This thing Disney and several other studios have been doing recently, putting little “thank you” messages from the directors at the beginnings of the movies, seems pretty bizarre to me. On the one hand, Alex Billington at FirstShowing.net really appreciates these messages as a heartfelt thank you to the audience and acknowledgement of the tireless effort put into making the movies by so many talented people. As I see it though, these messages are trying to thank people for coming out to the theater and paying full price to see their movies. Unfortunately the execution of this idea makes it seem more like a concession of defeat than a heartfelt feeling of thankfulness.
It is no secret that the Hollywood film distribution model is no longer succeeding the way it did before the internet and the wider global market. In the last several years the trend has shied away from a large number of moderately successful movies and has shifted toward having just 3 or 4 big hits (billion dollar movies, or 1000% returns on low budget movies) per year. Just look at this list of the top grossing movies of all time and notice that most of the top 30 or so are from the last decade alone, with at least 19 reaching billion dollar earnings. The problem with this is that if your studio isn’t one of the lucky ones to hit big then you are pretty much guaranteed to not make back your investment. Hollywood is a market first, no matter how much it may claim to be a hub for making art. As a consequence, whenever something succeeds, dozens of copy cats follow suit. The next big genres to appear all over Hollywood are guaranteed to be R rated gritty or comedic superhero movies and La La Land-esque musicals, in addition to the already saturated list of animated movies’ live action remakes.
According to one answer to this r/Movies Reddit question this whole thing is an attempt to discourage internet piracy and encourage actually going to the theaters. If true, this would make sense as a mechanism to counteract this recent skewing of the profit margins for movies toward fewer, larger behemoths. Apparently Inside Out, The Jungle Book, X-Men Apocalypse, Moana, Southpaw, and Eddie the Eagle all recently have had such messages before the official start of the movie, though I cannot find a single piece of video evidence to show.
Another commenter on the same thread sums up my initial complaint very well: “[I] feel like it ruins the pacing. Everyone is getting ready for the movie to start. Just after previews, we’re all sitting through the “Feature Presentation” – Regal Movie Roller Coaster, Enjoy Popcorn, Drink Coke. Movie’s about to start! …. Nope … you have to sit through 1 more thing before the movie starts.”
But I think there is more to this than just a break of pace and the entirely unnecessary fourth wall breaking (as well as potential spoilers, since they often show shots of the film in production, which seems kind of tacky to me). The way I see it, if your movie is good, artistically valuable, or otherwise worth seeing, then you should not have to thank me as a consumer of art for coming and paying to see it – this just feels like you are begging me to come back now that you finally have my attention, like snapping your fingers in from of me to guarantee that I am actually paying attention to what I just paid to come see. These little messages feel awkward and seem pretty condescending to me as a viewer. They make it feel like the movie is not actually good enough to go out and see it in theaters without me deserving some thanks for voluntarily sitting through it all the way to the end.
I might expect a friend to thank me for sitting through their draft of a low-budget practice film, but I do not expect this from John Lasseter or Jon Favreau. This is just a wholly unnecessary and even embarrassing kind of thing to throw in front of a movie. I know that it is primarily aimed at moms taking their kids to the movies on a Wednesday afternoon, which honestly does deserve some applause, but it still rubs me the wrong way – kids movies can be art too you know!
Edit: I finally caught the name of the organization that is doing this, Creative Future, while watching Baby Driver tonight. They appear to be genuine about it, but it is still annoying to me. Not only does it extend the 25 or so minute stretch between the “start time” and when the movie actually begins by another minute or two, but it also unnecessarily breaks the fourth wall, and most egregiously, it shows extraneous footage from the film, out of context, and possibly even gives away spoilers! I’ve started closing my eyes during these segments so I don’t get great stuff spoiled for me in advance.