George Chrysostomou on whether 2019 is make or break for pop culture as we know it…
Now I know the title of this article is likely exaggerated – pop culture can probably never break. But it can change and audiences can get fatigued when the same content is given to them repeatedly. So, is 2019 is the make or break of pop culture as we know it?
This year, we are going to experience the height of franchise overload, especially in regards to Disney. A lot has been written recently about how many projects Disney is unleashing upon the world, but the picture is a lot bigger than just the House of Mouse. Across the year, we are going to see more big brand franchise films and TV shows than perhaps we are used to. Over-saturation of the market is a real risk here and there is already evidence showing how big an impact this can have. The Star Wars franchise is a good example of this, with Solo: A Star Wars Story potentially being negatively impacted by the close proximity of the previous, somewhat ill-received, journey to a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
No genre seems to be able to escape the incoming onslaught of huge, multi-million pound projects. Take a look at the list of films set to be released in 2019. The super-hero genre is one area in which the market could quickly becoming over-saturated, yet there are numerous huge movies being released, including heavy hitters like Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home alongside more niche outings like Glass. The world of animation is set to have some of its most successful characters returning to cinemas, with the likes of both the Toy Story and LEGO franchises hitting screens this year. Disney is going all out too, releasing some huge remakes of its animated classics, with Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King set to dominate the market. Of course, we’re once again returning to that distant time and galaxy with Star Wars: Episode IX film and returning to a world of monsters with a new Godzilla feature.
This list of huge, potentially game changing or breaking projects, could go on and on. More poignantly, amongst this long list there are sure to be some major hits, and some costly misfires. These misfires will be more damaging in a year where the current state of popular culture is at the forefront of mainstream conversations. The same can be said for the TV industry and whilst I am not going to break down the even bigger list of genre pieces we are set to get in 2019, rest-assured that it is just as diverse, just as expensive and just as over saturated.
The issues we will face this year though go deeper than just audience reactions to these films, or the response to an increasingly stuffed market. Part of this year’s challenge is to listen to the feedback given from the last few years. 2018 in particular was a transformative year for Hollywood especially, with diversity slowly increasing (although there is still a way to go), the #MeToo movement grabbing mainstream attention and making a real difference in the industry and with the success of projects that support these big changes, like that of Black Panther or the rise of female talents like Patty Jenkins and Ava DuVernay. 2019 will demonstrate whether the industry has learnt from these lessons. How Black Panther performs at the Oscars for instance will perhaps demonstrate to a lot of people whether the Hollywood has paid attention to the audience it caters to. The #OscarsSoWhite campaign from a few years back highlighted the lack of POC talent being honoured within the movie world. It seems the lesson has slowly been learnt but how well this is reflected in the wider industry may have huge ramifications as to how audiences react to certain franchises.
Indeed, the lack of original content this year is also astounding. Nearly all of the films mentioned above are sequels, parts of a larger universe, based on books or previous animations, or are in some way a continuation of a story. The most original film on there is perhaps Glass although even that has its previous two instalments Unbreakable and Split, with this being a team up film of sorts. Once again Disney is also taking a risk in launching something new with Artemis Fowl, although with flops like A Wrinkle in Time in their pocket, I doubt something like this is going to garner much favour with audiences, in spite of the potential quality of the Kenneth Branagh-directed film. Over the years we’ve seen a number of original movies becoming successful (see Baby Driver for a recent example) but it appears Hollywood has doubled down on the very familiar franchises that we see repeatedly.
So will 2019 be the make or break point for pop culture as we know it? With over-saturation, fatigue, lack of diversity, ignoring audience opinions, lack of originality and lack of new talent, there could be huge changes following this year if all of these things are to take place. Of course, not for one moment do I not believe that some of these Disney projects aren’t likely to be the highest grossing film of the year. With so many heavy hitters and genuine quality amongst them, audiences are sure to lap some of these movies up. So maybe I’ve completely missed the mark and pop culture will carry on as normal, with a little progress each year but a lot of ignorance towards change. However, audiences sometimes work in unpredictable ways. It is difficult to predict what the conversations will be surrounding main stream popular culture this year; perhaps we really are on the brink of a turning point. Maybe it’s not so much about make or break, but rather just evolution.