Reading the cultural section of various news outlets, one might think that they are witnessing the collapse of a (still relatively young) industry. With disappointing box office statistics released at the end of progressively lacklustre summer film seasons, such a thought could be warranted. Indeed, there are numerous reasons for this trend – including streaming sites like Netflix, an eclectic array of ways to consume entertainment and the peak television era that we are currently experiencing.
“…growing tired of formulaic movies consistently churned out should be expected.”
Nevertheless, television should not be Hollywood’s scapegoat. Placing blame onto the audience is unacceptable, for growing tired of formulaic movies consistently churned out should be expected. Studios often latch onto the latest trends outlined by breakout films that achieve enough critical and commercial success to overhaul projects in production.
The most recent example of this is Marvel’s cinematic universe. After Iron Man’s post-credit scene introduced the Avengers, companies like Warner Bros. and Universal hurriedly assembled their self-made versions. Unfortunately, in their haste, they seem to have forgotten factors like character development and story planning are relatively pivotal to a franchise’s longevity. Flashy names and flamboyant trailers only last until bad reviews arrive. Marvel had the luxury of time – time to design a “dot-to-dot” of superhero movies that connected to form a multi-billion dollar universe.
The last instalment of the failing Divergent series also proves that repeating the same idea may not work. Ideally, if a sharp-eyed screenwriter had noticed that treating Divergent more than some Hunger Games knock-off could end poorly, Lionsgate could have saved a lot of embarrassment – and money.
Still, it isn’t anything new. Observation of this behaviour can go as far back as the silent era. With a big screen extension of the popular fiction already available, Western films went on to become all the rage during the mid-20th century. Surprisingly, Westerns and superhero movies share several characteristics: the hero often works outside of the law to protect the public from a threat, while wearing a distinct costume of spurs and Stetsons or cowls and capes. The parallels don’t end there, though.
The arc of the Western genre, and even that of the hard-boiled detective thrillers that arose after the Great Depression, could be said to have foresaw the superhero phenomenon of today. Every time, the same sequence crops up. A pioneering film – like Stagecoach, The Maltese Falcon and Iron Man – lays down the features that eventually become familiar tropes. Subsequently, the public is bombarded with a barrage of similar films, until they’re bored.
“…critics may bemoan the death of creativity…but it’s important to remember that…not much has changed in Hollywood.”
However, as the next step shows, franchise fatigue isn’t always a terrible thing. Once filmmakers establish the genre’s rules, they can break them, producing a fresh batch of intelligent, self-aware parodies that push the worn out field into new directions, thus reinventing it.
After the superhero onslaught, critics may bemoan the death of creativity, reminiscing about the halcyon days of the Golden Age, but it’s important to remember that, in all honesty, not much has changed in Hollywood. Now though, audiences have gone through the cycle much faster compared to 70 years ago – a difference attributed to the advent of social media and easier access to countless reviews. The rapidity of modern communication means that a film’s bad reputation spreads like wildfire.
So as they have done previously, and continue to do today, filmmakers should not be disheartened by the current landscape. Instead, they just need to adjust to their new setting and take inspiration from the fact that there would be no Chinatown without The Big Sleep, no Birdman without Batman and no Logan or Deadpool without Marvel. Only then can they make the next landmark film, and we can go through all this again. And again.
Article images courtesy of IMDB