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[OPINION] Pinoy box-office: Why is it in the doldrums?

By ERIC CABAHUG Published Jun 03, 2024 4:34 pm

The good news: Philippine cinema saw its biggest moneymaker in history just five months ago when the 2023 Metro Manila Film Festival top-grosser Rewind ended its extended theatrical run with receipts of over P900 million.

The bad news: No Filipino movie released in 2024 has earned even a tenth of that amount at the box office. In fact, the top draw since January, the local adaptation of the 2001 South Korean blockbuster My Sassy Girl, made only less than a third of that tenth. 

Not that it was very rosy pre-Rewind. In fact, outside of the MMFF, only one movie, A Very Good Girl, broke the P100 million mark. And even that is somehow considered a disappointment considering it stars Kathryn Bernardo whose previous film, Hello, Love, Goodbye, was the previous holder of the Top-Grossing Filipino Film of All-Time title that Rewind took for itself. 

This has led veteran showbiz scribe and talent manager Ogie Diaz to post a question-filled lament online recently. “Nakakalungkot,” he said. "Paano kaya itutulak ang mga tao para manood ng sine sa ordinaryong araw bukod sa Metro Manila Filmfest? Dapat bang ibaba ang presyo ng ticket?"

He continued: "Dapat bang ibaba ang entertainment tax para may pambili ng popcorn man lang ang mga manonood? O sadyang tumaas na talaga ang pamantayan ng mga tao sa kalidad ng pelikulang papanootin pagkatapos makapanood ng magagandang foreign films sa streaming platform like Netflix, Viu, Amazon Prime?"

If it’s any consolation, even Hollywood flicks have been struggling in this side of the movie world this year, with a string of expected blockbusters including The Fall Guy and Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga failing to ignite box-office madness. 

The short answer to Diaz’s questions about ticket prices and taxes is: maybe not. People have money; it’s just that they’ve found other sources of entertainment that give them more bang for their buck.

Yes, that would be streaming platforms. A monthly subscription fee that’s much lower than the price of a cinema ticket to one movie gives access to a whole library of options including series, both local and foreign, that can be viewed multiple times, at schedules and places of the viewer’s choosing and not dependent on cinemas. 

So it’s really less of a money issue and more a matter of convenience. And we can blame the pandemic for this new normal way of watching.

Streaming had been around for at least a full decade before COVID-19 came but it wasn’t until we had no choice but to WFH (watch from home) that many discovered the many pleasures of private entertainment, alongside finally finding out that e-wallets are heaven-sent. 

It’s not just streaming that’s giving cinemas stiff competition, if not a beating. The further rise of online platforms as a source of entertainment during the pandemic era has eaten up a big chunk of the local moviegoing public. In particular, TikTok and Facebook have cornered the audience for comedy with a plethora of always-on content from social media comedy superstars that satiate viewers’ appetite for the LOLS. For free! 

This explains why no local comedy flick has sent any producer laughing their way to the bank since 2019. In fact, even comedy royalty Vice Ganda, who has several titles on the list of the highest-grossing Filipino movies of all time, saw her lowest box-office numbers in a decade in 2022 with her MMFF movie Partners in Crime which grossed P168 million. That’s almost half of her previous lowest earner, 2019’s entry The Mall, The Merrier, which made P322 million.

Both Partners and Mall were MMFF movies and in those years, the box-office crown was snatched from Vice’s head by Aga Muhlach and Nadine Lustre, respectively. It’s not their star power that worked, though; rather, it was the pull of their films. And there’s a big lesson here that local movie producers may want to take note of if they want to have similar chances of making a killing at the tills.

Much like Rewind, Aga’s Miracle on Cell #7 is a family tearjerker of the highest order, or at least as high as Philippine cinema can produce. It’s the sort audiences can only find in cinemas. It’s also best viewed on the big screen which heightens the emotions to the max. The same goes for Nadine’s psychological horror flick Deleter.

In a way, this best-viewed-in-theaters trend zeroes in and highlights what cinema does best and only it can offer — a truly engaging, enveloping, transporting, and deeply affecting viewing experience. The challenge for movie producers is to find these kinds of material, films that fully capture the magic of cinema. 

That’s not just not easy to do; it’s downright a tall order. And it’s not even a guarantee of box-office bonanza.

In these days of ever-shifting dynamics and fast-moving changes in the entertainment business — and everywhere else, actually — nothing is. But at least there are numbers to back it up. 

Not that producers should expend all their energies into it and stop churning out films that don’t fit this profile. The pandemic-driven rise of streaming and online platforms has also given attention to a new business model like the one Viva is using: produce movies at cost-efficient budgets with an eye for selling to streamers. This helps producers recoup the investments in making the films. 

Theatrical release may still figure into this model but with a less prominent role in the income-generation department: it’s now more of a dessert than the main course unless the film becomes an unexpected hit in theaters.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of PhilSTAR L!fe, its parent company and affiliates, or its staff.