The film business is exactly that. A business. This means that, whether you’re conscious of it or not, there’s constant pressure to evolve, make more money and get numbers up. The bottom line is really all that matters. I’m not saying this as a condemnation of the business. I’m merely stating this because it affects everything that makes it to theaters.
As M.G. Siegler at 500ish.com writes in his fairly pessimistic, yet realistic view of the Future of Cinema, we see a trend of studios padding their numbers in order to look better to the world and, most likely, their superiors. This may be the case, but regardless of their work to hide the realities of the situation, it’s fairly obvious the general direction we’re headed.
How many times have you sat down and considered how many sequels and franchises have made it to theaters in the past year? Indeed looking at the highest grossing films of the past 16 years, it’s a glaringly obvious trend.
1999: Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
2000: Mission Impossible II
2001: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
2002: Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2003: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004: Shrek 2
2005: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
2006: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
2007: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
2008: The Dark Knight
2010: Toy Story 3
2011: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
2012: The Avengers
2014: Transformers: Age of Extinction
On that last, there are only two films that aren’t franchises or sequels. And this makes complete sense. Audiences are more attached to characters and plotlines that they’re already familiar with. The question is then, are studios going to entirely phase out the riskier, non-franchise stories? Then comes the larger question: What are theaters going to do if studios put out fewer and fewer films a year?
The Future of Cinema
Roughly 1.26 billion movie tickets were purchased in North America between January 1 and December 31 of last year, according to preliminary estimates by The Hollywood Reporter. That sounds like great news, a massive number. It is not.
That’s the lowest attendance since 1995. That’s the year Toy Story came out. It was 11 years before Disney bought Pixar. Val Kilmer was playing Batman. James Bond had just returned after a 6-year hiatus. It was the year of Braveheart. But really, it was the year of Waterworld.
Attendance is never the number Hollywood touts because it’s never very impressive. It goes up slightly some years and some years it goes down a bit. Instead, they focus on “box office” which is a fancy term for revenue. But it’s also bullshit, because never explicity stated when touting “box office records” is that ticket prices increase each year. And more recently, 3D and IMAX have added substantially to the price of a ticket. In other words, they’re always juicing the numbers. This is the steroid era of Hollywood.
Or, it should be. But a funny thing is happening to the box office numbers as well now. They’re also down. Preliminary reports have the numbers down about five percent this year in North America (versus six percent for attendance — the gap, of course, is the ticket price). The biggest year-on-year decline in nine years.
So Hollywood is in a funk. But can it break out? Or was this just another “meh” year? My bet is that we’re in the midst of a trend that will see cinema fully convert into something largely different than what we have known.
First, it’s important to note that while Hollywood is undoubtedly sweating these numbers, they’re not sweating them too much. Whereas the North American numbers aren’t good, the overseas numbers continue to rise — especially in Asia.
If you look at the box office numbers for every large release these days, you’ll see that “worldwide” almost always trumps “domestic”. This didn’t use to happen. Now it’s the norm. Duds in the U.S. are converting into massive moneymakers overseas. It usually doesn’t even matter if the movie is any good or not, they just have to have either star-power or be absolutely epic in scale.
This trend, in turn, is pushing Hollywood to market films more towards overseas audiences. And, higher level, it’s fueling the continued rise of the franchise films.
An abundance of sequels has been the norm in Hollywood for a couple decades. But it’s now getting out of control. Nearly every movie is a sequel or the hopeful launch of a new franchise or a spin-off from another franchise.
This is why Disney is genius. They recognized early on the importance of owning brands and IP. They bought Pixar (which, you could argue, is one of the few studios still doing original content because their name alone can boost films to stardom). They bought Marvel. And now, they’ve acquired Star Wars. If you had to point to the best three buys in Hollywood in the past decade, these would be the top three.
These sequels and franchises are not only epic in scale, they’re epic in cost. The aforementioned Waterworld was considered a colossal failure because as the most expensive movie ever made at the time, it couldn’t possibly earn back its budget.
Read full article at Medium “The Future of Cinema”
(cover photo credit: snap from Medium)