Title: The $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System
Author: Anne Thompson
Publisher: Newmarket for It Books
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Review: Why do some movies succeed while others fail? How does marketing — domestically and across the globe — impact the financial and critical reception for a given film? How do low-budget indies and studio blockbusters actually get made? These are some of the questions that entertainment journalist Anne Thompson attempts to answer in her book The $11 Billion Year.
The $11 Billion Year is a look inside a little more than one year of the movie business, starting with the Sundance Film Festival in January and following through to the 85th Academy Awards the next February. In case your memory of movies is as bad as mine, the Best Picture nominees that year were Argo (the winner), Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty. Other blockbuster movies included The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games and Skyfall.
Although Thompson’s choice of 2012 for her year in film was based, in part, on when she wanted to write this book, it turned out to be a good exemplar of a year — the 2012 domestic movie box office brought in a record-breaking amount, $11 billion (about 8.4 percent over the previous year). It was also a year of major retirements (George Lucas), a growing shift of actors and producers to television, and the ongoing tension of digital media.
A bit like Console Wars (which, coincidentally, was also published by It Books), The $11 Billion Year is a business book informed heavily by the characters in the industry. Thompson brings her years of experience as a critic and a blogger (Thompson on Hollywood) to look at the global business of movies as well as the specific people making waves in the film industry today. It’s a comprehensive and largely interesting overview of how Hollywood works and doesn’t work today.
I really enjoyed the way this book was structured. Thompson was smart about her focus — the nine Best Picture nominees — and how those movies can tell bigger stories about movies that succeed and fail. Choosing these movies offered a balance between the extreme ends of the film spectrum, $500 million blockbusters and low budget indies. Not knowing much about the movie business, I was fascinated.
My one critique of the book is that it got a little repetitive at the end. Her final chapter, “Ten Things That Changed the Oscar Race” is largely a repeat of observations from the preceding chapters. I would have rather closed with a little broader picture of the industry and some educated predictions about the future — topics covered briefly in the afterward. Overall, I think this is an interesting book for people curious about how movies are made and encourage you to pick it up if you get the chance.
A Little Extra Reading
In the introduction of the book, Thompson notes that this book was inspired by another classic piece of entertainment reporting. Since I finished the book, I’ve stumbled across a bunch of books related to movies and entertainment that I wanted to share:
- The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway by William Goldman — the book that Thompson mentions, a look at a season on Broadway
- The Devil’s Candy: The Anatomy of a Hollywood Fiasco by Julie Salamon — an inside look at the production of a movie version of The Bonfire of the Vanities
- The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell — I saw them speak at the LA Times Festival of Books and they made this sound fun
- Tales from Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made? by Dave Hughes — essays on how even the most promising movie development projects can fall apart