In an age where anime is either ready to explode or implode based popularity, one of the best determining factors of this would be if anime films were to see a wider Western release, into more mainstream theaters like other regularly animated films are. As of now, there are few animated films from an American animation studio that are really raising my eyebrows. Something like The Boy and the Beast or the Psycho-Pass could raise some eyes based off of their unique premises, and promising something for adults that would like to see more animation in their movie theater. American animations aren't bad, they have their horrible moments, but the fact is that every single year we see an anime film poised to claim an Academy Award. The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya are both films that could have taken home the gold but for whatever reason did not...then again two years ago The Lego Movie also should have won but whatever. The system is flawed.
This isn't so much about awards as much as it is the fact that wider audiences are missing out on something huge. Something most people might actually go see. One of the reasons "Resurrection 'F'" worked so well was based off of the fact that it was the ultimate nostalgia bomb for most millenials. It promised the return of Frieza to square off against Goku, featuring some older favorites like Vegeta, Krillin, and Master Roshi. Many people praised it for the same reason that some anime critics like myself thought it was "good": that it was just like the show. A movie, yes, but it did feel like just one long battle sequence.
Yet films with true story and atmosphere, like the two mentioned above, don't get as much recognition. Here, we can see a problem. Anime is always something that proves difficult to get more and more people into, much like comic books. The way in, I've found, is through something relatable. Someone who is a fan of The CW's The Flash may be enticed to read The Flash comics because, well, it's a similar thing, and then perhaps branch out into other books of a similar genre. Well, like that, fans of "Dragon Ball" may wind up going to see Boruto: Naruto the Movie or The Boy and the Beast because they too are anime.
Speaking of, Boruto: Naruto the Movie and The Last: Naruto the Movie were popular, but not nearly as much as the previous two DBZ movies. Again, it comes back to popularity, but also in ease of approach. "Battle of Gods" is the canon continuation of the story we all knew and loved, and because of the fact that we'd been waiting decades for new "Dragon Ball" material in continuity, we gobbled up both movies so fast. Where the "Naruto" movies failed, though, was that it didn't hit as big an audience as the manga had just ended, and the anime was not yet completed...and as of this writing is not yet completed. If the "Naruto" movies were released on a larger scale, then perhaps more people would go see what'd happened to their favorite hyperactive ninja who finally completed his goal.
Then again, the drawback there is that not a whole lot of people are as familiar with Naruto, nor might they be as willing to spend so much money on a shorter film. I would love to see the next Fairy Tail or One Piece movie hit theaters, in fact at this rate I'm sure they will, but not to the scale that the next "Dragon Ball" movie may. That's where some other genres come in.
Part of me likes to think that if Funimation had just released the latest "Ghost in the Shell" movie as simple Ghost in the Shell or The Ghost in the Shell it would have attracted larger numbers than Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie. The subtitle implies that there's more to the story--there is, in a four-part OVA series you can check on Netflix--but it's also a turnoff for newer audiences. A simple title that leaves more open to the audience allows for easier accessibility. The first Ghost in the Shell did feel like it had a lot of rich history to it, but that added to the intrigue of the movie for newer audiences. If it had a wider release, perhaps it would have had similar success to The Matrix, as the two are similar in concept...and "GITS" was a major inspiration for The Matrix.
For the medium as a whole, I would like to see one year where there are hundreds more theaters playing these anime titles on the big screen, perhaps doing screenings like one theater did for Game of Thrones. Anime fans around the United States turn up for these events all the time, and are scattered well around the country. I would love for a theater near me to do a screening of the final few episodes of Naruto Shippuden if and when we get there, or to screen both parts, in English Dub, of the Attack on Titan recap films before the second season begins. There are hundreds of anime films based on series that we'll never get that I feel could be a great gateway for a larger release.
As I said before, getting people who don't already watch anime to get into it is hard, and it's all about finding the right series or film to hook them. It's why I'm pleased that the two major films coming out soon, or that are already out, The Boy and the Beast and Psycho-Pass: The Movie are of two completely different genres, and that Funimation continues to push new "Dragon Ball" material. Anime films may yet prove to be the best way to get more people interested in the medium, and a wider release would help that immensely. Even if people don't see the movie, they're at least watching the trailer to spark their interest.