Sunday, May 15, 2005

GDP vs. Star Wars Revenue

Star Wars - the empire strikes gold
The total revenue generated by the Star Wars film saga would be enough to propel Skywalker Ranch, its nerve centre in California, into the top half of the international wealth league, ahead of Bulgaria, Cyprus and Iceland.

Since the release of Star Wars: Episode IV in 1977, a combination of box office, VHS and DVDs, video games, toys and other merchandise spin-offs have added up to nearly $20 billion (£10.8bn) in estimated revenue. And the final instalment, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, which receives its UK premiere in London's Leicester Square tomorrow, is set to push the total even higher.

If Star Wars was a country, its $20bn would place it 70th in the World Bank's rankings of countries according to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), narrowly behind Syria, Serbia and Oman, but ahead of Bulgaria, Libya and Lebanon. George Lucas's brainchild has made twice as much money as each of Uzbekistan, Jordan and Estonia, and four times as much as Malta, Afghanistan and Macedonia.

Star Wars is richer than the large majority of African countries. It dwarfs the economies of the Republic of Congo, Niger, Chad, Swaziland, Malawi, Rwanda, the Central African Republic, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Liberia put together.


Jenn Onofrio said...

That is truly sickening. I don't even know what to say.

Side note: I stood in line in front of Darth Vadar at AIDS Walk New York today. Again, don't know what to say.

Angelus Novus said...

I don't know if I'd call those numbers sickening, but they are certainly interesting.

A number of dialectical thoughts offer themselves in light of such data. Though I hesitate to jump on the Star Wars-slamming bandwagon that has cropped up recently-for reasons I will explain in a future post-this issue is rather unrelated to the fan-boy grown old issue ragarding the quality of the movies, and harkens back to an older argument I have had with some rather prickly friends over the films that actually forged my initial impressions of good versus evil, right versus wrong.

Needless to say, I am hesitant to offer a hypothesis because the validity of my childhood rests upon it, for better or worse.

Now, as before, I offer the wildly dichotomous thoughts that race through my head regarding the success of Star Wars.

-George Lucas probably never in his life intended to supercede the GDPs of so many countries.

-But he's so rich and secluded now in his white man's utopia he probably doesn't even know where Africa is.

-There is no law, moral or ethical, that prohibits the accumulation of wealth.

-But at the same time, there is a kind of subconscious governance among intelligent and compassionate people that stipulates you should not just poor umpteen BILLION dollars of revenue back into the commercial engine you have stated many times you never intended to create, and are somewhat loathe to perpetuate.

-Ultimately, these films about democracy thwarted and ultimately restored should serve as a counterpoint to the jingoist-nationalist blood-ballads we are subjected to every Friday, regardless of how many digital effects shots they have.

-But aren't these the same films that enabled that same jingoist-nationalist genre to thrive because if it's all moving fast enough, exploding loud enough, and shining bright enough, then who cares what socio-political agendas are being put forward?

(Vote for the man with the biggest gun. Buy Nikes.)

-Is it not incredibly democratic of someone like Lucas to go to such great lengths (years of solitude, sub-par prequels) to underplay the phenomenon he has created, and allow it to exist solely in the hearts and minds (pardon the irony on that one) of those who looked to that galaxy far far away as a sign of all that is possible?

-But why didn't that same democratic auteur have the guts to suggest that if fans want to emulate Star Wars, they won't just dress up and but toys, but take the incredible leap of faith that Luke did all those years ago, and align themselves with a cause that is greater than the sum of their computer parts, a genuine desire for justice and liberty against authoritarian rule (here's a coincidence-right in our own back yard-just like Luke) that endangers every facet of security, and encourages a reckless need to join the good, but quite possibly futile, fight?

I don't know what to make of those numbers. I'm not sickened to see an white American male thrive in such a gluttonous way; I see it every day. And though I hate the perpetuation of said societal stigma, I am nonetheless willing to accept that it's not what happens to you in life, it's what you happen to make of it. I want to know where that money goes before I make any judgements.

And look at it this way; at least the Congo didn't have to put it's name on The Phantom Menace.

Theo said...

Wow... Someone needs to calm down!

So many people like Star Wars because it was the first of its kind. That's given it a lot of momentum over the years, and a lot of people are sad to see it go.

Is it ironic that Lucas has built the empire he has? Maybe, but there are a lot bigger things to worry about.

I just thought the numbers were noteworthy. Do they say something about society and the moral fibers that hold together the tapestry of the human experience? To answer that question probably gives it too much thought.

Jenn Onofrio said...

Why calm down? Star Wars has become an intergral part of the lives of many. It stands to reason that maybe something of the sort should be debated when a commercially-birthed, pop-culture phenom is held near and dear like a child of one's own. I've seen people break up relationships over Star Wars. It's serious business.

But, going back to the previous comment -- it's interesting. Where I *should* be going with my disgusted thoughts is deep into the psyche of George The Man Lucas himself, but instead I find myself plummeting into the examples of the complete economic opposites in Libya, Lebanon... all I can think is, holy shit, the whole of these countries can't turn a GDP to come close to the profits of a trilogy (or, is it two trilogies, now?) of sci-fi movies.

And, the movies themselves -- I'm sorry, but when I look at the sheer quality of them, I'm far more impressed with the innovation in something like 2001: A Space Odyssey than I am in any of the Star Wars flicks. Granted, some may say it's like comparing apples and oranges, but if you take the cinemtography of 2001, which was released in 1968, I think it's far more spectacular and innovative than Star Wars, which came out in the early 80's (I sure did dig the AT-AT's though, or whatever the hell those things are called). I can't help but to feel that, because Kubrick's subject matter was a little more on-the-table-out-there, it didn't turn into the mega-flick that Star Wars did; or was it all the advertising and branding?

It's just amazing to me that we can't seem to feed our country's hungry, the class divide continues to push us farther to the edges, and billions of dollars is being SPENT on absorbing what was just a fictional story in one man's head. I'm not saying people should not go to movies and spend the $10 on a night out, but I wonder why, as I always do, it's so much simplier to consume things like this (which, this isn't even giving a tangible; you're paying for the two-hour experience), than it is to send $10 in the direction of someone who needs it.

I'm swerving off onto a charity tangent now, and maybe that's a little dangerous. Perhaps the GDP of these countries would be higher if they had better systems in place to begin with. Less political drama, less violence, more jobs, less poverty, etc., etc., etc.....

But I guess you'd have similar findings to all this Star Wars jazz if you looked up Jurassic Park or Terminator; or, worse, Microsoft or McDonald's.

Theo said...

It's not just about special effects or cinematography. Star Wars had *enough* of that to please people. It was more important that it had the whole package. It resonated with people. It was something that they could get behind. And it was the first movie of its kind. It was far more influential in pop circles than _2001: ASO_.

Who says that your charity will be better than the philanthropy of a George Lucas or Bill Gates? And who says that all charity is good? And who says that your economic contribution won't energize the economy to the point where so much capital will be generated that there will be even more available for charity? And once you award your freedom to all of these countries in trouble, are you going to criticize their citizens for seeing movies on the weekends? And if you sacrifice the economic growth of the U.S. for charity, what happens when the people you're helping want a job and can't find it in their own country? The dynamics here are non-linear.

Having a high GDP is hardly something to shoot for, and thus it's not something to criticize a country for having a low GDP. The country of Monaco (368 acres) fits inside New York and has a population of 30,500. Is it surprising that there's not a whole lot of consumption there?

Jenn Onofrio said...

"Wow... Someone needs to calm down!"

In your own words. ;)

Theo said...

Hey, I wasn't offerring "dichotomous thoughts," unlike some heart-throbs I know, so I think I was being pretty calm.

As a related point, Bill Gates (who I am in no way a fan) was in the BBC NEWS today:

Gates doubles disease fight cash
US computer billionaire Bill Gates has doubled the funding he gives to a body set up to fight disease in the developing world.

He told the annual assembly of the World Health Organization more needed to be done to fight health inequality.

The Microsoft founder pledged an extra $250m to Grand Challenges in Global Health, which he set up in 2003.

The assembly is due to debate plans to tackle malaria, polio and influenza.

Yet another Gates tax deduction...

Jenn Onofrio said...

He was in the news a few months ago for this other thing, too... what the heck was it? I think it was something along the lines of demanding that high school students complete more competitive and strenuous educational tracks in order to put is back in the run with the rest of the modernized world, which tends to be far ahead of us in terms of these things.

There was a specific program, though, and I can't recall it. I think it had something to do with technology in schools (shocker). Ironically enough, with this broad sweeping program, he was only donating something like $10m and a great, passionate little soundbyte.

Gates has a whole foundation set aside for charitable works. If he's one of today's super-philanthropists, who else do we have? In the good old days it was Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford... now it's what? Gates, Winfrey, and...? Jay-Z? :) That'll be a funny one in the 2045 6th grade U.S. History textbooks.

grrrbear said...

He's not paying taxes on any of that money anyway. It's probably all paid from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, so he got the deduction from when he started the foundation years and years ago.

BTW, is that figure comparing SW to GDP also measuring the GDP's back to 1977?

Theo said...

About the GDP calculation, I was wondering the exact same thing. It just doesn't make sense to compare revenue since 1977 unless you also compare GDP since 1977, right? But then that's HUGE. Beating out COMBINED GDP's?!

(in the end, it just comes down to whatever $20 billion adds up to)

Regarding philanthropy, there are LOTS of rich people giving LOTS of money. Even the crazy and wild (in his youth) Ted Turner has done a tremendous amount for the environmental movement in very recent years. I see no reason why Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford's money was any more noble than a great deal of the money being donated today.

Whether you like it or not, you need charismatic leadership in these sorts of things. It convinces other people to do more and spreads awareness in general. People who do not have money can contribute in non-monetary ways. People who have money shouldn't be heckled for donating too much, despite their on and off camera bumbling when not writing checks. Sure, they might have less than altruistic intentions, but it's still help, and they have the power to do a lot more than I can. The challenge is educating these people to the point where they don't throw money in the wrong direction.