Let’s take aim at current trends.
I have tried (mostly) to keep my handwringing about Marvel films to a minimum on this blog, but damn it is getting hard to ignore. It is the end of January and I have yet to see a movie made in 2020, let alone see any that I am looking forward to. (Both The Lodge and Portrait of a Woman on Fire were meant to be 2019 releases). Holy hell though, fans of remakes, spinoffs, reboots, and more goddamn superheroes have plenty coming their way.
Eight new superhero films this year (with already more slotted for 2021 and beyond). I guess I see the appeal (though honestly, they all seem the same to me), but when is the bubble going to pop? I mean, you’d think they’d slow down a little bit to prevent oversaturation.
Granted, I am not a producer, and my instincts have been proven drastically wrong about what film trends would last. However, I can’t see this as a sustainable market for much longer.
Le’s look at the recent wave of Star Wars films. The last one now has the lowest critical score of any of them, and it appears Disney is slowing down on releasing them. You might say that this is due to a lack of quality in the new trilogy, to which I will say it is the same trilogy, and then you’ll call me an asshole. Star Wars means something different to different generations, so it makes a bit of sense that there was a backlash to any changes, even if most of the changes didn’t fucking matter.
Now that Disney has basically taken control of film as a whole, they are also entering a new phase of their Marvel splooge. We’re going to have new heroes (or at least new actors)—I wonder if this is going to be met with the same backlash as Star Wars. Fandom is sensitive, and people already treat any change or new feature of these franchises more seriously than Americans treat poverty.
(Yes, I guess this is another anti-Disney rant).
Disney also has another smattering of “live action” remakes coming out (the new Lion King is still an animated feature…) and I am sure those will all be underwhelming in their own way. We’ll also have a new Pixar film that looks like the result of lazy storytelling and bad hallucinogens, but whatever. I’m sick of this film monopoly and I’m sick of the media frenzy that follows every fucking thing that happens while other types of film are basically completely ignored.
Where things might get interesting is that a bad year for film will ultimately translate to a potentially devastating year for Disney. For all our anti-corporate trends we are sure willing to allow one company to damn near control all media. So, will people actively push back? Or, will the bubble ultimately pop and the popularity of these films will wane? Either of these circumstances is possible, but I bet on the latter. Let’s be honest, sooner or later the hero bubble is going to burst. No film trend can sustain itself forever. Don’t believe me? Go watch a movie from the 1980s…
Sure, superhero films will eventually make a comeback (we’re on our what, 700th Batman), but the margin of error is going to get smaller and smaller. As the budgets for these films continues to balloon so will the need for profitability. Studios such as Disney can eat major losses, but how long until the major losses change trends? Anything other than Marvel seems to be on shaky ground (and even with the success of Joker, does that make up for how many flops at this point from DC?).
You might be thinking that I want the bubble to pop. I do in some ways, but it will be a disaster when it does.
As with everything in the economy, the hero bubble will impact more than just hero films. Mid-budget films are nearly a thing of the past already. We either have the uber blockbuster, a bloated film budget (even dramas are approaching $50 million), or independent films. If the uber blockbuster films stop making money it is going to strangle everything below it. What sucks is that Disney continuing to absorb the market is killing creativity, but if they experience a massive reduction it will also kill creativity.
The corporation has become an eldritch monster at this point.
Further, all production companies are chasing the billion-dollar high, which is creating a strange vacuum in cinema. Budgets seem to jump from $50 million at most to $300 million (not including marketing)—how the hell do you train someone for that? Directors are often resourceful with limited resources, so to then suddenly guess them a nearly unlimited budget is going to cause problems.
Another major issue is the speed at which these films are being made. Look, I don’t care for green screen, but I get it. There is a solid purpose behind utilizing it, but now it is the first response. Lord of the Rings spent years developing sets and the films hold up better today because of it. Also, it was fucking cheaper! Now (tragically, The Hobbit is a great example) everything is just computer generated. The films are starting to feel soulless to me. I can’t imagine I am the only one who feels this way.
What can be done about this? Well, nothing. We’re not going to convince any production company to change spending habits. As more films hit the coveted billion-dollar mark more will try to follow. I’m all for profitability, but this is chasing a greedy addiction. Even Disney feels a $200 million loss (John Carter) so what is going to happen when we eventually see a $400 or $500 million loss? Any company other than Disney that has even three or four major flops will find themselves ripe for takeover.
I might sound alarmist but go ahead and look through the upcoming films. Aside from nostalgia junkies, does anyone actually give more than a wet fart about a new Top Gun or Ghostbusters? If you’re hyped for these movies I am happy for you (seriously), but I just don’t get it. I wonder how much money the new Sonic movie is going to lose (and I kind of hope it is a lot). The new Mulan looks like it tried to suck all the fun out of the original for a new and gritty version. I guess we’re giving Jared Leto another chance to ruin a superhero as well.
The narratives are becoming so homogenous that when the failures truly begin it is going to be a while before the market can stabilize. Since we’ve already forced most independent or art films to the doldrums of streaming only (seriously, how the fuck does the new Terrance Mallick film not fucking come to northern Texas?) it isn’t like there’s a system in place to fill out the rosters with other things.
I’ve been criticized for being so anti-hero movies because they “help finance smaller films due to their success.” No, they don’t. This is the same lie that putting all educational funding into athletics will help anyone outside of athletics. Even the rarity there is a financial transfer, it isn’t what people imagine it to be. What has happened now is that all of the oxygen has been sucked out of the major companies, or they’ve been bought out.
I’ve hollered about this for years now, but sooner or later we’re going to regret allowing such a monopoly (both narratively and corporately) to form.