the popular cinema



A Brazil in high-grossing contemporary films (2002-2019)

Although the academy and the critics ignore the frankly commercial films produced in Brazil, they have already proved to be indispensable for the existence of a strong national cinema with exhibition windows aimed at its public. On the part of directors, there is a belief that what they do responds to what the public wants to see, when they are the ones who, close to what television does, copying American cinema, theater plays, successful books, build these narratives.

But there are also directors and screenwriters who are sensitive to the tastes or concerns of the public they address, creating narratives about or for those they address. As much or more than authorial films, these works, even if they can be seen negatively, reflect and build visions of the world, of the country, which say a lot about what is lived and about the narrative and aesthetic characteristics of these audiovisual productions.

It was not without reason that in the 1970s Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes took his students to watch popular films and observe their audience. This audience is certainly different today, as tickets are expensive, exhibition halls have changed: however, there is a Brazil that is built in these images whose existence is now being contested and asphyxiated by the government in power. In this article we are going to observe a little of the trajectory and aspects of what remains of commercial cinema today.

In search of public and sustainability

Contemporary high-grossing Brazilian cinema[1] began to assert itself between 2002-3, thanks to public policies, the creation in 2001 of the Ancine – regulation and development agency – and the entry of TV as a co-producer. Globo Filmes, from Rede Globo de Televisão[2], was the guarantor of the positive relationship with the public based on an already known aesthetic and thematic parameter, in addition to the use of renowned actors who go on to the big screen. In this way, television transferred its prestige with the audience to films chosen by its 'advisers', who interfere in the scripts and development of the films. This scenario of production activation is completed by the participation in co-production of the North American Majors.

This set of policies based on State investment through tax breaks or taxation on the exhibition of audiovisual content aimed to establish audiovisual as a permanent industry and an element of expression and dialogue of national culture. It was, therefore, a political project conceived since 2000. This cinema was built and followed transformations that took place in the public and private sphere. Since then, some films of great repercussion, such as God's city (Fernando Meirelles, 2002); Two Sons of Francis (Breno Silveira, 2005); Elite Squad 1 and 2 (José Padilha, 2006 and 2010), dissociated themselves from the tradition of Cinema Novo and stopped questioning society to question, rather, the action of individuals.

But it is genre films, such as comedy and romantic comedy, that have built franchises like Till luck do us part 1, 2 and 3 (by Roberto Santucci, 2012, 2013 and 2015); The Honest Candidate (Roberto Santucci, 2014, 2018), My mother is a piece 1, 2, 3 (by André Pellenz and César Rodrigues, 2013, 2016, 2019) or Gonna Cola 1 and 2, (by César Rodrigues, 2015, 2019); and the romantic comedy (If I were you 1 and 2 (Daniel Filho, 2006 and 2009); Upside down 1, 2, 3 (Roberto Santucci, 2010 e 2012, Júlia Rezende, 2018); SOS Women at Sea 1 and 2 (Cris D´Amato, 2014 e 2015) that better thematized and apprehended the surface of these transformations experienced by society until 2016.

Such transformations were mostly represented by successful characters, mainly women, well-being scenarios generally set in Rio de Janeiro; beauty, and modernity, at the same time that, under this superficial appearance, deep archaic historical traits persisted there – as well as in society, foreshadowing the political changes that were to come and that culminated with the election of Jair M. Bolsonaro in 2019.

If the most significant mark of the period up to 2016 in the country was social ascension based on State policies that promoted access to consumption – such as Bolsa Família –, consumption was widely thematized, advertised, taught on screens as if it were a given. of shared and desirable reality, as well as the change in the status of women and homosexuals, another theme that coexisted in harmony in fiction with the constitutive naturalization of social stratification and inequality, of class and gender prejudices that are very present in most of these productions.

Comedy and the Rise of the “New Middle Class”

It is from 2006 onwards that comedy consolidates itself as the genre with the highest audience. From 2009 onwards, the participation of characters from these extracts, the so-called New Middle Class, layer that was rising from poverty levels to a greater possibility of consumption, higher education and appreciation for work based on public policies.”[3]. According to survey data from 2015, “the poorest 10% now earn 129% more”. In the following ranges, the increase was of the order of 112%.[4].

Despite this same class still being the target of laughter and deep-seated prejudices that were expressed in many of these comedies, sudden enrichment, cruise trips, shopping in Miami or visits to Disneyworld are some of their most frequent themes and scenarios (Till Luck Do Us Part, SOS Women at Sea, My Past Condemns Me) and that reflect not only aspirations of the traditional middle class, but also of the new class on the rise, a 'market' very targeted in this period. Between 2003 and 2015, for example, seven romantic comedies were made on the ship – sponsored by the shipping companies – with detailed pedagogy of consumption and behavior on the trips[5], and even films encouraging the purchase and use of erotic products, such as Upside Down 1 and 2, with the support of companies in this field.

Throughout the 2010s, films more aimed at the new, poorer spectator who was rising, or more sensitive to their interests and characteristics, also emerged with a great response from an audience that started to frequent the multiplexes of the shopping malls, another aspiration of the New Middle Class between 2009 to 2015.

Exemplary title in this sense is Go glue, de 2015. If most films worship the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and its white, successful, thin and well-dressed residents, in this film residents of the suburbs move to the privileged region of the city. Despite being delighted with the sudden change, instead of adapting to the new scenario, as is common in this type of narrative, they suburbanize the environments and attract the rich with their practices from the periphery, generally seen as thanks to . In addition, among the protagonists there are several mulattoes and a fat black woman, types generally destined for mockery and roles of employees or subordinates, which does not happen. With that, the attributes, signs, and places worshiped by the traditional middle class are subverted and converted into a target of laughter and social criticism, something rarely seen in films from that period, which laugh at those who flee the norm defined by the traditional class to which they belong. the writers, directors and their producers and sponsors.

The fracture of 2016: political revenge and a return to order

From 2016, with the economic crisis and the impeachment by Dilma Rousseff, it is no longer possible to detach from the reality of the previous production. Big box office comedies dwindle. The Rio de Janeiro of the economic crisis disappears from the exuberant scenarios, as well as careerism and successful women. The number of films with high audiences in the same year decreases. In 2016, the occupancy of theaters with Brazilian films was 16,5%, in 2017 it dropped to 9,6%[6]. Box office numbers like 2016 or 2018 with 14,8% still resist because of films produced by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which we will talk about later.

The themes change, now more aimed at the middle class who are still able to afford tickets, which is visible by the increase in family, children's, teen and adult films. vloggers of success on the internet. White middle class girls, as in gender High SchoolMusical, that serves as inspiration for these films, suffer bullying of colleagues in it's fairy (Cris D'Amato, 2016), My 15 years (Caroline Fioratti, 2017), All for a Pop Star (Bruno Garroti, 2018) and Cinderella Pop (Bruno Garroti, 2019). The films are built from the bubbles of social stratification that characterize the country and mirror the distance from any reality, reflecting the social and political polarization and the impoverishment of every order that the country is experiencing.

Among the films where boys are the protagonists, How to become the worst student in school, (Fabrício Bittar, 2017) is significant of the new times. Danilo Gentili's script copies – abusing the rudeness – American films of the genre. If there is a critical claim to the system and rules dictated by those who 'did well in life' by studying hard, on the other hand, the exaltation of bad students and their cheating, mockery of teachers and knowledge seems closer to contempt for science, education and the culture seen in the new government and among its supporters.

It is not without interest to observe how boys' and girls' films are now radically separating the genres. Chick movies address a little world that is unique to chicks. There is not even competition for the love of a young man or a gay friend. Among the boys, the emphasis is on exploiting rudeness, stealing test results, scatological attacks in the school bathrooms. Demonstrations that boys have grown into male adults.

No accident, How to become explores the loss of naivety, devirgination, represented not by the first sexual experience, but by the ability to pass others off through cunning and deceit. In a country that elected a president seeking to purge its corrupt people, with the screenwriter and main actor being one of the supporters of this policy, one can see what this means in practice and what has been happening and asserting itself in the country with arrogance and violence.

Participating in the dissemination of a spirit of political revenge, there are bets on films about Operation Lava Jato, under the cover of action and denunciation films. in the name of the law (Sérgio Rezende, 2016) in a veiled way, turns to the incrimination of former President Lula and, explicitly, corruption becomes the watchword of this and other films, such as Federal Police – The law is for everyone (Marcelo Antunez, 2017), which transforms Federal Police agents into heroes of the country. The film is a compliment to Operation Lava Jato and a criticism of what was seen by its executors and supporters as the impeding action of Justice, which supposedly blocks the hunt for corrupt people, which, as it was supposed and observed by jurists, and confirmed by listening and reporting The Intercept, went against the principles of Law and Justice enshrined in the Brazilian Constitution. There, a veiled judge Sérgio Moro emerges as a national hero, and the villain is the hated former president Lula. In its patriotic and pedagogical tendency to stimulate the political polarities that were solidifying, the film premiered on the Independence Day of Brazil, September 7, 2017.

In that same motto, The Indoctrinator (Gustavo Bonafé, 2017) is based on a highly successful comic book, written by Luciano Cunha and which appears in the midst of the events of 2013. A vigilante avenger of national scandals. In the film whose staging imitates the heroes of Marvel the protagonist loses his daughter to a stray bullet and without care at the public hospital. Dissatisfied, he goes on the attack. According to the creator, “it is a vigilante whose goal is to kill corrupt politicians who are harming Brazil and Brazilians”. Killing became everyone's duty. Coming from a successful comic since 2013, it is possible to measure through these two films the profound political changes that resulted in the last election.

religious disputes

In this climate that mixes political discredit, economic and values ​​crisis, impoverishment and insecurity, the growth and influence of neo-Pentecostal churches is enormous. Today, when the number of temples is much greater than that of movie theaters, and not only in Brazil, the religious film has prevailed. In 2016, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, owner of Rede Record de Televisão, launches The 10 Commandments. A TV soap opera edited as a film, with the parting of the sea in the style of Cecil B. DeMille and the refinements of a great biblical staging.

With this movie and Nothing to lose (2018), biography of Edir Macedo, the creator of IURD (directed by Alexandre Avancini), Brazilian cinema reaches its highest box office – at a time when audiences had dropped significantly. Nothing to lose reached 12.184 viewers, something the 2019 sequel failed to repeat. However, although the sessions of these films were sold out at all times, as reported by the press at the time, the theaters were not full. According to the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, "The 10 Commandments breaks box office record 'selling out' empty rooms”[7]. It is believed that the tickets were purchased by the church itself and distributed among the faithful.

The religious genre had already been asserting itself since the beginning of this period with Catholic films starring the charismatic Father Marcelo, with the story of Mary, Mother of the Son of God e Brothers of Faith (Moacyr Góes, 2003 and 2004). These films are later successfully replaced by spiritist films such as Calf of Menezes (Glauber Filho, 2008) and above all Chico Xavier (Daniel Filho, 2010), where mediums, their difficulties and miracles gain the scene, also in overproduction to show the world of the reincarnated in Our home (Wagner de Assis, 2010) and others who navigate through melodrama, the mystery film and the unusual. In 2019, given the omnipresence of the IURD, spiritists seek success with Kardec (Wagner Assis) about the life of the founder of the doctrine, the Frenchman Allan Kardec, but without exceeding 750 thousand spectators.

The difference between the box office numbers can give the dimension not exactly of the reach of the churches, but of the aggressive economic investment in the films, and in the power project of the IURD, which has already made several deputies, ministers, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, among others others, responsible for the moral guidelines, the alleged standardization of genres, the censorship of the arts, the culture that the federal government seeks to impose today.

What's left of the popular movie

At the same time, in 2016 the economic crisis was present on screen in comedies that thematize enrichment through inheritances or scams, as seen in Until luck separates us 3 (Roberto Santucci), or in I'm Ryca (Pedro Antonio) and a lucky suburban (Roberto Santucci). The treatment of the plots and the way of focusing on the change in social status, however, is quite different from what was done in the previous period. It is as if, with the passage of time and the deepening of the national crisis, the big ticket offices became sensitive to the events experienced and even more critical in relation to them.

Romantic comedies give way to movies like My mother is a 2 piece: instead of the hysteria of a woman (the actor Paulo Gustavo who acts in drag) abandoned by her husband, the concerns of a mother with the fate of her children, or the generational shocks in the face of an overprotective mother, as in Seriously Mom, 2017 (Pedro Vasconcelos) are emphasized.

I'm Ryca (Pedro Antônio), by screenwriter Fil Braz, the same as Go glue quality My mother is a 2 piece, draws attention for its distinctive look at the suburb and its inhabitants. There is affection and appreciation of culture and practices. Although the protagonist gains an inheritance and is dazzled by wealth, throughout the plot she is critical of the impositions of enrichment norms dictated by the traditional class, something rarely seen in Brazilian comedies. With humor and irony, she points out the barriers and prejudices to social ascension that these same strata experienced.

During this period, the romantic comedy, the most successful genre until 2016, did not resist. Ingrid Guimarães de Legs in the Air 3 (2019) forgot sexuality, the husband and fully assumed the praise of women's entrepreneurship. The scene of the action is Paris. This film, which had an impressive box office of 3.587.240 spectators, was withdrawn from 300 of the 800 theaters it had occupied to make way for the avengers 3 (Avengers 3)[8] which occupied 2.700 of the 3.356 screens in the country: a result of the non-enactment of the screen quota in 2019, which guaranteed, at least, the exhibition of Brazilian films for up to 50 days in the large exhibition chains.

However, films with popular characters on the internet and pay TV gain greater prominence, as well as the suburbs, or the life of the underappreciated 'Northeasterners' in São Paulo. Street vendors, street vendors, crooks and smugglers enter the scene in the mates (Helder Gomes, 2017), with a frankly popular humor, which brings to the scene the survival of northeastern “viradores” who become “parças” (partners) of a son of Italians.

A cinema where the poor, their activities, places where they walk, popular shopping streets, the outskirts of S. Paulo or Rio's favelas, win the scene. Where the presence of black men and women, mulattos, gays and women can fully develop. Thus, the community (as the favela populations call themselves) in their daily lives is what matters most. No enrichment, no postcard landscapes. Life in its movements that follows.

In this way, as in society itself, the social division is again better defined, as desired by a significant portion of the population: there are fewer films that laugh at the other – the poor, the black, the homosexual, the maid –; instead, they choose to laugh with each other. There are fewer situations between different classes where prejudices and naturalized social inequality made people laugh. Social groups are now also more segregated in cinema.

Finally, it is necessary to highlight the maturation and recognition of Brazilian cinema, at the same time that, despite having constituted itself as an economic and cultural activity of weight in society and recognized abroad, it is vulnerable and under attack that aims to make it unfeasible. it. In that regard, Bacurau (Kléber Mendonça and Juliano Dorneles, 2019), an authorial film that uses genre cinema to talk about Brazil and the world today, reaching a significant audience of more than 700 thousand spectators, was able, like others who have been using this same procedure, to break a historical antagonism in Brazilian cinema between authorial and commercial films. As the cinemanovista Gustavo Dahl said, “market is culture”[9].

*Sheila Schvarzman is a professor at the Graduate Program in Communication at Universidade Anhembi Morumbi. Author, among other books, of Humberto Mauro and the Images of Brazil (Edunesp).

Originally published in Cinemas d'Amérique Latine, 28. Toulouse: Presse Universitaires de Midi, 2020



[1] We focused our analysis on the 10 highest-grossing titles of each year. Between 2002 and 2016 it was possible to list 10 titles with at least 1 million viewers. As of 2017, with the economic crisis, the big box office is smaller, so we include films with up to 500 spectators. Data from OCA - Ancine's Brazilian Film and Audiovisual Observatory movies or trailers on the WEB. Accessed on 12.11.2019/XNUMX/XNUMX

[2] Your investment takes place only through advertising the works on the station.

[4] According to CPS/FGV survey of PNDA/IBGE microdata. Folha de São Paulo, 13/12/2015, p. A12 and A13.

[5] Jorge, Patricia Lucas, Brazilian Romantic Comedies by Ship and the Pedagogy of Consumption (2003 to 2015). Masters dissertation. UAM, Sao Paulo, 2019

[6] OCA-Ancine Data . Accessed on 15/11/2019. From 2016 onwards, the foreign film curve increases, and the national film falls.


[8] Access on 20.11.2019

[9] Culture Magazine, vol. 6, no. 24, Jan-Mar. 1977 Accessed on 15.11.2019/XNUMX/XNUMX.

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