All three of these movies were masterpieces of tone-maintenance. They wrap you snugly in a very thick blanket of tone and slowly smother you into a fandom-coma. On the other hand, those blockbusters that get slammed by the critics and rejected by audiences, such as Hancock, Superman Returns, or John Carter are tone-disasters.
This is even more obvious if you read the screenplays that get put out on the market. The ones that sell are always pretty good, but there are always better ones that don’t sell. The key distinction is this: the ones that sell are those that have the greatest control over their tone.
This means that every problem could be considered to be a tone problem. It also means that, if you manage expectations skillfully, you can wrap your audience around your little finger and make them love your story, no matter how bad it is!
Sophisticated folks look at something like Twilight and ask how anyone could possibly like this, seeing as how it does everything wrong: passive protagonists, anti-climactic structure, morally repugnant theme, etc. When we go to the movie with our pre-established ideas of what makes for a good story, we’re totally insulted by this trash.
But these movies succeeded financially by creating their own cinematic sub-universe, in which none of these things are ever promised or implied. Instead, they create a very different set of expectations and then expertly fulfill them. Basically, all they do is promise, “I am going to make you feel a certain way”, and then they deliver. If you want to feel that way, you’ll like it. If you don’t, you won’t.
The Twilight movies are extreme examples, but every story succeeds or fails to a large degree based on its ability to manage audience expectations. In this series, we’ll look the ways in which every writer must manage the expectations of his or her audience.
*He says he’s quoting someone but he doesn’t say who. Screenwriting bloggers John Rogers and Alex Epstein have also quoted it as something they’ve heard, but nobody seems to know or say who originally said it. Anybody know?