Why is "The Blind Side" So Popular?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 1 2009 5:53 PM

Why is "The Blind Side" So Popular?

The Blind Side , the Sandra Bullock vehicle about a white society woman who shepherds a wayward young black man to professional football glory, took many in the film industry by surprise over the weekend by nearly surpassing New Moon at the box office. The film made more than $40 million this past weekend, and ticket sales were up by 18 percent compared with its opening the first time all year that a film in wide release grossed more during its second weekend than its first. That uptick certainly wasn't the product of critical support. The film scored a middling 53 (out of 100) at Metacritic , and Slate 's Josh Levin wrote that " The Blind Side plays like filmmaking by focus group, a movie that aims to please and ends up condescending to its audience." So why is The Blind Side so popular? Brow Beat has a few theories.

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1) People like Sandra Bullock.

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This would seem obvious, but Bullock hasn't really gotten her due. She's not the nation's favorite or most bankable star, but she's not far off, either. As recently as 2008 she was ranked among America's 10 favorite movie stars by Harris Interactive (a list still clogged by John Wayne), and her films have grossed more than $50 million on average. Fifteen years after her breakout performance in Speed and at the age of 45, she's still in her prime playing romantic leads opposite actors 12 years her junior . She's more approachable than Julia Roberts, more down-to-earth than Angelina Jolie, and isn't above getting low to Lil Jon.

2) The movie appeals to middle America.

While blockbusters usually achieve the best take in big cities like Los Angeles and New York, the Los Angeles Times reports that The Blind Side 's highest-grossing theaters last weekend were located in Dallas; Birmingham, Ala. and Nashville, Tenn. Maybe that's because there's a political aspect to the film's appeal. The Blind Side is an embodiment of compassionate conservatism. A young man is failed by the (welfare) system, then saved through private initiative, elective charity, personal outrage, and old-school benefaction.  

3) Sports movie + Inspirational Social Drama = perfect date movie.

Men who follow sports (read: most men) know something of the true story behind The Blind Side , either because they read Michael Lewis' bestselling book of the same name, or because they've seen the real Michael Oher play football on TV. Women might therefore have had an easier time than usual dragging their boyfriends to see an Erin Brockovich -style fight for what's right.

4) It's not New Moon .

When Hollywood studios chart out the release schedules for their films, they're very aware of what the competition is planning for any given week. Considering the success of 2008's Twilight , and the major marketing push behind this year's sequel, rival studios were understandably wary of letting films go head-to-head with New Moon . (This maneuvering often makes box office grosses something of a fait accompli.) But what about the filmgoer who's already seen New Moon or who's had enough of teenaged vampires? Pickings were slim at the multiplex this past weekend. Faced with a choice between The Blind Side and a mugging John Travolta in Old Dogs , I'd have gone with the Sandra Bullock vehicle, too.

 

Eric Hynes is a New York-based journalist and film critic.

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