When I first heard the term “Sophomore Slump” it was around the time that Counting Crows were following up their first album “August and Everything After,” which is no small feat, as I hold that album as a whole as one of the Top 10 of all time. I was desperately waiting for their next record when one of my too-cool-for-school college buddies assured me that they were going to suffer “The Sophomore Slump.”
So I asked for the idea to be explained: in almost all artistic endeavors, your second work almost always will be a drop from the quality of your first, especially if your first is great.
And if you think about it, the Sophomore Slump makes sense. You have had your entire life to pour your heart and soul into something, to help it find its audience, to get it a chance to succeed and, if you are very lucky, for it to make an impact in the world. And then your record label, or editor, or movie studio wants to know if you can do the same thing, only better and deliver it in the next 18 months.
This doesn’t even factor in whether or not you yourself understand what helped make your success happen. (I am listening to version 2.0 of a podcast that I loved and, man, the creators behind the first thing clearly don’t understand what made the first one work so well! I am only a few episodes in and cutting ties whereas I woke up early to catch up on episodes of version 1.)
Then, think about how much success has likely changed your life in that time as well, how in the world do you create anything creative, much less a quality work? Adam Duritz of Counting Crows went from being a weird white dude with dreads sleeping on his buddy’s couches to dating one of the cast of Friends in a period of 6 months! The reality is we should be grateful that we get anything out of creative people and that there aren’t just more one hit wonders in the world! And this should especially be true in our nerd world!
Joe Cornish is a British filmmaker who shot to nerd stardom when he created the 2011 film Attack the Block, which is an odd mix of inner city adventure and space alien invasion with an homage to 1980s movies like The Goonies. It is a really well executed film, especially when you consider its very modest budget. (Nerds should also be thankful that Cornish turns out to know how to cast, as Attack the Block is the US introduction of John Boyega.)
Attack the Block wasn’t a massive success in the United States but it did gain enough pop culture clout that movie studios came calling, looking to give him their next franchise movie and watch him work his wonder. Cornish wisely turned that down, though he did get a writing credit on Ant-Man and was working on the film before Edgar Wright withdrew from it.
So facing what could be a sophomore slump moment, Cornish bent in a decidedly different way. After turning down other science fiction gigs that would have made him (and the movie studios) millions, Cornish set to work on crafting something entirely different: a modernization of the legend of King Arthur. Writing the script himself, and taking his time, Cornish just recently released The Kid Who Would Be King.
Now, if you work for the movie studio that produced The Kid Who Would Be King, you are most assuredly crying about what a dismal sophomore slump of a film this is. It has dramatically underperformed in nearly every market it has been released into, and it was released at the time of year when the right, quirky kind of movie can find traction. The film hasn’t but if you start to dig around and examine the reviews of this film and look at its audience scores, The Kid Who Would Be King isn’t a sophomore slump; it is a marketing disaster.
One of the things that was true of Cornish’s debut is that Attack the Block most definitely isn’t for kids. It has language, violence and in general, it isn’t the kind of thing that you want to take your kiddos to see. Cornish’s sophomore release has some similar beats, including the kids against the world theme, but it is also an entirely different movie, particularly for kids around 8 years old and up.
Yet, the marketing of the film never did anything to demonstrate that. The work mainly seemed to say “You know this director, so come see this film!” And I did. While I wouldn’t say The Kid Who Would Be King is going to take home many, many Oscars, it is a worthwhile film, especially for tweenagers and youth. It has messages around sacrifice, honor, truthfulness and it manages to be entertaining for a whole audience.
If I had known that was more of what I was in for, I would have invited my nieces and nephew to accompany and we all would have had a great time. Instead, I went and enjoyed it, but am a little sad that they likely won’t see it until it comes to a streaming service at some point.
I don’t think Cornish had a major sophomore slump; his studio had a marketing issue and this movie is likely going to have some long tails in terms of what the audience thinks of it over the long haul.