Cinema, as we know, is on its knees. Audiences are down. The year’s big tentpole summer movies failed. Cinemas, some of them on the brink of bankruptcy, are throwing gimmick after gimmick at jaded moviegoers, to no avail. And yet, it seems like the key to rescuing the film industry has been right under our noses all along: dogs.
On Sunday, at the Autry Museum in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, a Guinness world record was broken. That record was for “most dogs attending a film screening”. In total, 219 dogs of various breeds sat down en masse – some on picnic blankets, some nestled into their owners – and watched an outdoor screening of Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie. This beat the previous record of 199 dogs, which was set last October.
Ostensibly the event was held to promote the idea of animal adoption, but nevertheless Hollywood should be hugely excited by this development. It means that, in just one year, canine movie attendance has increased by about 10%. As such, dogs now represent the biggest growth market for the film industry since China. If this pattern holds, then next year there might be 240 dogs who watch films. Then 265. Then almost 300. At this rate, there could be around 3,000 moviegoing dogs 25 years from now. The way things are going, by that point they might outnumber human audiences.
Of course, this will necessitate a huge rethink on the part of the studios. An audience primarily composed of dogs is unlikely to want to watch the same things that humans do. For example, I have yet to try to make a dog sit through Oppenheimer, but I suspect that it would fail to hold its attention all the way through. At the very least, I’d expect the dog to lose its suspension of disbelief during the scene where Cillian Murphy recites the Bhagavad-Gita for the first time. Perhaps, then, Christopher Nolan would do well to recalibrate his worldview for this new audience, maybe by making a hard-hitting biopic about a plastic gonk that squeaks when you bite it.
And maybe cinema chains need to rethink their current delivery mode. You’ll notice that this record wasn’t broken in a traditional cinema, with plush seating and laser projection and cutting edge Dolby sound. No, it took place outside, in a field, in the middle of the day. From the point of view of a human spectator this sounds terrible. The picture would be hard to see, and the presence of hundreds of dogs probably rendered the dialogue inaudible. But there is no stepping in the path of progress. If audiences want their films to be impossible to follow, then Hollywood will be forced to bend to their wishes.
Obviously a cynic would question whether the dogs were able to follow the plot of the movie, or if they were even aware that a movie was being screened in the first place. And, in truth, none of the dogs in any of the pictures taken at the event seem especially engrossed. But until more dog-targeted movies are made, this is probably a good thing. Because the last thing humanity needs is a population of dogs who can absorb and act upon the lessons of Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie.
This, after all, is a film about slave dogs; dogs who were torn from their parents at birth by an eccentric child billionaire, hooked up to various agonising-looking robotic exosuits and put to work as a town’s entire emergency services in what is presumably a cost-cutting measure. And I’ve seen enough Paw Patrol to know that these dogs are not paid a living wage. At best, if they’ve risked their lives to an especially harrowing degree, they’ll get tossed a biscuit to placate them. What’s more, as far as I can see, The Mighty Movie is about the various members of the Paw Patrol gaining new powers after coming in contact with a radioactive rock. They’re being mutated to help their human overlords. It is a devastating indictment of humanity.
So let’s hope none of the dogs realised what they were watching, because if they did we would soon face an unstoppable canine revolt. It would be Rise of the Planet of the Dogs. So, yes, the headline might be that dogs can save cinema. But you have to ask: at what cost?