Need any further proof that the year 2020 is about as unlikely and wonky as it could possibly be? Then push aside your New York Times political section, turn off your TiVo recording of last week’s presidential debate and disregard that early March stockpile of toilet paper that would make Mr. Whipple wince in shame and dig this new and salient fact, Ladies and Germs: The 1993 cult favorite family film Hocus Pocus – which was considered a box office disappointment by many industry watchers lo those many years back – very nearly unseated director Christopher Nolan’s tent-pole time travel movie (disguised in the body of a typical Hollywood programmer action flick) Tenet this past weekend at the U.S. box office, coming in nipping at the well-coifed heels of the film’s actors John David Washington and Robert Pattinson to place at a respectable number two spot. To break it down in 1800s military speak (because hey, why not?), the Lazarus-like resurrection of Hocus Pocus in the face of the sleeker Tenet is the equivalent of General George Armstrong Custer actually routing the better provisioned and more organized Native American army he and his 7th Calvary faced at the Battle of Little Big Horn, effectively negating an entire library of historical texts chronicling “Custer’s Last Stand.” Too convoluted for you? Too bad, “it’s China Town, Jake.” Or, in this Twilight Zone-like instance, 2020.
Actually, the above does make practical sense. 2020 has seen a deluge of new films such as Halloween Kills and Wonder Woman 1984 having to jettison their original release dates due to the omnipresent coronavirus and the uncertainty many once avid moviegoers have wrestled over when it comes to feeling as if they can safely return to their local cinema. As a last recourse, most movie theatre chains have resorted to dusting off older and beloved films such as Jaws and Stand By Me in an effort to get fans back into their seats. Tenet was significant for many cinema chains in that it represented fresh, new product that many were clamoring to see pre-COVID. And Nolan’s film has performed very well indeed in markets outside of America; it’s only in the land of Mom and Apple Pie where, with virus cases raging, the normally unflappable Christopher Nolan has perhaps met his own Battle of Little Big Horn with many fans opting to wait to see the film when it arrives on Blu-ray and on streaming services.
Hocus Pocus pulled a magic spell or three dozen out of its Bette Midler pointy hat this weekend when it scored a $2 million dollar opening, just a wee bit off from dethroning Tenet for the numero uno spot at the box-office. In contrast, Tenet took in $2.7 million, narrowly edging out the family friendly movie. This prognosticator of film is convinced that somewhere on one of his many yachts actor Leonardo DiCaprio is now second-guessing his decision to turn down the role of Max in Kenny Ortega’s opus. A nearly thirty year old flick taking it’s hipper than thou modern day cinematic third cousin to the woodshed for a public shaming? In the parlance of the times Gentle Readers this is what we might call Karma.
So, what’s to glean from all of this? Checking my handy Book of Revelations, I don’t see the current Hocus Pocus resurgence listed as a sign of the apocalypse, so we’re probably Jake on that score, at least. The real issues are – naturally – the pandemic and supply and demand. With cinema attendance at an all-time low in the U.S. and movie studios playing a weekly game of hop-scotch with the films they do have in the can in order to hopefully safely circumnavigate the virus, a perfect storm has been created leveling the box-office playing field for movie evergreens who saw their last great financial salad days in some cases 25 to 50 years ago.
So, no further proof needed in our Perry Mason-ish analysis of 2020 and the world of movies; this is indeed one strange year. You may even be tempted to say – though you really shouldn’t – “It’s just a bunch of hocus pocus!”