About a month ago Entertainment Weekly published one of those hand-wringing, oh-dear-me pieces about how "movies for grown-ups" or "adult dramas" are in decline. We've heard this before but there's one shocking bit in the piece - The Soloist cost $50 million? As in five-zero million? This is a movie about a journalist and a homeless man so what on earth could justify that much money? I'm sure big chunks went to the two lead actors and they probably paid more for a symphony orchestra than they really should but this just shows the problem right there. To claim that the film only had $30 million of business misses the point (and it doesn't help that by most accounts The Soloist isn't very good - see the review at something called Crosscut for a sharp analysis). The common rule of thumb is that a movie must gross double its budget to start a profit so this would have required $100 million gross, something not many movies make. Especially ones about journalists and homeless musicians. (I didn't see State of Play but it doesn't sound "serious-minded" but more standard crime thriller.)
Of course this is just a throw-away piece that's not really making a strong case. Where's the consideration of the video market? The strong showing of dramas on TV (especially cable). Whether dramas are really more than a niche market. Even whether the U.S. itself is a niche market (Australia grossed more than its budget worldwide and so did Revolutionary Road). And the simple fact that Hollywood gave up serious filmmaking in the 70s.