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Wednesday, February 22, 2006 

Why Steven Seagal Still Makes Movies

Owning home entertainment stores in Athens has made me realize several things about people.
  • People really do like sex and violence.
  • People prefer to watch notoriously brainless movies rather than watch critically acclaimed ones because the subject matter is 'too depressing'. This is why I can't even give away Hotel Rwanda or Human Trafficking for free.
  • No matter how old and how bad an actor Steven Seagal is, his movies will always make money on rentals. We have two stores in two distinctly different income areas and Steven will be happy to know that he does well in both stores.
I've also come up with the following lists, based on our customers' rental patterns to let those of you who are interested in good movies know why your local DVD club may not order them.

5 Ways to Kill A DVDs Profitability

1. Print Rosebud/Cannes/Sundance/Toronto/Venice Festival Award Winner on the cover.
As soon as customers see those words, the majority of them will refuse to rent the movie no matter how good it may be. If it's not an Oscar award, they assume that it's an incoherent 'culture' flick that only "artsy-fartsy" people will like.
Examples are: Monsoon Wedding and Vera Drake

2. Use Unknown Actors
If a movie uses actors that aren't on this week's tabloids front covers, then the movie won't make it from the rental shelf into the DVD player. Band of Brothers was a great series but I had to practically whip the customers...even the ones who only rent war movies...to get them to rent it.

3. Put women on the front cover.
Unless it's obvious the women are lesbians, a movie with only fully-clothed women on the DVD cover (almost always on a white background), will get labelled as a "chick flick" and therefore will only be rented by women when their husbands are watching a soccer game.
Examples: First Wives Club, Waiting to Exhale and Beaches

4. Put an an animal on the cover.
Unless it's a porno movie, animals appearing on DVD covers will ensure that the movie will only get rented if it's Sunday, all the other titles aren't available and the customer has children. Hidalgo managed to escape this fate because Viggo Mortensen (of Lord of the Rings fame) was emphasized and the horses appeared far off in the background.
Example: Seabiscuit, Snow Dogs and The Horse Whisperer

5. Classic Movies
We have ordered classic titles such as To Catch a Thief, Casablanca, The Caine Mutiny and over the course of 5 years, we have rented Casablanca only a few times. The rest of them are in pristine condition, never having been removed from the shelves since the day we bought them. Customers would rather lie to me saying they've already watched them so they can get away with renting garbage like Parasite.

5 Ways to Ensure a DVDs Profitability

1. Put naked women on the cover
No matter how bad the movie is, we will always make money off movies depicting women in various states of undress or in sexually provocative poses on the front cover. Most infantile college humour movies are bound to rake in money just because they have a semi-naked woman on the cover. It doesn't matter if the movie tanks at the box office, as long as there's sexual innuendo on the front cover, it will rent.
Examples: Road Trip and Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle (You'll notice that the words "unrated" appear on both covers which only serves to hike up the rentals)

2. Put Guns or Blood on the Front Cover
Movies that people probably wouldn't watch if they read the plot summary, will end up renting them.
Examples: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Oldboy. Both of the movies are worth watching in their own right but I'd have a harder time renting them if the covers didn't feature violence.

3. Use A list Actors in the Movie
Just as using unknown actors in a movie can send it straight to the bargain bin, using A list actors will ensure the movie gets rented by enough people to turn a profit...even if the movie has been panned by every critic.
Examples: Ocean's Twelve and Showtime

4. Print "Oscar Winner" on the Cover
Even if you didn't think Halle Berry deserved Best Actress for her role in Monster's Ball, it will still rent because the word "Oscar" appears on the cover. I doubt anyone would have rented A Beautiful Mind without it's Oscar status unless of course a gun, blood or naked woman replaced the little gold statue.

5. Create a catchy movie title
If the movie Promised Land was not released in Greece as Whores, then I would have lost money on it. Also notice how the cover changes from two women to several women in their underwear in the Greek version. Men rent this movie and are quite disappointed to find out that it's a mockumentary about human trafficking and not a movie about happy strippers. The only reason people still rent Sex, Lies and Videotape is because of the title. Most customers have returned it saying that they got bored because there wasn't enough sex, lies or videotapes of sex and lies.

Hi SeaWitch,
this is exactly what my brother-in-law observed when he owned a video rental shop in Toronto. In fact, I remember asking him how he came to a decision on what movies to buy that he could then rent to customers. His list of criteria matched yours.

It's incredible that people enjoy watching brainless crap.

zardoz says:

thats interesting ,
HOW about some commentary's
on movies like HOTEL RWANDA.

MAYBE it would help out to
advertise an older film based
on EVENT and NEWS of the week
or month, a friend of mine
does it in EKALI and seems to be generating interest, along with
the bashem-has boozem will travel stuff.

=== zardoz ===

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

I love the movie translations. Romancing the stone becomes "Looking for Green Diamonds" or something like that.

Do you have any other funny examples of movies that the Greek translation of the title is so warped from the real title. I get a kick out of that sometimes.

Greeks tell me "Oh, we can't translate the titles literally because they won't make sense".

Oh, and of course all the American titles make perfect sense in English (right!)

Thanks for the funny (and informative) post. As always, well written and much appreciated.

Hey SeaWitch,

This post is currently #17 on reddit.com's hot list.

Which means you're famous in the Wbe 2.0/blogosphere/cool-connected world.

Hey, I'll take a copy of Hotel Rwanda. ;)

Frankly, I'm glad I don't have to hang out with any of your customers. Steven Seagal, really???? He isn't even an interesting action star. At least Jackie Chan has some style.

Our video rental place (ie. the one that happens to be closest to us here in Thessaloniki) does pretty well with the uncommon movies. Generally though, it seems most anything else ends up on Filmnet anyway, so I see it one way or another!

Sure-fire winner...

A cover with two half naked women clutching oscars as they're gunned down by Steven Segal.

Kirk, I believe there is room for only one Altrusian on this blog, and I am it.

That's good information, but do you have any suggestions for consumers? That way, when I'm walking around through the rental store, I can actually pick good movies.

For example, I've found a pretty strong correlation between the number of big smiles on the box cover and how good the movie is. If everyone on the cover has a broad smile (for example, Little Women), I can be fairly certain that the movie is just a "feel good, be happy movie" as opposed to one with an excellent plot. Movies with good plots always seem to have "determined-looking" faces or some range of emotion on the cover.

this is a great list. I've never realized Steven Segal was that popular.

franje...Even though many people would prefer to watch the brainless movies if left to their own devices, many of them have become converts once I convince to rent them the better movies. So I guess there's still hope. LOL

zardoz...We used to do a lot of in-store promotion on movies in the beginning but we eventually gave up because:
1. Customers would still ask us which movies we recommend even when we had a large list of recommended movies each week on the front counter and then after showing them 10 or so different movies, they'd end up choosing Steven Seagal anyway. LOL
2. We get fed up with them.

The only promotion that still works is rent two get one for free. I thought about doing some reviews on movies but then I always get sidetracked on my blog to something else. LOL

Scruff...I don't think the movie titles are poorly translated because they 'don't make sense in Greek'...I think it's because the movie companies just can't be bothered to come up with a good title. Most of the thriller movies have "tromou" in the title while most action movies have "dolofonou" in the title which makes searching for a movie in Greek very difficult. LOL The most bizarre movie title is Shawshank Redemption in Greek. It becomes "Rita Hayworth: The Last Exit."

john...Thanks john. I'm glad to see you keep reading. :-)

anon...Thanks for letting me know. I never even knew what reddit was until you posted. Do you think it's too presumptuous if I were to hire a publicist for my newfound fame? LOL

Mel...Come to my stores and I will definitely rent you Hotel Rwanda for free. As for Steven, it was a surprise to me too that people still watch his Latvian/Italian/Romanian produced movies. Same with Van Damme. Whenever he makes a movie, people will still rent it over here.

infinytis...For the most part, customers can usually find a watchable movie if they stick to renting their favourite actors although even that can backfire. Your best bet is to find a store with rental clerks who have similar tastes to yours and ask them.

paul...Steven Seagal's popularity is just as puzzling to me. And the worst thing is when customers come up to me holding a copy of one of his movies and then say "this one's got to be good, huh?" to which I always respond "If you're a Steven Seagal fan, you won't be disappointed." This seems to make them happy and I don't have to lie to them. LOL

I could never get over that they changed "Die hard with a vengeance" to Die hard - MEGA HARD" in Danish. It makes NO sense whatsoever.

I never understood the popularity of Seagal. He's one of the most uncharismatic and wooden "actors" i have ever seen. The first time I saw him running in a scene I almost choked on my tea!

Rita Hayworth: The Last Exit is just terrible. I think the Shaweshank Redemption lost out at the Oscars merely because of it's name. It's one of the best pieces of cinema ever made and lost because it had an unwieldy title that sounded goofy.

Up until the beginning of last December I owned a video store in Southern California (sold it, thank the fates). Unfortunately your statements are very nearly a universal truth. Every week I would order between 10 and 16 new releases, and usually at least half of the titles would be foreign/indy/art-house movies. The crap pumped out by Hollywood would out-rent the good stuff by at least 10 to 1.

The thing that was always the most frustrating for me is constantly hearing "I don't want to read a movie", even from well educated professional types. Most customers will rent the latest mindless garbage from Hollywood instead of that great new Japanese film or the moving story from Chad, this is just a fact of the video business. The irony is that all too many people that rented crap were unhappy with the result and fairly often voiced their displeasure to me and my staff. We'll gee, sorry about that. Maybe you should have rented 3-Iron (Korea) as I suggested.

The problem, in my opinion, is television and the global culture that has grown from the last 50 years of capitalism's "instant total gratification" ethos. People have become not only physically but intellectually lazy. In general, consumers do not want entertainment that requires any amount of effort no matter how rewarding the effort may be in the end.

Sad but true.

Well, Hollywood must be doing something right then. Just as an industry type stated in a BBC interview I heard on 104.4 a few months ago, "If other countries want their films want to compete with Hollywood, maybe increase the quality of their special effects (i.e.., spend more money), and maybe Hollywood would be forced to respond with better quality films". For example, the Turks just spent 10.5 Million dollars on Valley of the Wolves, sort of a Turkish RAMBO flick with the American military as the bad guys. This may just be a good example if it hits it off in the states when it is shown there.

Another example of the foreign community making something better by exceeding the best: Our USA Dream (nightmare) Basketball team. No one would deny that Jordan and the boys from the first team were hot stuff, but the latest pile of turd they sent to Athens just made us look foolish as a nation. Each Olympics after the first one where NBA boys played, the foreign teams kept getting better and better. In China, it will be a true test to see if International basketball has surpassed the USA and it was not just a fluke.

Sorry for a bit off post at the end.

To close it up neatly, I'll say that although I found the English Patient quite moving, most people I know in the states found it quite a "snorer" of a movie.

anon...I do agree that people have become intellectually lazy...or maybe they always were and we've just noticed it. It's a bit ironic though considering that through the Internet and global media, you'd think they'd want to see what's going on in other parts of the world...taste a bit of the world without ever leaving your sofa. I think universally, people just like what they're used to. It's the same reason why North Americans ask where McDonalds is before they'll try out the local cuisine. They find comfort in familiarity.

Larry...I don't think Hollywood's power comes from special effect. It comes from PR, marketing and hype. Many foreign films ARE better than American ones but they just don't have the budget or are media savvy enough to promote their movies on the scale Hollywood does. Some of the best action movies are coming out of France IMO. The fight scenes are more original, the plots a bit more creative and stylish with much better stunts. Check out Banlieue 13, any of the Taxi movies (Luc Besson's...the American version was crap) and 36, Quai des Orfevres.

Great list Witchy Poo. Once again, the old marketing cliche proves true:

Appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Oops. Seawitch...that last post was mine. I forgot to sign off on it.


None of this movies will rake a single Euro in my old age pension ward. My pensioners do swoon on movies like " Blood and Sand" tyronne Power, Rita Hayworth. "Vera Cruz" Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster. "Carmen" Rita Hayworth, Glen Ford. "Samson and Delilah" Victor Mature, Heidi Lamar. "For whom the Bells toll" Gary Cooper, Ana Paxinou, Akim Tamiroff, Ingrid Bergman."The great Caruso" Mario Lanza.

This is exactly why every city needs at least one "alternative/artsy" video store, like la boite noire in Montreal. Stores like this gather all the indie / foreign / cult / classic / experimental / obscure / quality / non-oscar award winning films together in one building, so the small minority of us who do like good movies know where to go when, at every video store we've hit asking for, say, the collected works of Maya Deren, we are met with blank stares. As far as I know, Athens doesn't have such a store. So what do you say, Seawitch? I see a good business venture here... I, for one, will be your first and loyal customer!!!

Yeah, Thessaloniki could use an independant rental place for sure. I can only find blockbuster type stuff. There are a lot of classic movies I would love to watch, but I can't find them.
On another movie note, I love that Greek newspapers give away DVDs, but I do find it creates an interesting situation. Whenever I am hanging out with friends and we want to watch a movie, everyone has the EXACT same collection.

Many, many, MANY of the movies awarded by Sundance, etc, are movies from mediocre and giant-egos directors and actors. Such movies are sometimes awful. Some of them are sponsored by the government of their respective countries, which I find ABSURD. E.g. I am from Brazil, and I DO NOT WANT my taxes' money wasted on stupid movies.

Really, i think Steven Seagal is one of the all time top action movies' actor. I hope he'll keep on making movies.

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