How the Movies Are Like Baseball

Everybody loves baseball metaphors. Here are a bunch related to the relationship between Hollywood and its audience.
By  · Published on April 5th, 2016

Richard Linklater’s new movie Everybody Wants Some!! has me thinking a lot about baseball metaphors. One character says something about how in life you just have to take the pitch you’re thrown and do what you can with it. That’s a good philosophy to have in general, but it especially applies to movie fans. With this week being the start of the season for Major League Baseball, I thought it a good time to look at how the movies, which are my favorite pastime, are like America’s official national pastime.

Consider the audience on the offensive side (up at bat) and Hollywood on the defensive (in the field). But in this game, both teams want a hit. That’s right, the studios and the moviegoers are not enemies! Here is how we play:

1. We, the audience, get into position and await what the studio has to throw at us. This week, for example, Universal is on the mound about to deliver The Boss. Meanwhile, Disney’s in the bull pen getting ready with The Jungle Book.

2. The studio throws the movie at the audience. Is it the straight pitch we were expecting or has the studio thrown us a curveball? Example: 10 Cloverfield Lane wasn’t an actual Cloverfield sequel but something new and different, while The Brothers Grimsby looked to be another laugh riot starring Sacha Baron Cohen but was really a surprising mess.

3. If the movie looks to be too far from the audience’s zone of interest, it’s a ball, a dud, it falls to the side. Gods of Egypt got the ol’ Bob Uecker line from Major League, “Juuuuuuust a bit outside.”

4. If the movie is good, the audience may still not go for it, and that’s a strike. And remember, that’s bad for both teams in this version of baseball. We could go back to Everybody Wants Some!!‘s spiritual predecessor, Dazed and Confused, for an example of this. Or, more recently, the brilliant Steve Jobs. There are tons of great movies that bombed in theaters. Blade Runner struck out. So did Citizen Kane and It’s a Wonderful LifeThe Shawshank RedemptionEdge of TomorrowThe Iron Giant… just like in baseball, even great players can swing and miss.

5. The movie could be good or bad and the audience could still swing and get a hit. For the good, look at last year’s box office champ, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and for the bad, look at last year’s box office runner-up, Jurassic World. Remember, a hit doesn’t mean the pitch or movie were any good.

6. If the hit is a pop fly and caught, the audience is out. That is, they gave it a try, it wasn’t as good as it seemed and after a front loaded opening weekend the box office fizzled. Some might say Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was one of these, but I’d say it’s more like a fly ball that hit the wall just short of being a home run and was quickly held back by a left fielder. The better example is the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th, which had a much worse second-weekend drop off of 80.4% after opening with $40.6m.

7. If the hit is a single, that’s decent box office. A double is better, of course. A triple is very good. 10 Cloverfield Lane got to first base this year. Ride Along 2 and Kung Fu Panda 3 got to second. And Zootopia went all the way to third.

8. A home run means the movie is a blockbuster. That’s Deadpool. Right out of the park. And it’s still making its victory run.

9. Grand Slams are uncommon. Deadpool is an astounding home run, but I wouldn’t call it a Grand Slam. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the rare Grand Slam. Remember how it actually boosted other movies’ box office? It carried them home.

10. If the audience gets a run, that’s also a success. The movie wasn’t a home run, but it had legs. Zootopia has already made it to home base. It’s a point on the scoreboard. Last year, Straight Outta Compton and Pitch Perfect 2 hit doubles and wound up with surprise runs for Universal. A lot of sleeper-hit horror movies wind up sneakily rounding the bases and eventually landing at home.

11. If the audience gets out before they get home, that’s the movie starting off well but not making all its money back. London Has Fallen may have just barely gotten to first on opening weekend but it’s definitely out at this point. The Divergent Series: Allegiant, which hit a double, seems to be out as it heads to third. And it’s up for debate whether or not Batman v Superman is tagged out trying to slide into home.


12. The fans are devoted. This last one has little to do with any actual specific game play. It’s more of a general correspondence between the fans. Like with baseball teams, the movies have some very devoted followings, the sort who will sit in the rain just to watch their favorites fail. The sort who will gang up on fans of other teams. The Marvel versus DC fandom rivalry, that’s just like at a Yankees versus Red Sox game. The only difference is that when a team loses in baseball, it’s plainly written there on the scoreboard, while both Hollywood and devoted audiences will try to spin something as a win any way they can.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.