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What 2011’s Movies Have Taught Us About Box Office, Cinema and Ourselves

As we prepare to say goodbye to 2011 for good, let’s take one last look back and see if there’s anything we can learn from the movies that made it big this year – and the ones that really, really didn’t. What lessons can we learn from 2011’s box office?

Moviegoers Love Sequels
For all that we may complain about movies being too unoriginal and reliant on franchises these days, it’s worth noting that the top 7 movies of the year were all sequels, with the remaining movies in the top 10 all being part of an existing franchise. When it comes to movies, it seems that familiarity breeds anything but discontent. Could it be that audiences are that eager to ensure that they get their money’s worth out of expensive theater tickets that they’re looking for repeat performances of old favorites? Possibly – or maybe it’s just a coincidence, and we should be paying more attention to the advertising budget of each of these movies, instead. Then again…

There’s No Such Thing As A Sure Thing
…This was also the year that proved that you can advertise and hype certain movies all you want, but if the audience doesn’t want to go, then they won’t. On paper, both Green Lantern and Cowboys and Aliens were almost-guaranteed hits, with well-liked stars, big budget special effects and high concept ideas that seemed in tune with the cultural zeitgeist, but both bombed so badly they made Hollywood Reporter’s list of the biggest flops of the year. Is this a case of the good will out, an example of audience revolt against being told what they should like against what they do like, or just more proof that no-one knows anything in Hollywood? You decide.

The Nerd Dollar Is Over
I know, I know; when you consider that eight out of the ten highest grossing movies of the year were genre movies (You could probably make the case that the remaining two, Fast Five and Cars 2 are also genre-centric), it sounds a little strange to suggest that the nerd demographic is receding at the movies. But how else to explain the failure of movies like Sucker Punch, Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens, Conan the Barbarian, Super and the like this year? It’s possible that the mainstream audience has reached its limit for genre fare, and isn’t looking for anything new anytime soon. We’ll see if this is the case next year; if Prometheus flops, then I think we can assume that Hollywood might want to consider backing off the genre movie for awhile for everyone’s sake.

Don’t Ignore Women
True, neither Bridesmaids or The Help made it into the top 10 movies of the year, but they’re not far outside – Something that’s really rather remarkable, considering the low expectations both movies faced before their release. 2011 might, if we’re lucky, become the year when moviemakers realized the power of the female demographic outside of the traditional romcom/”chick flick” offerings (See also Twilight, for that matter). It’s unlikely that we’ll see studios denote as much effort and attention to movies aimed squarely at women as they do boy-centric offerings like Transformers (or even The Hangover, Part II anytime soon, but these things take time. Let’s see what 2012 does for gender imbalance.

Some Movies Need To Be Seen In Theaters
Something that’s fascinating; the top movie of the year was only the tenth most torrented bootleg of the year, with the second and third most popular movies not appearing on the torrent top 10 at all. After years of trying to find a way to combat movie piracy, an answer may have been found: sheer scale. After all, Transformers: Dark of The Moon is a movie that demands to be seen on the big screen, and while The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 may not have the same visual scale, culturally it’s off the charts. Is the response to movie piracy trying to take full advantage of the scale and scope of the big screen, while also aiming to enflame your audience so that it becomes as much about the sense of community as it does just seeing the movie? Possibly – but if so, how many movies are really going to be able to manage that?

Now it’s your turn. What were the lessons of 2011’s movies – good and bad? And do you think 2012 looks to have learned some of them, or not?


  • Yumph!

    Your rule about sequels is wrong. When Hollywood puts out 90% stuff
    based on sequels, reboots, and re-makes, of course some of them are
    going to make money. People are going to go to the movies – and they have

    to choose from whatever is showing

    3 of the other 4 rules are no-duh rules that have been around long before 2011

  • Andre St-Amour

    The reason movies like Sucker Punch, Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens, Conan the Barbarian, Super, etc, bombed isn’t because the “nerd demographic is receding”, it’s simply because those movies, and many others, were just plain bad movies.

  • Fake3mail

    This seems to be a data analysis of the trend in box office success without any attempt to consider the actual quality of the works produced.

    Does reviewing no longer consider the quality of works, but only the success or failure of capitalists in extracting surplus labor value from the masses?

  • Javier Montano

    Yeah, Green Lantern was poorly edited and the tension just wasn’t there. No mystery there.

  • Shaun

    I agree with many of these comments – the movies that flopped were, often, just bad movies. “Green Lantern” was about a character that no one outside of comics ever heard of, so it already had that working against it. Even among comic fans, GL is not that popular. Combine those shortcomings with the fact that it was a bad movie, and you have a problem.

    Similar things with “Cowboys and Aliens.” I’d never heard of this before the movie and was thoroughly unimpressed with the film itself.

    “Thor” and “Captain America” were, at least, reasonably good films (especially Cap). Thus, word of mouth for both of these were not as bad as for GL.

  • Tae

    Green Lantern flopping was almost 100% due to reviewers having their heads up their asses. It’s NOT a GREAT movie. But it’s not a horrible movie. It’s hundreds of times better than a mess like Avatar (Unacceptable script, diaogue, editing, acting… this movie got a pass because it’s Cameron).

  • Iduckles

    It should be noted that Green Lantern as is among the best selling comics each month. In addition, DC comics publishes four monthly titles about  Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps. Only Batman is more popular than the Green Lantern (yes, Superman is the most well-known, but his books don’t sell as well). The Green Lantern movie did not fail because the character is insufficiently popular, the movie failed because it sucked.

  • David Fullam

    Takes a lot to get me to see a film in the theater these days. However I did go see Thor, Captain America, Cowboys and Aliens, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. With the exception of Cowboys, I greatly enjoyed the films (especially now that I have then on DVD). Maybe my expectations were too high for C&A, but at the end I was all “That was it?”

  • Silentbobclone76

    I don’t think it’s fair to put Sucker Punch in with Green Lantern and Conan. Sucker Punch was a very original story told in a very new style. Right from the very first snippetts of info about GL or Conan, I knew I wasn’t going to go see them. I had zero interest in Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan. It was a bad casting choice. And Conan never needed a reboot. It is a cult classic and should stay that way. But SP was dark and gritty and full of humanities wide range of emotions and what we’re capable of. Maybe some of the acting wasn’t top notch but the story and the darkness of it just drew me right in. I loved it and saw it twice in theater and bought the Blu-ray.

  • Silentbobclone76

    I think one of the big issues (especially with Comic book movies) is that there is no consideration for the fanbase of the origin material before they go and make a movie about it. If anyone at the studio had gone to a con to ask fans what they thought of Ryan Reynolds at Hal Jordan?, 80-90% would have said no. GL is a core Justice League character and there IS interest in seeing it done on the big screen but DAMN…..that was a piece of crap. I almost want to compare the GL movie with the Halle Berry version of Catwoman. Yikes! Talk about not knowing your core audience before making a project. Just do a little research first.
    Find out what people WANT to see vs what you THINK they want to see.

  • Mulligan-d

    Then how do you explain the success of Breaking Dawn? 

  • David

    You’re right, one of the best-selling books for the past several years and one of the cornerstones of the DCU for 50 years+ isn’t that popular

  • Kev From Atl

    Well no one outside of comics had ever heard of Iron Man, and most outside of comics had never heard of Thor either, and the films based on them did well. You can make a movie about even a relatively unknown superhero and have it score as long as it is done well, and GL wasn’t.

    Green Lantern is not popular in comics? You couldn’t tell that from the sales charts, the ongoing Green Lantern family of titles (among DC best-sellers), the GL centered Blackest Night crossover, and the fact that GL escaped relatively unscathed when relaunched as part of the DCNU New 52.

  • Dom

    Get Sophia Coppola to direct Transformers four and Batman Four ;)

  • Jacob

    Except Reynolds was easily one of the best parts of that movie.

  • Mr. M

    I didn’t see Green Lantern, but it didn’t appear to me to be a guaranteed hit on paper. Cowboys & Aliens did, based on stars, director and reasonably fresh story.

    The only lesson learned from 2011 box office is the same that was learned from 2010’s, and will be learned in 2012…”Nobody knows anything” [William Goldman].

  • Yumph!

    You’re joking right? You realize there is a world of people beyond those
    who read comics. Do you honestly think as many people know about GL and
    are familiar with him as Batman outside of the comic world???

  • Yumph!

    lol – cornerstones. I’d wager that thanks to Superfriends , more people
    know who Aquaman is than GL. Heck, most people probably don’t even
    think GL and Green Arrow are different characters

    there is a world outside of comic fans

  • drhiphop85

    Then how do you explain the success of Iron Man and Thor?

    Green Lantern has more of a place in the collective consciousness than both of those characters. He was in two Highly successful cartoons over the last 30 years.

  • Jacob

    You explain it by them being better movies. Duh.

  • 122EM

    Haha how is it that no one ever agrees or bashes spinoff’s reviews and articles? Pattern??

    GL is a big part of DC but it’s true not many know outside a comics…or care.

  • Matt from GF

    Sucker Punch was an interesting movie in that it was a rated R movie that was edited to be a PG-13 one.  Also, did anyone else get the “ugly people are evil and pretty people aren’t” vibe off the GL movie? 

    Conan the Barbarian was easily the worst edited movie of the year.  And I don’t even think the movie Super even played in the local theater. 

    I’m not sure why people didn’t like Cowboys and Aliens.  I liked it; I know some people were put off by Harrison Ford’s performance but had no problem with it. 

  • Anonymous

    Two reasons that the movies you mentioned above bombed – #1 They sucked.  Green Lantern was a shiny light fighting a blob, Super 8 was a feel good movie from 1984, Cowboys and Aliens is still Cowboys which need VERY GOOD WRITING to make it in this day and age, Sucker Punch was dumb, and no one was clamoring for a new Conan never mind that it was shallow drivel. #2 There is much less discretionary $$ nowadays so people are not willing to go see a risky movie when they can get a sure thing, even if that sure thing is mediocre.

  • Anonymous

    Duh – built in demographic.  No one was clamoring for any of those other movies except Green Lantern, and that one was just plain boring.

  • Jacob

    “ugly people are evil and pretty people aren’t”

    Pretty much the theme of every single Hollywood movie ever. The heroes are always more attractive than the villains.

  • Jacob

    Check the byline.

  • Chad Everett

    The “nerd dollar” is getting more picky…internet buzz killed Green Lantern, Conan, Sucker Punch, and Cowboys and Aliens. The money is still there for good movies; Captain America, X-Men First Class and Super 8 prove it. Rewarding well made, well written genre films while refusing to subsidize Hollywood’s shoddier efforts? Sounds like the audience is putting its money/nerd dollars where it’s mouth is. The riches are still there for the taking, the studios just have to earn those dollars.

  • Max

    If anyone at the studio had gone to a Con to ask fans what they thought of Heath Ledger as The Joker, 90% would have said no.

    Studios should not ask fanboys, because they have no clue what they want.

  • Max

    The comics are read by 100k people. Ask the billion of moviegoers that don’t read comics if they know who Green Lantern is…

  • David Fullam

    And there is there problem. The mainstream movie audience outnumbers the comic book audience. There are more of them than there are of us.

  • Lord Prong

    Popularity of the comic character had nothing to do with the success or lack of success of Green Lantern and Cowboys and Aliens. 

    Iron Man was largely an unknown property before hitting the screens, as much as GL was.  The difference?  People were interested to see if Downey Jnr. was going to be able to deliver the goods (similar to Heath Ledger in DK) or fall flat on his recently drug addled face.  That, combined with early excellent reviews of both the film and Downey Jnr’s performance were what created succes at the box office – not the Iron Man character.

    Thor and Captain America were successful, not because the public are aware of them (although Cap is pretty recognisable worldwide) but because they were linked with the “Avengers” buzz as well as Iron Man.  In addition, they were given great early reviews and were also both good quality for repeated veiwings at the cinema. 

    However, even that buzz and good reviews couldn’t save the Hulk, a character just as recognisable as Superman and Batman in terms of worldwide popularity and recognition.  I’m not sure why the IH failed, possibly because it was still associated with Ang Lee’s Hulk film.  But still it just goes to show that character knowledge and recognition by the general public have little to do with success or lack of success at the box office.

  • Juan

    Super 8 didn’t do bad. He was talking about Super, not Super 8. The movie with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page in it.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe Sucker Punch, GL and Conan simply flopped because they looked really shitty and lacked the name recognition of stuff like Twilight?

    Even if we’re going to act like reviewers are all idiots who don’t know what they’re talking about, it’s clear that the more successful genre films of the years, financially, also did reasonably well with the critics. Cap, Thor and X-Men all received far better reviews than GL, Sucker Punch and Conan. This could point to shitty word of mouth as well. The people who saw the films simply didn’t like what they witnessed and were sure to tell friends to stay away.

  • Lord Prong

    Sucker Punch failed because the only people who saw it were single, horny, teenage boys.  It was promoted as a wank-fest.  No married male or adolescent with a girlfriend was going to see it.  It was like potentially going to a cinema-wide circle jerk.  I was embarrassed even looking at the poster.  It wasn’t a bad film ’cause it delivered exactly what it promised.

    Green Lantern failed because Ryan Reynold’s was over-exposed at the box-office and in the general media (yes he’s sexy, he’s appearing in every second film at the cinemas blah, blah, blah) and we were tired of him.  He lacked Downey Jnr’s underdog status and just came off as a smug.  In addition, early bad word of mouth killed the film.  Internationally, not many people saw it because they knew it failed at the domestic box-office.  Who wants to see a film that’s flopped in the USA?  Releasing it late internationally killed a film that may have made money on the international market.  Big mistake.

    Cowboys and Aliens failed because (a) people who like Westerns like to watch Westerns like True Grit, Dances with Wolves, and Unforgiven, and (b) people who like Sci-fi like to watch Star Wars, Star Trek, Super 8, and Battlestar Galactica.  There aren’t many people who love BOTH genres.  I, on the other hand do, and so I was present in the audience.  IMO the film was great – but it confused the audience as to what genre it was representing.
    This is why Lone Ranger will fail at the box office too.

    Conan the Barbarian failed because it was rated R and thus teenage boys weren’t allowed to see it.  This is the demographic the film was aimed at!!!!  In addition, the general audience these days aren’t interested in decaptations, disembowlements, or tits anymore – they want sparkly vampires who gaze intently at their shoes, and geeky wizards who crap on endlessly about their hard life.  Films like Conan aren’t known for their quality – it’s all about the violence, which the film was full of.  But audiences these days want “Pirates of the Carribean/ Clash of the Titans” level violence in these types of films these days, not hardcore violence.  This is also why “Immortals” bombed.  We have become a bunch of pussies.

    Super 8 didn’t fail – it was a success.  Many shit films like Transformers 3 and Twilight were hits at the box-office.  The quality of a film rarely has a lot to do with success.  Shit, the Smurfs was a huge success and that was shit.  Chipmunks 3 opens in Australia today and I’m sure that’ll be a success too. 

  • Lord Prong

    Explanation (although it’s pretty fucking obvious): 

    (A) Teenage girls flock to the films because in their minds they ARE Bella and are being romanced by Edward and Jacob – “Oh, it’s SO ROMANTIC!!!”

    (B) Teenage boys are willing to go to the films because there is a chance that they will score a root.

    This also explains the success of Michael Buble’

  • kalorama

    Sucker Punch was a text book study in how Hollywood doesn’t get it. It’d
    failure had nothing to with anything but its own failure.  If anyone
    involved in the film had even a slight understanding of the concept of
    irony, they/d have just called “Another Movie about ‘Female Empowerment’
    Where the Women All Dress like Strippers.”

  • Anyone

    I think he meant Super, the James Gunn directed super-hero comedy.

  • David Fullam

    “Another Movie about ‘Female Empowerment. Where the Women All Dress like Strippers.” That may be how they sold it to the studio. I can really see an exec saying “brilliant!”

  • Anyone

    Green Lantern is one of the highest selling books at DC Comics. 

  • Anonymous

    I would disagree slightly, in that I think it had less to do with internet buzz and more to do with the general public. Look at it like this, First Class was a reasonable box office success and got excellent reviews from critics.

    The chatter on comic book sites leading up to it’s release? Horrid. Pretty much universally, the fans were picking it apart and saying how it would be a trainwreck and how it disrespected the comic book canon and all that, and yet the general public still embraced it. Like someone above said, what the fans want and what is actually successfula are rarely the same thing.

  • Anyone

    You could use, “Unacceptable script, diaogue, editing, acting,” to describe the exact same problems Green Lantern had. In my opinion Avatar was a stronger film. 

  • Matthew Lane

    “But how else to explain the failure of movies like Sucker Punch, Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens, Conan the Barbarian, Super and the like this year?”

    Easy: They were what we like to refer to as completely shit films. All except Sucker Punch which was just trying to be to clever for its own good.

  • Gqpenn2

    I love the proclamations that “Super Hero Movies are OVER at the Box Office” following Green Lantern’s belly flop… and then next month Captain America came out and made bank. Look, all the movies you cite here, Sucker Punch, Green Lantern, Conan etc SUCKED. They didn’t make money because they were boring and word of mouth killed them, not because they were genre movies.  They only rule to learn here is don’t make garbage movies unless they have the word “Twilight” in them.

  • Sw00shman

    I dont think the nerds attending movies has died out. Movies that failed like green lantern and cowboys and aliens failed because they are bad and/or boring movies. The fanbase knows it when they see it. Word of mouth is still powerful enough to tell the fans, wait till it comes out on dvd red box. I wont see a movie if it looks bad, gets bad reviews or a friend I trust tells me its no good. Movies are too expensive to waste money on hollywood crap.

  • ASyme

    Can’t speak for all of the above – but everyone I know reacted to the following films in much the same way:

    Green lantern: ‘I hear its bad’ (it was)
    Sucker Punch: ‘Wank fest for young boys’ e.g. a shame film disguised as a women’s lib thing.
    Conan: ‘Why remake a classic?’ (Arnie has an insanely loyal fanbase amongst the target audience)
    Cowboys and Aliens ‘Man… what a stupid title.  Must be a stupid film’ (seriously – if your title is a joke don’t expect your audiences to swarm in.  It’s like a film being called ‘cops and rappers’)

  • SREW

     I agree that Green Lantern et al failed because they were bad movies. Green Lantern was a superhero movie of old, that treated its audience as juvenile and subject as trivial. Movies like Thor and Captain America and X-Men are successful because they have learned not to do that – by making superhero movies that are both fun comicbook adaptations and respect the audience as adults, they are a big success. I see no reason why that formula can’t keep delivering massive movies, but I worry Hollywood will throw the baby out with the bathwater and see the failure of GL, etc as a general malaise in the superhero genre – that would be a mistake though.

  • Oneonly

    I honestly wish more TWILIGHT girls would follow Bella’s lead and jump off a cliff like in NEW MOON. And while the name  GREEN LANTERN has had some success the last few years in the comic, the animated version, which used John Stewert weilding the power ring, probably got more exposure. I’m surprised that the affirmative action crowd didn’t complain they used the black John Stewert over whitey Ryan Renyolds/Hal Jordan.

  • Tae


  • Brian from Canada

    Green Lantern failed because…
    1. They lost the momentum after Blake Lively’s agent called it a dud well before release;
    2. They failed to build up the new brand enough to differentiate the new JLA concept from previous films — meaning that people expected a new Dark Knight and not lighter fare;
    3. The trailer not only convinced people it wasn’t Dark Knight serious, but it showed off a villain that didn’t look remotely interesting;
    4. Poor reviews compared to Thor combined with the promise of better comic fare after that like X-Men and Captain America made audiences withhold their initial theatre dollars; and
    5. Warner’s was making excuses and apologies before it left the theatre, promising how it will be improved for next time.
    Bottom line: It looked like a video rental and was a video rental.

    Sucker Punch bombed because it was all effects and no story — and the trailer said that. It also looked like a video game, and that aesthetic doesn’t appeal to many non-gamers. The only reason it got made was Snyder also did the successful 300 and this was his chance to demonstrate the technology on an original film — and the studio knew enough to keep it out of the blockbuster era.

    Cowboys And Aliens failed because the story wasn’t strong enough to meet the hype. Had it come earlier in the summer, then audiences may have been more forgiving, but after the roller coaster that the box office was up to that point, the films had to be worth it for people to go — and the buzz was “good, but not something I’d rush out to get again.” Also, for some people, the trailer had DVD rental all over it.
    Conan The Barbarian failed because it was just plain bad. The story lacked anything that set it apart, it lacked the one visual effect that would make it jump out (a la the kraken from Titans), and it had a star best known for a TV show not being seen all around the world yet. Without any support from the studio, it was doomed to fail.

    Super was a failure simply because it lacked all support from the studio. If nobody knows your film is out, nobody will see it.

  • Whathuh

    It wasn’t that they were bad movies. Sucker Punch was based too much in visual graphics, Green Lantern and Conan were in 3D, Cowboys and Aliens just wasn’t too appealing of a concept (good movie, but not that appeealing).

    Conan was doomed from the start because it lacked Arnold, just like Terminator Salvation was doomed from the start for the same reason. Plus the actor didn’t have the look (Conan with dreadlocks???).

    Green Lantern didn’t have anything to help boost sales. Meaning it wasn’t tied into anything like how Thor was tied into the Avengers movie. Green Lantern was the opening concept for the character and all on its own. Had there been a Justice League movie to tie into, then it would have done better.

  • Whathuh

    The problem with the all-time low box office sales this year was because of two things. Poor economy and inflated prices due to 3D. 3D is something that should be used when it can enhance a movie, not as a gimmick to increase sales.

    Also, stating if Prometheus flops, then Hollywood should “consider backing off the genre movie for awhile for everyone’s sake” is just flat out wrong. The majority of viewers will have no idea it was originally intended to be a sequel to Alien. That statement is putting the sucess or downfall on fans of the Alien franchie. It is marketed as an alien movie and one that doesn’t look too appealing so far.

  • Robert Lee

    The “Buble’ ” defense is brilliant. I am now a devoted fan of Lord Prong for that statement.

  • Jacob

    They haven’t promoted any of the MCU’s connection to the Avengers. They kept that largely a surprise for the average viewer right up until the post-credits scene of Captain America.

  • stealthwise

    Score a root?  WTF?

  • Yumph!

    lol – dude you could save yourself a lot of time and just admit that Green lantern sucked

  • Yumph!!

    There was no hype for Cowboys and Aliens. Your average person probably
    thought “what the hell is this weird movie with a couple of known actors
    in it”

  • Lord Prong

    I have attended the following films in order to increase my chances for a root. There was no reason whatsoever for me to be there.  Many other men were in the audience as well for the same reason.  Let me adjust that statement to “honest with themselves” men.  Heed my advice and you too may increase your chances (God bless DVD and Bluray!!)
    100% Success-rate Films
    The Notebook
    An Officer and a Gentleman
    Pretty Woman
    City of Angels
    Dirty Dancing

    Moderate Success 60 – 85%
    Anything romantic starring Matthew Mcconaughey

    Romantic films that absolutely DON’T get you laid (Take Heed!!!)
    Anything romantic starring Adam Sandler or Tom Hanks.  Women just don’t find them sexy.

  • Lord Prong

    Actually Jason Momoa was almost perfect as Conan (both visually and character-wise).  Arnold Schwarzenburger and his two Conan films bear little resemblance to the character at all.  Arnie was just a brainless muscle man in that film – hardly Conan.

  • Michael Aguiar

    I wholeheartedly disagree with Green Lantern being added to the “flop” list, the movie made more money then LOTS of comic book movies out there there are considered successful movies including both Hellboy movies, Blade II, Sin City, V for Vendetta, Blade I among others, proving that there IS an audience for the movie, it sold over 200 million dollars in tickets guys its not a flop, it was also one of the highest DVD and Blu Ray sales of the year.. What Hollywood DOES need to learn is not to shove F’n 200 million dollars in every movie expecting it to be the next Iron Man, odds are it probably wont, if they had spent 100 mil in Green Lantern everyone would be RANTING AND RAVING of how much money it made. A “flop” by definition is a movie that fails to achieve it’s audience and no matter what anyone says selling over 200 million in tickets worldwide is not a failure its Hollywood’s over budgeting mania that should be put in check.. The reason why all the movies I mentioned above were considered successful was not because it sold nearly as many tickets as GL did because they didnt, it was because they didnt cost nearly half as much..

  • Happily LS

    Green Arrow is all right but I wish they didn’t put him in The Avengers

  • HammerOfIron

    Save for Conan, all of those bad movies weren’t sequels or part of a franchise. But in the end, vampires are in vogue and teenage girls don’t like r-rated barbarian gorefests.

  • Meghana Agarwal