If we consider all the films that have come out this year, it seems like whatever wins at the Oscars, studios know they can make a lot of money from something which is ultimately unoriginal. I know this accusation is thrown around really frequently- usually by bitter middle-aged people on the Internet complaining that their favourite films are being exploited- but looking at at the Worldwide Box Office totals for so far this year, in the Top 25 there are: 13 Sequels, 12 Franchise film and 5 Reboots or Remakes.
Now, more than ever Hollywood’s ideology is purely to make money, without letting directors make the films they want to, let alone anything artistic. For example, considering the recent firings of Christopher Miller, Phil Lord, and Colin Trevorrow from their respective Star Wars projects for not fitting into the studio’s vision.
Although it’s not necessarily the case with all franchises, like the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise which is totally distinct stylistically and tonally from the other films Marvel Studios are churning out. Likewise, in Spider-man: Homecoming Jon Watts manages to create an excellent coming of age film in the constraints of being within a Superhero Franchise. Another obvious exception to this rule being Christopher Nolan who spends massive Hollywood budgets on making enthralling, intelligent (and successful) blockbusters unlike anything else produced by studios today. But unfortunately, these are the exceptions and not the general rule.
“the monopoly held by studios”
It’s also quite worrying to consider the monopoly held by certain studios. For example: it seems like Disney have a total stranglehold on the World Box Office. Between releasing around 2 Marvel Films annually), a Star Wars film dominating the Christmas Market (and take the top spots two year in a row). Add to this the contributions of titans like Pixar (Finding Dory being the 2nd biggest film of last year) and In-House Disney animation (Zootopia and Moana at 7 & 11 respectively), all this alongside the steady rhythm of remaking Disney Classics (Beauty and the Beast currently the best performing film of 2017). Last year they released 4 films in the top 5 best performing films worldwide, with little signs of relenting in their upcoming release schedule.
The other part of this is really about the way cinema is being used, seemingly, as the next step in the merchandising chain. Given cinema is arguably the most compelling storytelling medium we have, it’s worrying to see it being used like this by companies just for the sake of selling their products. One example being, if I described a film as “The Sequel to the Movie Adaptation of the Hit West End Musical Based on the Greatest Hits of a Swedish Pop Group”, you’ll probably know I’m talking about Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Who knew Mamma Mia needed a sequel, but regardless of how good it will or won’t be (I’m holding out for a hit), it’s striking that its constituent parts expose it as extraordinarily cynical- seemingly made just to take advantage of the healthy profit the first film made ($610 Million Worldwide compared to a $52 Million budget).
“the next step in the merchandising chain”
Another good example would be an increase in making films of Video Games marketed at children being made into films (which generally despite poor critical response, do well). For example, Games like Angry Birds and Moshi Monsters both of which only ever had “narratives” in the broad sense of the word. Additionally, the fact that neon-nightmare of The Emoji Movie is currently the 34th best performing film of this year is frankly terrifying. The concept of constructing a narrative from Emojis then marketing it at children, which is especially troubling given some critics have branded it a cynical excuse to market apps to children. Whilst the mainstream is still very much having a film and making merchandise from there, it is clear that for some companies making films is as viable and profitable as it would be to sell lots and lots of kids toys.
Is there still hope for Cinema? If this year’s Oscar Winners are anything to go by then Yes, even if these films are the light in the darkness.