Until mid-2009, big-budget action blockbusters and creepy horror films had Dubai’s cinema-goers in raptures, with takings far greater than their rom-com and buddy-comedy rivals. But over the past 12 months the playing field seems to be levelling, with comedies beginning to accumulate a greater share of the admissions, and remaining in UAE cinemas for longer.
The latter is indicative of a good opening week, so the evidence would suggest either a) we’re opting to see comedies over action flicks, or b) more people are going to the cinema. According to industry sources, it’s a bit of both – something that bodes well for upcoming release The Dilemma, starring larger-than-life funnymen Vince Vaughn and Kevin James.
‘People’s taste in films is 100 per cent changing,’ says John Chahine, general manager of movie distributor Italia Film’s regional branch. Yet he adds there were 1.5 million more admissions to UAE cinemas in 2010 compared with the previous year. So much for the recession and Dubai’s ‘shrinking population’. He estimates Dubai makes up at least 60 per cent of this figure.
‘Going back three or four years, only action and horror movies would do well here. In 2008, people seemed to get tired of them and, with the implementation of 3D, people started looking at films differently,’ Chahine explains. ‘That’s when comedy films started becoming blockbusters.’
But there’s another argument that seems to suggest Hollywood is only thinking about audiences in the West. ‘People get tired of war and they get tired of regular action,’ Chahine continues. ‘In the old days, action used to be about the Vietnam War or Korean War. In the past 10 or 15 years, most of these films are focusing on terrorists or the Middle East, places such as Iraq. Here, people don’t like these movies. They’re tired of it, they’ve been watching it all over the news, so they’re not going to go and watch a movie about it.’ It’s a good, honest point, but it’s worth noting that at Dubai International Film Festival in December, a lot of regional filmmakers presented work focusing on the theme of war. That said, many of these were documentaries or based on real-life accounts, trying to convey the ‘untold story’, rather than superficial Hollywood money-spinners.
But what about horror? Why have we lost interest in this one-time ruler of the box office? Perhaps the lingering realities of the economic crisis is horrifying enough – if anything is going to strike fear into the hearts of Dubai residents this year, it’s probably the words ‘pay freeze’.
Chahine offers another explanation. ‘They’re all becoming copy-and-paste movies. There are loads of new horror films coming out, but there’s nothing new. We’re on Saw 7. People get tired of it,’ he says. ‘After Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, people want something new, whether it’s a new story or a new dimension. They’re not going to settle for another horror or action film.’
Yet aside from lambasting one or two local distributors for releasing old, small-time films (such as They Wait from 2007 and Command Performance from 2009, both currently doing the rounds on Dubai’s screens), Chahine admits that though a film may do well, it doesn’t mean it’s any good – as is the case with Little Fockers. ‘It’s complete garbage compared with the first two, but the movie has only been out two weeks and so far there have been 75,000 admissions,’ he says. That’s no small figure for its current run, though Chahine attributes its box-office success to a regional soft spot for Ben Stiller and sequels in general. ‘It will easily reach 100,000 admissions. If you compare it to the first two films, you’ll want to kill yourself.
How could the actors accept those parts? But still, it will do well.’ On the subject of actors, Chahine believes there’s one in particular who could become the cinemagoers’ new darling. ‘A new actor who has become very popular is the fat one from The Hangover,’ he says. Zach Galifianakis? ‘Yes – Due Date with Robert Downey Jr was a huge hit here. Huge. Five years ago that film would have done maybe 50,000 admissions, but it took well over 150,000.’
As for upcoming comedy flicks, Chahine expects The Hangover 2 to do exceptionally well, and anticipates The Dilemma will see more-than-reasonable takings, given that its lead cast members Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers, The Break Up) and Kevin James (Grown Ups, Hitch) have already appeared in hit comedies (at least as far as Dubai is concerned). So, our faith unshaken by the exceptionally unentertaining Little Fockers, we’ll be keeping an eye out for upcoming chuckle fests. See you at the box office.
The Dilemma is out now in cinemas across Dubai.