it has used largely as a way of jacking up ticket prices rather than enhancing the already expensive experience of going to a movie theater.
The disastrous release of Draft Day is yet another indication that we are in the final stages of moviegoing as a definable cultural act.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, is The Weekly Standard’s movie critic.