As a picture, nothing particularly distinguishes “22 Jump Street.” It’s a formulaic rehash of the first movie.
But it has one thing going for it… humor. And that’s good enough for audiences these days. The operative word… escapism.
Moviegoers have been voting with their dollars for pictures the provide a diversion or an escape from their everyday worries.
Although escapism has always been a factor driving box office receipts, the trend has been more evident for the past several years.
In fact, there’s almost a direct correlation between the public’s taste in movies and the so-called “Misery Index.”
The index, which measures economic well-being, was developed in the 1960s by economist Arthur Okun. It’s supposed to show the level of stress in the economy be combining the inflation rate with the unemployment rate.
While it’s far from the worst it’s ever been–that would be the mid- to late-70s–it’s been above the historic norm ever since the economic collapse in 2008.
The rate hit an historic high of 21.9 in 1980 compared with its historic low of 2.97 July 1953.
Presidents are often judged by the misery index. When George W. Bush left office it was 9.26 percent. Under President Obama, the index peaked at 12.11 in 2011, as the last of the financial mess was cleaned up.
It finally fell back into single digits (8.86) last year. Through April this year, the index has held steady above 8 except for one month, February when it fell to 7.83.
But it’s not just the economy, stupid. News headlines also count and nothing like bad news drives people into the theaters seeking an escape.
Unrest in the Middle East, the continuing threat of terrorism, and the seemingly unstoppable rash of mass shootings are all weighing on people’s minds, according to the most recent polls. Gridlock in Washington is also contributing to pessimistic sentiment.
It’s no surprise that in the index’s worst year, 1980, eight of the top ten films were escapist pictures. Seven out of ten were comedies, like “Private Benjamin,” “9 to 5,” “Stir Crazy,” “Smokey and the Bandit II,” “Airplane,” and “The Blues Brothers.”
The top grossing film was the ultimate escapist picture, Star Wars hit “The Empire Strikes Back.”
In 1953, the best year, dramas like “The Robe,” “From Here to Eternity,” “Shane,” and “Hondo” and “Mogambo” made it into the top ten. The top grossing film was Disney’s animated fantasy-adventure film “Peter Pan.”
In 2011, the worst year for the misery index in President Obama’s term, the top ten films were either big-budget action-adventure films, comedies or animated pictures. Nothing comes close to being a true drama.
The year’s biggest drama, Academy award winner “The Help,” finished 13th.
Hollywood hasn’t been oblivious to the trend. It’s cranked out a steady stream of action-adventure and comedy films, with an indie drama here and there.
This weekend, for example, the top five grossing films, with one exception are escapist flicks.
They include “22 Jump Street” ($25 million), “How to Train Your Dragon 2” ($18.5 million) “The Fault in Our Stars” ($6.4 million), “Maleficient” ($5.8 million) and “The Edge of Tomorrow” ($4.56 million).
Hollywood has never been accused of failing to give the people what they want. And they want escapism. Get ready for “23 Jump Street.”