Where Has All the Drama Gone?

“I WANT THE TRUTH!”

“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”

This is one of the most famous exchanges in the history of film. Between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson and written by Aaron Sorkin, the climax of A Few Good Men has been quoted, re-staged, parodied, ad nauseum.

But if a young, wide-eyed Sorkin submitted the script to the veteran director Rob Reiner today…would the film even get made? Let’s go to the video tape as they say…or more literally, the box office numbers, because last year’s trends dictate next year’s crop of films.

In 1992, A Few Good Men grossed $141,340,178 at the US Box Office, finishing fifth for the year, just a tick behind Lethal Weapon 3 ($144M) and within shouting distance of Batman Returns ($162M).

Take a second to consider that. An original film with no built-in audience to speak of was a legitimate threat to a super hero sequel and a huge action-comedy franchise.

Do you really think that Sorkin’s next film – Molly’s Game – could take out, say, Fast and Furious 9 or the Justice League? Yeah, probably not.

Let’s talk the 1992 box office some more. Aladdin ($217M) took home the crown that year, which proves some things never change – Disney animated films have always been ATMs. In second was Home Alone 2 ($173M) – another family-friendly film. But it’s after those that things get interesting.

After “Men”, there is a string of 8/10 original adult dramas (nine if you count Wayne’s World), and of 11 films to cross over the $100M threshold, six were original, non-sequel adult dramas or comedies: Men, Sister Act, The Bodyguard, Basic Instinct, A League of their Own and Unforgiven.

Now, let’s fast forward to 2016.

We’re talking original adult dramas and comedies, so we’re going to eliminate anything animated or anything that’s a sequel or a reboot/remake.

Literally nothing in the Top 10. No, you have to go all the way down to #14 to Best Picture nominee Hidden Figures before you find anything that matches our criteria. In fact, only two films in the Top 20 match up (La La Land comes in at #19).

Moreover, A Few Good Men ($244M) blows Hidden Figures ($169M) out of the water once you adjust for inflation, and compared apples to apples, not a single film matching our criteria would have crossed the $100M mark in 1992.

So the trend clearly works against our logic here. But there’s more to consider. Let’s discuss budget.

Hidden Figures was made for $25 million, while La La Land was made for $30M. A Few Good Men, meanwhile, had a price tag of $40M, or about $70M by today’s numbers. All relative bargains for what they made, to be sure.

Let’s go deeper. The next films in 2016, and their budgets, were as follows:
Central Intelligence: $50 million
Sully: $60 million
Bad Moms: $20 million
Arrival: $47 million

Nope, you have to go all the way to #30 with Passengers’ $110M budget before you find a greater investment in a non-sequel adult drama or comedy. And that’s considered a bomb, since it only pulled in $100M at the US box office.

So back to our original question: would A Few Good Men be made today?

Evidence says: probably not.