If a restaurant featured a signature dish but periodically changed the name, location on the menu, and presentation of the dish, while steadily increasing the price and not changing any of the core ingredients, would you continue to order it?
Most sensible individuals would say, “absolutely not,” and pity anyone who would. Well, Hollywood has done this for years and the average moviegoer continues to order the same dish, as the price of tickets has risen steadily without fail. Meanwhile, the overall quality of the films has certainly not risen over time and it has left us with few rare gems here and there, mixed in with a large batch of bombs at the box office each year.
Here are two reasons Hollywood has lost its collective creative juice and resorted to giving us the same projects over and over at the box office.
1. Summer blockbuster season begins earlier.
Back in the day, the phrase “summer blockbuster” meant to millennials that we could see a film during any time of day that we pleased, i.e. we would not be in school. Summer blockbuster season used to extend traditionally from the end of May/beginning of June to the end of August/beginning of September.
Now, films aspiring to be “summer blockbusters” have release dates earlier and earlier each year. One of the most entertaining action films of the last six years, 300, was released in March 2007. One look at a trailer of this film and you are confused as to why it was not released on something like July 4. Everything about this film just screams summer blockbuster: muscle-bound male characters fighting with one another, explosions, stereotypically sexualized females, slow-motion action frames, and clichéd one-liners.
An earlier summer blockbuster season equals more mindless action films. More mindless action films equal less money to spend on drama-filled, dialogue-smart, and emotion-inducing films that leave audiences engaged long after the credits roll. We all have had the feeling of seeing a film and walking out of the theater asking, “Why on Earth was money spent to make this?” More often than not, you probably have just seen an action film.
To prove this point, all we need to do is look at the names of some of the films released in March or April over the last five years: Olympus Has Fallen, Oblivion, John Carter, Wrath of the Titans, Battle: Los Angeles, Suckerpunch, Clash of the Titans, Kick-Ass, The Losers, and Fast & Furious 4. Would these have survived in the traditional summer blockbuster season? Or did they only make some money because they were given a head start?
2. The most compelling and engaging plotlines reside in television.
Talk with any film buff, and they'll tell you that1999 is by consensus one of the consensus best years for films ever. Those days are long gone. Now, we are fortunate enough to reside in the Golden Age of television. A collection of smart, moving, and thought-provoking stories exist and with many choices of streaming devices and services, we can watch them whenever we please. We know that Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, Walter White, James McNulty, Francis Underwood, Olivia Pope, Tyrion Lannister, Nicolas Brody, and company will keep us occupied for multiple seasons without fail. But when we travel to the movie theater, many of the characters presented to us simply do not cast the same sort of spell.
Films are slaves to the biddings and desires of studio heads. With a focus on global audiences, films are crafted more to fill seats than to keep minds involved. Could you imagine if The Sopranos were turned into a film and Tony's psychiatrist’s role was cut because a studio head or actor in Tony’s role believed it was unnecessary? We would have a completely different show. In film, these crucial parts of story arcs can be trivially changed or cut in the interests of time constraints and money, without consideration of their effect on the finished product.
Looking at the production of big-budget films versus television shows of the last 10 years or so, it would seem that the majority of writing and production talent is leaving films in favor of television. There are few who can go back and forth without losing a step (looking at you, Aaron Sorkin), and there are a slew of independent films that are great (in 2013, check out The Place Beyond The Pines, 20 Feet From Stardom, MUD, Only God Forgives, and Fruitvale Station. But in the last 10 years or so, we have seen a rise in quality television shows with a simultaneous a drop in the quality of major studio films. You can blame it on the advent of 3D, or advances in special effects. But it is no coincidence that captivating storylines on television from shows such as Homeland and Game of Thrones are released while films such as Green Lantern and Battleship debut on the screen.