Tom Jolliffe on whether the yearly line ups of Blockbusters are becoming too predictable…
So new year rolls around, as time inevitably guarantees. At the end of the year we invariably look back. Best of lists permeate film sites across the internet land. Then as soon as we kick into a new January, we start to look ahead at what cinema’s will be offering us this year. Now I’m in the UK, and it’ll largely be the same for our US readers, but the vast majority of films that will inhabit cinemas in the Western world, will come from the Hollywood studios.
Lets look ahead at what will come out in 2018 then…okay…hang on…there’s something oddly familiar about all this. So we have some more Marvel adventures. Lovely. Avengers: Infinity War appears to be the biggest film ever made. Another outing for an array of heroes, some of whom (Tony Stark) will be approaching double figures in terms of big screen outings. There’s also another Marvel film in the form of Black Panther (that at least has something a little different, even if the backbone of the film is still essentially Marvel formula). Not to mention Ant-Man and The Wasp and Fox’s The New Mutants, Deadpool 2 and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. There’s another DCEU film too with Aquaman due out.
In the space of a shade over 12 months (Oct 2016 to Oct 2017) Marvel released Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok. With the odd quirk here and there (and differing levels of effectiveness), they all felt much of a muchness. Consistent if we’re being kind, predictable if we’re not. That’s a hell of a lot of market saturation, and I appreciate that they’re all massive hits.
How about Christmas time? Well for the past three years now, we’ve been treated to the regeneration of Star Wars. I’m all for a crimbo event movie. I’d rather have a good event as opposed to nothing particularly worthwhile. The trouble is we’re now expecting a new one this year, and then more to come, likely to take up the next 20-30 Christmas seasons (at my best most sarcastic guess). It’s now not merely a case that there are nothing but sequels and tie-ins each year, we now have certain franchises that are now a yearly occurrence. The next Jurassic Park film at least had the good grace to wait a couple of years I suppose.
Speaking of sequels and remakes, almost every “major” release looks to be some kind of franchise picture. Everything from Pacific Rim Uprising to Mission: Impossible 6, to another Fifty Shades. Some will make masses of cash. Others you will wonder why the studios don’t take more chance on original material. We keep hearing how box-office is dropping each year. At the same time, it almost seems every year that we see new box office records being set by individual films. There is a discrepancy though. Yes people will always want to flock to Avengers: Infinity War et al. But outside of these tired, predictable choices, like hitting McDonalds on a daily basis, audiences aren’t being offered enough.
Where are the surprises? Where are all the sleeper hits these days. Maybe we get the odd one here and there (Get Out) but not nearly enough. No one is daring enough. No one is focusing hard enough on writing (or indeed buying up) engaging stories. Most blockbusters seem to have half a dozen writers (maybe more who ‘ghost’ on the project) and whilst a large writing team isn’t a new concept, what seems evident is the end results offer little that is challenging, refreshing and new. The reaction to Star Wars: The Last Jedi only emphasises that fans can revolt against new ideas. That said I didn’t think the film was nearly as off canon as some (whether positively or negatively) thought. Lets face it, it’s Empire Mk. II with excess padding (I still enjoyed it largely I should add).
If they want gate receipts to rise again (in truth the ‘drops’ represent a changing in viewing options and tastes, as well as ever-increasing prices and poor western economies as much as anything else) there needs to be a greater respect to what audiences want to see. To an extent the whole weight of Hollywood’s box office returns are being placed on the shoulders of a few, rather than being more evenly distributed. On the whole, audiences will respond positively to good work. They want interesting stories and characters. It’s not so much about aiming to keep on increasing gate receipts as a whole. If times show a fall, it’s about arresting that first and foremost. Not everyone, despite the masses demanding it, want to go to see the franchise tentpoles. Do something interesting and engaging and they’ll watch (again…Get Out).
However here’s one thing that studios could stop doing…pointless remakes and sequels. As much as I absolutely loved Blade Runner 2049. It didn’t come about from an insatiable audience demand, and the US box office reflected that. I’m glad that it was made because it was done so in the best possible way (but they didn’t have to spend such a huge amount really). Looking ahead we have a sequel to Pacific Rim (not a big hit in the west), we’ve also had in recent years (or will have soon) sequels/remakes to Point Break, Halloween, The Equalizer, The Terminator (another disastrous sequel and another reboot attempt on the horizon), The Mummy and more. The rub is, that the vast majority of sequels/reboots actually lose money. Marvel are a safe bet, even DC to an extent, and most certainly Star Wars (and the majority of Disney’s franchise pictures). A Flatliners remake?? That’s not a safe bet. Who on Earth greenlit a fucking Flatliners remake?? Seriously? Who? Put your hand up please!
All the money invested in the needless end of the reboot spectrum should be invested in good writers and film-makers with engaging new stories to tell. Lets get more films like (yeah yeah) Get Out. I do enjoy Marvel films on the whole. I enjoyed Wonder Woman. I enjoy going to see Star Wars. Are they interesting? Not particularly. Do they have me engorging trouserially in babbling lipped anticipation? Not particularly. Jodie Foster’s recent comments on blockbusters caused an inevitable stir but largely she’s absolutely right. So please Hollywood…engage us. Interest us, and before these things become ad nauseam, can we, in perhaps 5 years when it’s finally burnt out, take a break from spandex and galaxies far far away?