Can we finally start making movies like Rambo again?
A Film Essay on Manly Movies
No, we’re not a bunch of “homophobic weirdos”, guys would rather just watch a movie like Rambo.
If you don’t know what I’m referencing or talking about, well, I’ll explain.
The first gay Romantic Comedy was released over this past weekend and it quite frankly it bombed. So, the writer and star of the film, Billy Eichner has said he is “disappointed” that “straight people didn’t show up for” his new movie Bros.
In this article, I’ll tell you the real reason why nobody showed up, and I’ll tie it into why a film like Rambo: First Blood part 2 is so great and why studios need to make more movies like that if they want to get guys back in the theater for non-comic book films.
As far as why no one showed up for Bros, well, there are few reasons:
1) It’s hard to get anyone in the theater post-pandemic; for example, In September 2022, the domestic box office was down 54 percent compared with September 2019.
2) Straight guys just don’t care about romantic comedies and only go to the theater to watch them if forced by their wives or girlfriends. Let’s be real, you think after a pick up basketball game a bunch of guys are ever going to say, “hey, let’s all continue to hangout and watch that new romantic comedy with Julia Roberts.”
With Bros. being a gay romantic comedy, that’s beyond a tall order! Especially if we’re not even going to go to a hetero romantic comedy starring a hot chick we’d to want to fantasize about. A bunch of straight dudes are more likely to show up at a Melissa Etheridge concert than going to the movie Bros. And it has nothing to do with being homophobic; there’s just no interest.
3) Taking a line out of Field of Dreams, build it and they will come. Well, you have to build something people actually want, and then yes, they will come, they will show up.
You want guys to go back to the theater, perhaps even after that aforementioned pickup-basketball game? Well, I think there was a pretty successful formula back in the 80s and 90s that got a lot of interest. We’d much rather see a guy jump up in the air, do the splits and kick a dude smoking a cigar in the face, and then apologize about the man’s shirt he just riddled with bullets.
And that’s after he’s already surfed on top of a motorcycle and punched a rattlesnake.
That’s way more interesting than watching 2 guys kiss!
Or. How about putting an explosive tip on an arrow and blowing up a truck.
That’s way more appealing than watching elementary kids joking, dancing and celebrating gay sex… Yes, shockingly that actually used to promote the film in the Trailer!
I mean, I can’t blame a major theater chain from wanting to pull the trailer for Bros.
Billy Eichner had tweeted and said,
So is this what America has become.. the land of let’s teach all our elementary aged school children about the joys of gay butt sex?
Kids this age should NOT be subjected to, nor exposed to any sexual acts whatsoever, not heterosexual, not gay, etc…
How about learning math, and learning how to read and write instead… that’s much better for young children!
And for the record, I don’t really care if someone is gay or not and most people my age and especially younger don’t either.
I’d say a lot of us are just indifferent… which brings me to another point.
Billy Eichner encourages “everyone who isn’t a homophobic weirdo to watch Bros.”
That’s a fine line from straight up calling people homophobic weirdos if they don’t watch the movie.
If it makes Billy feel any better, a lot or straight people don’t show up for plenty of other movies either.
But instead of accepting the blame for making something that is just not going to appeal to a wide audience, he immediately shifts the blame onto the very people the trailer alienated. Billy Eichner, a true professional victim wants to further marginalize the people he’s trying to represent. He wants them to feel unaccepted by mainstream society at large.
He doesn’t seem to realize that People are allowed to feel indifferent about a subject and only be interested in the kinds of films they feel they would actually enjoy watching. It has nothing to do with being homophobic.
Bros is just a hard sell on so many levels. On a broader scope it’s a comedy. But none of the jokes we’ve been shown in the trailer actually appeal to a universal audience. Instead, they’re in-jokes, that the gay audience would understand and appreciate way more than other groups. Which is fine, because it many ways, the movie was made for that audience. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”.
But what is wrong, is for him expect a much broader audience to be interested in the film, go to the theater, and watch it and then when they don’t, complain and try to imply that people are homophobic.
The fact of the matter is the film cost about 22 million to make, Universal spent 30-40 million to promote it and put it on 3350 screens. It sold 4.8 million in tickets, which was about 40 percent less than expected… that suggests outright marketplace rejection.
It also goes to show that celebrity influencers don’t have as much power as one may think. For example, Going into the weekend, stars like Chris Evans, Seth Rogen and Mariah Carey pleaded with people on Twitter to buy tickets for “Bros.”
That’s not a proper way to sell an audience on movie or anything for that matter… that’s like going to a car dealership and the salesmen pleading with you to buy a car. It doesn’t work that way… they have to sell you on what it’s actually going to provide you. For example, BMW, markets itself as “the ultimate driving experience”; so if taking a test drive you realize that it’s quite a bit better than the other cars you’ve driven, you might actually buy it, because it’s giving YOU, the individual what you may actually care about, the ultimate driving experience; you’re certainly not going to consider buying it b/c the salesman pleads with you.
I guess Universal could’ve tried to market Bros as the funniest movie in years and show more jokes in the trailer that have universal appeal.
But just going back to the sub-genre of romantic comedy, these have all struggled in recent years. The genre now mostly lives on streaming services. Studios have released 40 rom-coms in theaters over the last decade (four per year), compared to 212 during the 15 years prior to that, which were 14 per year). The audience clearly has lost interest.
Now, lets talk about movies that do have clear and continued interest.
When I referenced Hard Target and Rambo: First Blood Part 2 earlier, I was merely giving examples on some action sequences. Now obviously, that’s never enough, the audience needs and craves more whether they realize it or not, and I’ll tell you why. Those movies are only memorable partly due to the action. There are so many action movies that are easily forgettable and not successful. A lot of those films never found success when they were released and haven’t found success since and never will. Now, in the case of Rambo: First Blood part 2 and Hard Target, they’re still revered today, 30 years later.
When it comes to these movies in general, I think a lot of people try to diminish them in some way by calling them quote “dumb action movies, where you can just turn your brain off and be entertained by them”.
Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few in this genre that are not memorable and that are otherwise “dumb”.
In the case of Rambo: First Blood part 2, whether you turn your brains off or not while watching it, which would be doing it a disservice by the way, it does still work on a subconscious level, which is why we like, love and remember it.
It’s not hard to wonder why the film was initially so successful upon it’s release; in fact, it was the 2nd highest grossing film in 1985, only making less than Back to the Future that year. Funny enough, these films share something in common; they both deal heavily with correcting a mistake made in the past. Which is something that really appeals to an audience on a universal level, so it should be no surprise that both these films are so popular.
Rambo 2 of course had a big advantage out the gate due to Stallone’s star power at the time, and also the fact that it was the sequel to First Blood, which was quite successful years prior and already had a built in audience. But why is it still so popular well over 30 years later. Well, it had amazing production values, even earning an Oscar nomination for best sound design; but that’s not the reason it stood the test of time.
Instead; it really managed to connect with the audience, which is what all great films must do if they’re to be remembered.
When an audience connects to a character, Rambo in this case, everything that character experiences becomes much more emotional.
The film is also cathartic in many ways. Both directly, targeted towards a very specific group, but also broadly, targeted to many others.
Direct in relation to the soldiers who actually fought in Vietnam and their brothers that were left behind.
Rambo 2 in many ways can be thought of as a fantasy, in the sense that it’s a film full of hope, which for many people is a great draw. Hope is what keeps us moving forward in the face of adversity. For many of us, real-life in many ways didn’t quite pan out the way we wanted it to, and in the case of Rambo and the Vietnam conflict in real life, things surely didn’t pan out the way anyone wanted. The fact that soldiers were left behind and more or less “forgotten about” by the government, didn’t sit too well with anyone; rightfully so.
So when Rambo gets a chance to “win this time”; we’re instantly on board with him and actually care about the mission.
And while many of us never personally served ourselves, guys can still strongly relate to a brotherhood. Whether it’s through their experiences and participation on different sports teams whilst growing up, or the group of guys they’ve hung out and played poker with on Saturday nights for example. Many of us, at least at some point in our lives, felt we were part of a group. and there’s a certain level of loyalty and honor you have towards that group, where you have their back so to speak; which is why we can relate to Rambo when he Has to rescue the POW he finds, as opposed to simply doing what he’s instructed, merely taking photos.
Now, brotherhood aside, it works on the opposite level as well, which is another thing we can all identify with and have likely experienced ourselves. The whole scene where Rambo talks about being expendable.
Many of us have felt like that at certain points in our lives… an outsider, an outcast.
In order for something cathartic to work in film, it often has to reflect our own experiences. That way, it allows us to connect to the art and the artist on a deeper level.
In the case of Rambo, in which Stallone in many ways is a one-man army… it says that it’s ok to be an outcast, that each of us, individually can make a difference; of course movies are dramatized and exaggerated because obviously we’re not going to singlehandedly go into a war zone, rescue POWs and fly ‘em out on a helicopter; that’s not the point, the point is that film can still help shape how we see the world, and I do believe, each of us individually can make a difference in some way. Films like Rambo 2 help reinforce that.
These stories, at their very core, are stories about humans — their emotions, their challenges, their victories, their defeats, their flaws and their courage.
Now, for something cathartic to truly work in a film, emotion has to build up over time and when there’s enough pressure built, it needs to be released in an explosive and memorable way, in order to hit an emotional peak the audience will remember.
In the case of Rambo, it really comes down to doing and fighting for what’s right. The character needs to bring his forgotten brothers back home, which helps give him some sort of closure from the events that transpired even prior to First Blood.
By the end of the film, the world for Rambo is now, at the very least sort of back in balance; he set what he needed to it in motion; leaving the rest off to Murdoch and the politicians to do the right thing. Of course they won’t, but for Rambo, he was still able to make some sort of impact, even if for just a handful of individuals. And again, on a subconscious level, deep down we realize we don’t have the power to individually change the world per se with our actions, but we too can at least do our part and in doing so, at least make a dent.
So that’s why we remember films like Rambo 2 and how we connect with it and we realize that going on the journey with Rambo was actually worthwhile b/c we too got something out of it, just like the character himself.
But what’s the takeaway from movies like Bros?