Fans Don't Actually Have a Very Big Box Office Impact
Going back to the numbers, when a movie like Star Wars: The Force Awakens puts up over $2 billion at the box office, that's not coming from those 4 million devoted fans we talked about before. With average movie theater ticket sales under $10, $2 billion means 200 million tickets. If each of the 4 million devoted fans bought just one ticket, it'd be just 2% of tickets sold. Sure, some hardcore fans will see a movie multiple times, but that 2% number has a long way to climb before it represents a noticeable portion of the total box office.
That's not to say fans aren't important, but pandering specifically to them, be it through fan-service or focus on favored characters, is not a top priority. In fact, most movies have more to gain from trying to market to non-fans, since that's where there's a bigger sales opportunity. Fans are going to buy a ticket anyway. Franchises like Star Wars won’t be dictated to based on fandom desires. Those fans angry at things like racial and gender diversity in the series will be ignored – rightfully so – because it’s good creative and economical business for the films to be more inclusive in their casting. The top box office earners in 2017 had female leads, and Black Panther turned a lot of heads earlier this year. Certain creative directions will be taken because Lucasfilm has deemed it the right way to go, with general audiences in mind before the smaller, if more vocal, fandoms. Those decisions the fandom love may not gel with the audiences the film needs to reach.
Those demographics can make headlines, as evidenced by the loud subset of Star Wars fans who want The Last Jedi to be stripped from the canon or the DCEU fans petitioning for the Zack Snyder cut of Justice League. Plenty has been written about them but there's a gap between their ability to make news and their ability to make change in their pop culture spheres. For example, the Change.org petition for Warner Bros. to release the Snyder cut has an impressive 178,107 signatures as of the writing of this post. If each of them paid $20 for a ticket to Justice League, that would equal $3,562,140 of the film's gross, but that's nothing in the grand scheme of things given the film's ultimate gross of $657.9 million. Even if they all saw the movie multiple times. If those fans are the hardcore demographic of DCEU fans, the ever-loyal fandom who stick by them no matter what, their financial clout isn't enough to sway hearts at Warner Bros. As difficult as it is to know how bit fandom is, we do know how big it isn't, and it's definitely not sturdy enough to drive major decisions like this.
Fandom can be a great positive force. It can encourage creativity, foster inclusive and inviting communities, and improve one’s experience with the pop culture they love. Its upsides are certainly worth noting given the negative and toxic reputation swirling around various fandoms these days. Yet it’s also important to understand who is really being prioritized in this vast, international world of movie-making in 2018. For something like Star Wars to work, it has to be made for everyone, not just its devoted fandom. When everyone is a fan, does fandom have any true power?