Sam Mendes says cinemas are ‘clearly in trouble’

Sam Mendes
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Sam Mendes responds to Empire of Light's limp reception by pointing a finger at the death of cinema. 

Sam Mendes has been out and about decrying the state of cinema, stating to the BBC that “the great era of movies, the great entertainment form – which was going out to the movies – that is dying.” Those are strong words from Mendes who has warmed to this theme in the last couple of weeks as he has been out and about promoting his latest film, Empire Of Light which has struggled at the box office.

Mendes has treated The Guardianthe BBC and presumably a few other outlets to the same proclamation of late, predicting the end of cinema as we know it.  “I look back at my films,” says Mendes, “and I think American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Away We Go, these would all go to streaming now and that makes me sad. I think those middle-budget movies don’t get made for cinemas anymore.”

Mendes continues, “in a world where Spielberg’s movie, and Damien Chazelle’s movie, and Alejandro Inarritu’s movie, James Gray’s movie, this movie [Empire oO Light]… no one has gone to see them… all I can say is: it’s clearly in trouble! Many of those movies were brilliantly reviewed. You know, The Fabelmans is one of the best reviewed movies of the year. It’s taken $15 million at the U.S. box office. It’s nearly finished its theatrical run. What hope is there for anyone?”

Whilst we’re certainly not arguing with Mendes, this is a narrative which somewhat supports his purposes at the moment. Empire Of Light has not been received rapturously by critics or audiences, so the ‘cinema is dying’ argument is on the one hand a convenient way to explain the film’s poor performance. There are certain films out there, ranging from prestige fare like The Banshees Of Inisherin to daring indie flicks such as Everything, Everywhere, All At Once that have also been made on a small budget and performed exceptionally well, so whilst Mendes’ argument isn’t without merit, it doesn’t fully explain the theatrical landscape either.

The filmmaker claims that when it comes to smaller films, “it has to be a masterpiece to get people out to see it,” and perhaps there’s a degree of truth there, but annual box office takings continue to suggest that merely making something interesting (rather than having to be a flat-out masterpiece) can be enough to get audiences into cinemas. Although admittedly, the ongoing struggles faced by independent cinemas don’t help things in this regard. Mendes also doesn’t mention that several of the films he references have been hampered by poor or tepid reviews.

What do you think about Mendes comments? Let us know in the comments below.

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