Why Movie Audiences Still Matter [in 2024+]

why movie audiences still matter

Let’s face it – in today’s entertainment landscape, great stories are a rare commodity.

As an independent filmmaker and screenwriter myself, I always try to ensure that my scripts are written not only for myself as the creator, but for a wide, like-minded audience.

Why Do Movie Audiences Still Matter?

  • In today’s world, big film studios sometimes miss what their audience actually wants to watch.
  • Example: The Barbie movie succeeded because it respected the audience as longtime Barbie fans. The Marvels failed at the box office as it targeted a similar audience instead of the people who actually read Marvel comics and played with superhero toys as kids. Basically, The Marvels targeted an audience that never loved the characters.
  • Making movies that connect with their audience is key to film success!

As a die-hard genre movie fan (horror, action, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.) who grew up on these kinds of films, I live and breathe these stories along with millions of others who have done the same.

With that in mind, I create not just for myself but for them as well. In order to do that, I always keep in mind an old adage in entertainment and marketing – “know your audience”. 

But let’s break it down – what does it mean in our world where tastes and trends are always shifting, and there is increasing corporate and creator-driven activism? Why should movie fans like us pay attention?

Let’s explore the big reason why people who watch movies, like you and me, are (or should be!) more important than ever.

The Main Issues In Studio Films Today

Despite claiming otherwise, most companies know exactly who their core audience is. It’s just that some of them wish they weren’t.

So the question isn’t really whether certain content creators know their audiences or not – it’s a question of whether or not they’re serving those audiences.

The problem isn’t that audience tastes have changed. It’s that the creators openly hate the customers they are meant to be serving. Instead, they are trying to cater to an audience that has never supported that particular genre or type of story and likely never will. 

So who’s at fault? Well, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

For starters, the content creators – the writers, directors, producers, and actors. In short, the storytellers. 

And secondly, the people that hired them. Out-of-touch executives are more interested in chasing great reviews and social media adoration than actual customers. 

You can win all the awards and accolades you want, but if no one is seeing your film, how great can it really be?

why movie audiences still matter

What Is Good Storytelling in Movies?

A story is just one person telling another person a sequence of events. It’s really that simple. But a good story is something quite different.

A GOOD story is one that has meaning, ideally to the storyteller, but more importantly, to the audience.

Stories are written for people. And a big problem in what we’re seeing today is that you have storytellers writing exclusively for themselves and the people in their small circles who think like them. 

They aren’t trying to please a wide audience or even what should be their core audience. 

They’re more interested in making critics, activists, agenda-driven executives, and other industry gatekeepers happy. And with the industry being a hotbed of nepotism and favoritism, there’s little room for a reality check.

And when that reality check inevitably occurs in the form of poor box office and dismal TV or streaming ratings, then the same echo chamber that refused to believe they were creating anything but gold is utterly shocked to find out otherwise. 

So they do what any echo chamber would – shirk the responsibility and blame the very people they should have been trying to make happy in the first place.

what is the art of storytelling

The Current State of Filmmaking

So now we have a situation where we have comic books written by people who never grew up on them, action movies made by people who were never fans to begin with, fantasies produced by people who openly hate the original creators, and even beer marketing campaigns made by people who aren’t beer drinkers to begin with. 

And what do they all have in common? They openly dislike the established core audiences for all of those and make it their mandate to change the audience to a group that is more palatable to them and their friends.

But that’s not how it works. An artist can’t force a specific group to become their audience any more than a restaurant can force vegans to eat at a steakhouse.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Well, a good story is in the mind of the audience. It needs to resonate and strike a chord. It needs to grow and flourish. It needs to be discussed and thought about. It needs to be loved and nurtured.

That’s how cult classics are made, isn’t it? A typically low-budget film that was never given much of a chance and likely even did poorly when it first came out. 

But as it connected with a small core group, it spread thanks to great word of mouth and found a wider audience. But it could never have done that if that audience was never there, to begin with.

Horror fans love horror movies. Comic book nerds love comics. Martial arts fans love fighting movies. And so on.

What We Can Learn From Barbie and The Marvels

Barbie was a monster hit, while the Marvels was a dismal failure. Why? Both were created by women for women and starring women. Female-centric, big-budget films based on pre-existing children’s IP (intellectual property), made primarily for female audiences. 

So how did one succeed and the other fail? It wasn’t a question of money or resources or even star power. It was a question of good storytelling and knowing your audience.

Barbie catered specifically to those women and girls who grew up playing with Barbies, watching Barbie cartoons, and reading Barbie comic books. 

They didn’t care if men came to the movie because that wasn’t the target demographic. Oh sure, there is a small subset of men who played with Barbie’s when they were little, and they were as welcome as anyone to see the film, but the core audience was those girls and women. 

And that’s exactly who came to see the film. 

And they brought their families and husbands and boyfriends and girlfriends. The movie broke records, with $1.4 billion at the box office versus a reported budget of $145 million.

And the Marvels? 

With a budget of over $270 million versus a box office of only $200 million, it’s one of the biggest disasters ever. 

So, who was the target audience? Pretty much the same girls and women as for Barbie, that’s who. But, wait, I hear you say. Did those Barbie fans ever read Marvel comics? Were they as die-hard fans of Captain Marvel and Photon and Ms. Marvel as they were of Barbie and Ken?

I think you already know the answer. 

It’s no coincidence that the same demographic the creators utterly ignored – middle-aged men – were the biggest part of the actual paying audience – 65% male, 45% men over 25 – while the very people it was made for largely ignored the film.

Who’s The Target Audience?

how to define your target audience

It begs the question – who was this movie made for?

Was it made for the die-hard comic book fans who grew up on Marvel comics?

Or was it made for a completely different group of people who were never really fans at all?

And it might have still worked if it were made for both. But that’s just it. The creators sacrificed one audience for another – rather than trying to appease both, and in doing so, made a story appealing to no one.

If you go to a steakhouse, you expect to be able to get a steak – and a damn good one at that. But if you find that their menu suddenly only consists of tofu and vegetables because they hired a chef who hates meat, you’ll likely be disappointed, if not outraged, that they made such a change at your expense.

What’s worse is if the restaurant keeps on calling itself a steakhouse, knowing full well they no longer cater to steak-lovers but instead only court vegans and vegetarians. And if their previous customers complain, they call them names and tell them to go elsewhere.

In essence, this is much of our entertainment landscape at the moment, where steak is no longer on the menu and established steak-eating customers are shunned in favor of those who love alternate fare. 

The problem is, of course, that the majority of vegans have no interest in dining in a steakhouse in the first place, regardless of how much the new chef insists they’ll love the revised menu.

Which brings us back to our original point. How can it be a good story when it has no meaning? In playing it safe and catering to the gatekeepers over the actual audience, the filmmakers lost sight of the most important part of any artwork. 

If art has no audience, is it still considered art? Or is it just an exercise in ego and activism? 

I’ll let you be the judge.

How To Think About Your Movie’s Target Audience

Neil Chase in Boneyard Racers
Neil Chase in Boneyard Racers
Neil Chase in Christmas Cupcakes
Neil Chase in Christmas Cupcakes

Every time I write a script or a book or act in a movie or show, I have to ask myself the same question – who is this story for? The answer is surely different if I am making a holiday rom-com versus a sci-fi action film. 

Sure, as a creator, it’s easy to say, “I’m making this for myself.” But that’s not the main answer. Every story has an intended audience, and it can’t only be the creators themselves.

If that were so, then why bother sharing it with the world?

Not to mention the money aspect. If you’re the only intended audience, that’s fine if you’re the one also paying for it. But a movie studio doesn’t plan on a $200-million tentpole to be for an audience of one. And to treat it as such is idiotic.

With dwindling box office receipts and shrinking audiences for homegrown content, something has to change. It’s no wonder that foreign content and independent content are regularly outpacing big studios these days.

full movie theater

Godzilla Minus One was made for $15 million and it’s already made back its budget and then some to the tune of over $50 million in less than two weeks. 

Sound of Freedom made $250 million on a $15 million budget. There’s a very simple and clear reason for the successes of these non-mainstream films – they know their audiences, and they cater to them.

And therein lies the key to the next movie renaissance.

Have an actual target audience in mind for each film you make, one that actually WANTS to see the movie you have in mind. Then, make the movie for them

Write and rewrite the story as much as it takes before you film a single frame, ensuring that the target audience is top of mind the whole way. 

Final Thoughts on Why Movie Audiences Still Matter

Great storytellers are still among us. So, let’s get back to telling good stories! Not half-baked, “we’ll finish writing it while we film it,” or “let’s throw crap at a wall and see what sticks” stories. 

Fully-fleshed out, completed stories with great action and dialogue, and three-dimensional characters undergoing internal and external struggles, overcoming personal flaws, and resonating with audiences on an emotional and intellectual level through their words and deeds. Stories that entertain us as much as make us think and feel.

Audiences matter now more than ever. It’s not too late to win them back.

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