The Hollywood Franchise: Now with 100% More Yawning Abyss!
December 16, 2014 8:27 AM   Subscribe

I did not begin 2014 by imagining that the most resonant movie moment of the 12 months to come would be a quiet, resigned stare-down in a bathroom. But it has been that kind of year. "What the movie industry is about, in 2014, is creating a sense of anticipation in its target audience that is so heightened, so nurtured, and so constant that moviegoers are effectively distracted from how infrequently their expectations are actually satisfied."
posted by Tevin (89 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
When I looked at that first chart earlier, all I could think it "only three superhero movies coming out next year? That sucks!" I am, as ever, "part of the problem."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:32 AM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


Movies are no longer about the thing; they’re about the next thing, the tease, the Easter egg, the post-credit sequence, the promise of a future at which the moment we’re in can only hint.

This seems not only true of movies but the wider culture as well, talking constantly about the grand transformations just around the corner thanks to new technologies, when in reality what we get is pretty much the same, just faster, louder, more frantic.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:38 AM on December 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


It's not necessarily that "superhero movies are a problem". It's "only doing superhero movies is the problem". I have no problem with superhero movies as a rule - I thought Iron Man was a lot of fun (Robert Downey Jr. in full snark mode? yes please).

But I also liked Birdman a lot, and I also like stuff like Primer and That Thing You Do and The Princess Bride and Hot Fuzz and, well, basically anything that's well done. I like the smaller films that make you think of stuff or have a really unusual premise or, hell, even expertly-done cinematography (The Cell was largely panned by critics, but holy shit did I dig seeing that on a big screen).

The problem is that instead of offering a range of movies which could cater to a range of people, Hollywood is getting monomaniacal - it looks at what makes money and says, "Great! We'll give you 168,749 more versions of that one thing to the exclusion of all else!"

Superhero movies just happen to have won that jackpot. If they hadn't, and it had been stuff like Primer instead, we'd have been reading an article about why there were 30 time-traveling office wonk movies coming up next year.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:45 AM on December 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


I was going to complain that this was a lot of rant rant rant and point to some really good films that have come out despite the MBAs heading the studio system these days, until I came across this passage:
Imagine American movie culture for the last few years without Her or Foxcatcher or American Hustle or The Master or Zero Dark Thirty and it suddenly looks markedly more frail — and those movies exist only because of the fairy godmothership of independent producer Megan Ellison. The grace of billionaires is not a great business model on which to hang the hopes of an art form.
Excepting the torture-porn that is Zero Dark Thirty, I had no idea that maybe 1/4 of what I thought of as good, independent films produced in the past 5 years were all due to the good graces of the daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison (whose "Career" section on Wikipedia begins with : Megan Ellison had a bunch of money and decided to invest in movies.)

Thanks Megan Ellison!

In any case, film was always a contradictory form of art. No other art form, not even Broadway, is so closely connected to its existence as a business enterprise. Film was always at risk of complete and total commodification. In the mean time, thousands of hours of incredible films have been made, enough to last any film buff a lifetime of entertainment and intellectual stimulation. If film dies out and becomes MOVIES! well, I guess that's OK. It had a good run as the definitive art form of the 20th century. The 21st century may have to make do with something else.
posted by dis_integration at 8:49 AM on December 16, 2014 [22 favorites]


I don't think the article deserves dismissal as a "rant," as if the author's passion automatically makes the argument invalid, but it could probably dismissed flippantly with, "You got your business in my art!"
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:55 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


"What the movie industry is about, in 2014, is creating a sense of anticipation in its target audience that is so heightened, so nurtured, and so constant that moviegoers are effectively distracted from how infrequently their expectations are actually satisfied."

Fixed that line from the article since this is hardly anything new.
posted by surazal at 8:55 AM on December 16, 2014


Two staples of MeFi the last few years are the "Hollywood is going down the tubes!" story and the "TV is better and of a higher standard of quality than ever!" story.

Basically, if you find yourself habitually asking, " Where is a person supposed to go now to get quality, original screen stories?" the answer really is something you'd need a television to understand.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:58 AM on December 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


If what this guy is complaining about is also your problem, I'm really not sure TV is the answer. The entire medium is built to contain never-ending franchises, after all.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:01 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I thought the mirror staredown referenced was the one from Nightcrawler. Though, that one is hardly resigned or quiet.

If one doesn't care for masked man movies, there's still more than enough non-superhero films coming out. Even in the prime real estate movie season known as Summer, I managed to survive by watching The Raid 2, Lucy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Snowpiercer, and Edge of Tomorrow. Still got my action fix, but no one was wearing tights (ironically enough, both Snowpiercer and Edge are based on graphic novels). And non-action wise, there was Boyhood and The Fault in Our Stars as well.

Now that we're in the Fall/Winter, it's even easier since even with a strong showing by Hobbit and Hunger Games, it's traditionally Oscarbait season, so there's still Wild, Fury, Foxcatcher, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice (though only in NY/LA until 1/9), etc.

Speaking of which, is the problem of diverse movie selection more problematic outside of big metropolitan areas? Because, since I live in the LA Southland (though skulking in the edges of it), the super hero movies are bountiful but haven't managed to squash the smaller theaters showing interesting stuff or having a weekly classic movie night.
posted by FJT at 9:04 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


If what this guy is complaining about is also your problem, I'm really not sure TV is the answer. The entire medium is built to contain never-ending franchises, after all.

And the author makes exactly that point:
But TV is also better at being TV than the movies are. Movies can do many things, but they can’t replicate that kind of sustained engagement well; they’re too big and lumbering and the pauses between them are too long. For years, Warner Bros. has been trying to make a movie, or maybe two, out of Stephen King’s long novel The Stand. Recently, its latest director, The Fault in Our Stars’s Josh Boone, floated the idea that it could be four movies. That is not a movie; it’s a miniseries. In fact, I’m not clear on how it differs from the four-part, eight-hour ABC miniseries that was made of The Stand in 1994 except for the fact that it’s going to be “epic” (which is what we now tend to say when we mean some Peter Jacksonian combination of long, loud, and slow to climax) and will force us to wait a year between each installment rather than a night. That is not necessarily an improvement.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:04 AM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


If humanity suddenly stopped making movies and writing novels and recording songs, there would already be enough amazing and life-changing cinema and literature and music out there for nearly anyone to reasonably consume in a single lifetime.

Or if that isn't true now, it will be true at some point in the future.

At some point, it should be OK to say, "That's enough incredible content, thank you. We're good." We don't need a firehose of good new art. A dribble is fine. No need to lament the demise of art films when there's such a deep back catalog to dive into.
posted by painquale at 9:08 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would definitely not list Lucy and Edge of Tomorrow (now with new, "improved" title thanks to boneheaded marketing) as "non-superhero movies".

We don't need a firehose of good new art.

Well, that's not exactly what the firehose is delivering.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:10 AM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


To me the most pertinent bit is about how what a mogul is has changed.

My mom used to work for a big oil company and she said she watched over her time there as the big honchos went from being geologists and other oil people to being all finance people.

Pick a widget. This trend is happening everywhere. You can watch in real time in the tech business.
posted by Trochanter at 9:13 AM on December 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


Maybe 60 FPS films will be the new films.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:13 AM on December 16, 2014


My mom used to work for a big oil company and she said she watched over her time there as the big honchos went from being geologists and other oil people to being all finance people.

Pick a widget. This trend is happening everywhere.


Happened at GM, too, according to Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:18 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would definitely not list Lucy and Edge of Tomorrow (now with new, "improved" title thanks to boneheaded marketing) as "non-superhero movies".

I can see how they can be seen as superhero movies, but I disagree that they should only be called or listed as that. I don't know, maybe there's a bit of "super hero mission creep" going on where any movie that features people in fantastic situations or with fantastic elements is being called a superhero movie.
posted by FJT at 9:23 AM on December 16, 2014


I don't want to see a single movie on that list. Looks like I'm not going to the movies again until 2025. Avatar IV, WTF?!?
posted by monotreme at 9:24 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


maybe there's a bit of "super hero mission creep" going on where any movie that features people in fantastic situations or with fantastic elements is being called a superhero movie

No, I would say that superhero movies are movies about people with fantastic powers, which the protagonists of both of those movies gain fairly early on in the films.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:28 AM on December 16, 2014


... maybe there's a bit of "super hero mission creep" going on where any movie that features people in fantastic situations or with fantastic elements is being called a superhero movie.

Seems pretty basic to call a movie featuring a hero protagonist with supernatural powers a "superhero movie," unless you're gonna be a stickler about the costume being a prerequisite.
posted by Mothlight at 9:29 AM on December 16, 2014


That was a good jeremiad.

At some point, it should be OK to say, "That's enough incredible content, thank you. We're good." We don't need a firehose of good new art. A dribble is fine. No need to lament the demise of art films when there's such a deep back catalog to dive into.

Time. Time has changed. I'm just going to go ahead and be pompous for a second, because it's honest, also: I believe art is mankind's half of a conversation with the universe. In science we listen, in art we speak. One cannot exactly claim that art has a responsibility, but if it has a function, it is to communicate some fragment of what it is like to be human to other conscious beings. And a crucial part of that is its specificity: this time, this place, this story. That art lasts beyond its time is one of its glories. But that does not mean that an art form made mute, rendered unable to speak to its time, is not mournful. There will always be ways to make moving images. There are billionaire fairy godmothers and guerrilla filmmakers sneaking into Disney with camcorders. But there were things movies could do, stories movies could tell, with their Orson Welles' electric train set, cast-of-thousands, where-do-they-get-such-wonderful-toys expansiveness, that they don't get to tell now. Because 9 year olds don't want bed sheets that feature Peter O'Toole poking his head over the dunes.

I mean, it's nice that we have Vivaldi. But it's sad that we'll never have another Vivaldi.
posted by Diablevert at 9:33 AM on December 16, 2014 [43 favorites]


> both Snowpiercer and Edge are based on graphic novels

Edge of Tomorrow was based on a Japanese science fiction prose novel called All You Need is Kill.
posted by Sokka shot first at 9:36 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


If anyone is curious, here's many of them for your reading (dis)pleasure.
posted by cazoo at 9:38 AM on December 16, 2014


I believe art is mankind's half of a conversation with the universe. In science we listen, in art we speak.

You're right; that does sound pretty pompous. To hijack your metaphor, I would say that art is, if anything, humanity talking to itself in the bathroom mirror.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:38 AM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


When does Diminishing Returns XII come out?
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:39 AM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


No, I would say that superhero movies are movies about people with fantastic powers, which the protagonists of both of those movies gain fairly early on in the films.

But then, you'd have to start making definitions of "fantastic powers": Interstellar, Elysium, Harry Potter, Now You See Me, Source Code, The Bourne series, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and Fast and Furious could all be considered superhero movies.

And there's also one glaring counter example to all this: Batman (and to a lesser extent Tony Stark). If you include people with genius level intellect, exceptional will, and lots of money then the definition expands even further.
posted by FJT at 9:44 AM on December 16, 2014


I'm excited about the superhero movies and have no shame about this.
posted by corb at 9:45 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


> which is what we now tend to say when we mean some Peter Jacksonian combination of long, loud, and slow to climax)

"Phrasing!"
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:47 AM on December 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


I had no idea that maybe 1/4 of what I thought of as good, independent films produced in the past 5 years were all due to the good graces of the daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison

Who is of course the one Sony execs called "a bipolar 28-year-old lunatic." Seriously, thanks Megan, you're cool in my book.
posted by atoxyl at 9:48 AM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


There have been "people with powers" movies for a long time, often but not always associated with a Messianic Archetype (e.g. Star Wars). What people mean by "superhero movie" in the context of "superhero movies are destroying film!" seems to me to be more limited, and is more about the impact of blockbuster SFX-driven movies that leverage existing IP (usually from comics) on the economics and creative scope of filmmaking.
posted by AndrewInDC at 9:54 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


There does seem to be more "optimization/evolution into a monoculture" happening, in many areas. Marvel is colonizing our movies. PG-13 is the sweet spot for ratings. In the late 1970s, everything was disco; now it's catchy, hooky, simple-as-possible songs about male/female attraction. UFC matches were interesting contests between different fighting styles until people figured out what works. Disparate cable networks have all converged into reality TV. All bacon is applewood smoked, all lemons are Meyer, etc. It's like we have more choices than ever, but we're all choosing the same thing.
posted by kurumi at 9:55 AM on December 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


It's like we have more choices than ever, but we're all choosing the same thing.

Say it with me:
"I am an individual!"
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:57 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


But then, you'd have to start making definitions of "fantastic powers": Interstellar, Elysium, Harry Potter, Now You See Me, Source Code, The Bourne series, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and Fast and Furious could all be considered superhero movies.

Possibly. I'm not going to try to make some kind of rock solid, hard line case for what is and what isn't a superhero movie, but I wouldn't necessarily have a problem classifying the last couple of Fast 'n' Furious movies as such. Hell, I always said Torque was a movie about superheros. I've never seen Interstellar, Elysium, Now You See Me, Source Code or Bagger Vance, but the Bourne movies could potentially be viewed as such, although I would say superhero movies tend to be about superpowers in a way other movies aren't. Harry Potter is more whimsical fairy tale than superhero movie, for my money.

But again, not gonna fight long and hard about it.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:58 AM on December 16, 2014


I thought the beef with 'superhero movie' as a genre was not the people with abilities but with long-standing comic books being brought to movies at the expense of new worlds and characters?

That's my beef, to the extent that I have one, anyway.
posted by Tevin at 10:02 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Where we are now: popular culture columnists/bloggers/podcasters, in clarifying their ideas about film, now routinely refer without even a homeopathic trace of irony to their "favorite franchises." Commodification is the state of nature.
posted by RogerB at 10:05 AM on December 16, 2014


What we need is more hardboiled detective movies.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:11 AM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm excited about the superhero movies and have no shame about this.

You shouldn't be ashamed. Enjoy what excites you. Film has been all about spectacle from The Great Train Robbery and Birth of a Nation to Cleopatra and Ben Hur to Star Wars and The Poseidon Adventure to Jurassic Park and Independence Day.

A few less franchises might be nice, I guess. But we've got so many options and yes, back catalogs have rarely been easier to get a hold of. There's no shortage of good movies to watch and yes new ones do manage to come out all the time despite the Avengers. I'm not even entirely sure what this guy's argument is apart from "everything sucks now!" Everything's always sucked buddy, you made that argument yourself. Hollywood's always been littered with franchises; Andy Hardy, Our Gang, the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, Shirley Temple, Universal Monster Movies, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy. And that's just the "Golden Era". There's a reason why "art film" and "foreign film" are synonymous in some people's minds.

And if you really don't like it? If you're really serious about the Death of Film, then don't participate. Tell your own stories (high def video is CHEAP!) or plow that money you were wasting at the AMC into somebody's Kickstarter or Indiegogo or whatever. Act as patron to the types of art you want in the world. There are options beyond the traditional.

Or, y'know, write a blog post for Grantland.
posted by davros42 at 10:11 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


"I'm not even entirely sure what this guy's argument is apart from "everything sucks now!""

I think his argument is 'Hollywood is too afraid to take chances' and uses the far-reaching dates of the release calendars as evidence and makes no claims as to the quality of the films he mentions. I thought it was a pretty cogent and clearly-made argument, too.
posted by Tevin at 10:16 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I would go see 52 marvel movies a year with absolutely no shame.
posted by empath at 10:17 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I like Marvel movies, of course, but I don't want that to become the totality of my movie-going experiences for the next five years. There's absolutely nothing wrong with liking these movies (hell, liking what you like in general), just like there's nothing wrong with eating a good cheeseburger. But the thought of eating only cheeseburgers, no matter how perfectly prepared and presented, is a bit grim no matter how you serve it.
posted by Tevin at 10:24 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I would go see 52 marvel movies a year with absolutely no shame.

You technically could: There are 40 live action movies that have been released based on Marvel or Marvel Imprint books. If you include animated features and TV movies, you're well above 52. Remember though, this includes everything from the 1944 Captain America Serial to Lundgren's Punisher.
posted by FJT at 10:24 AM on December 16, 2014


I've liked some of the Marvel movies, too, but those charts with the lists of movies franchises all laid out for the next several years make me think of this. "So you like donuts superhero movies, eh? Well..."
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:31 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would go see 52 marvel movies a year with absolutely no shame.

Nice try, DC shill!
posted by Sangermaine at 10:35 AM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


This summer, Disney announced The Avengers 3 and The Avengers 4. They will be called Infinity War Part 1 and Infinity War Part 2.
Part of what's so galling about this glut of superhero movies is that the naming conventions are moving towards using more and more words to tell you less and less about what the movie actually is.
posted by psoas at 10:52 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I would go see 52 marvel movies a year with absolutely no shame.

I've seen all of them in the theater but except for The Avengers, I haven't really loved any of them. They're unfailingly competently made but there isn't one that I've wanted to see twice.
posted by octothorpe at 10:52 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would go see 52 marvel movies a ye ar with absolutely no shame.

Not even just a little. I mean, I love high end motor racing spectacle and always have. But I'm adult now. I can't help but admit that it's probably not that good for me or the world, that it represents an almost pornographic level of pointless consumption ... while children are starving. But I still love it.
posted by philip-random at 10:59 AM on December 16, 2014


Part of what's so galling about this glut of superhero movies is that the naming conventions are moving towards using more and more words to tell you less and less about what the movie actually is.

It makes sense and tells you a lot, but only if you're pretty deep into the comic books. So I'm guessing part 1 will be about the assembling of the Cosmic Cubes - which we've already seen teased in various Marvel films thus far - while Part 2 will be some hot and heavy doppelganger action.
posted by corb at 11:06 AM on December 16, 2014


You can be certain that after Avengers: Infinity War Part II things will never be the same!
posted by Tevin at 11:07 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


But when will I get my Namor movie starring the Rock

when
posted by poffin boffin at 11:11 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Like a couple of other people, my eyebrow went up at the number of quality movies Megan Ellison produced. That is a story I'd like to read more about.

In terms of the author's thesis--which I'm putting at 'moviemaking is being transformed by the newly-installed MBAs at the top of studios into a risk-free venture from which lots of ultimately boring movies will be the only thing emerging, leaving authentically interesting movies to wither away'--I will say that while the short-term looks much of a muchness, in the long term it'll correct itself.

Superhero movies are just the New Hotness. Yes, the movie-going audience likes superhero and franchise movies. No, superhero movies and franchises aren't the only movies people want to watch. So when superhero movies start being poorly made (current Marvel movies, for example, are all meeting a bare minimum of fun that it'd be easy to start missing) and people get bored and stop paying money, then I do think studios will look for the New New Hotness.

Does anyone really think we'll still be scheduling Marvel* movies at a five year clip in 2025? If so, they will have had a run of quality longer than many Fortune 500 companies can boast and honestly that's a good thing.

*Truth: I prefer the Marvel movies (not that DC has put out much so far). I'm also looking forward to a couple of franchise and superhero movies next year (Pitch Perfect 2, the new Bond movie, Avengers Ultron). I'll probably watch a couple of indie and niche movies as well. Just like everyone else.
posted by librarylis at 11:21 AM on December 16, 2014


In 2016, we can also look forward to a reboot of the Bush vs Clinton franchise.
posted by empath at 11:23 AM on December 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


> In 2016, we can also look forward to a reboot of the Bush vs Clinton franchise.

They could also call that the Infinity War.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:28 AM on December 16, 2014 [12 favorites]


God, the Upwothification of internet headline writing sucks. Look at the subtitle on this piece: How Hollywood’s toxic (and worsening) addiction to franchises changed movies forever in 2014

Really, Grantland editors? It has changed them forever? We will still be feeling the effects of this addiction in 2514, when movies are delivered via full spinal neuron integration? Also, "in 2014" is just awkwardly hanging off there at the end when it should probably come after "franchises."

/rant
posted by Aizkolari at 11:35 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Twelve of the year’s 14 highest grossers are, or will spawn, sequels.2 (The sole exceptions — assuming they remain exceptions, which is iffy — are Big Hero 6 and Maleficent.)

In case anyone else read this thought it was odd to stop at 14 and wondered what is currently the 15th highest grossing movie of 2014, it's Interstellar.
posted by ckape at 11:46 AM on December 16, 2014


But when will I get my Namor movie starring the Rock

Namor is the sole Marvel property whose movie rights are still owned by Universal. (They used to own the Hulk, too, but a combination of rights-lapsing and dealmaking sent it back to Marvel/Disney.) Studios mostly treat Marvel IP movie rights as found money these days, so Universal isn't bothering to make a Namor movie; they're sitting on the rights waiting for Marvel to cut a deal.
posted by mightygodking at 11:57 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


ckape: In case anyone else read this thought it was odd to stop at 14 and wondered what is currently the 15th highest grossing movie of 2014, it's Interstellar.

Nolan is an interesting case study here. Either he's the exception that proves the rule or the exception that disproves it. He's a filmmaker who seems to make (in my opinion franky boring) franchise films, Batman, and now Batman v Superman, so he can go back to what was clearly his true love, mind bending recursive sci-fi neo-noir. I know it's cool to hate on him, but I've loved his stuff since Memento and can put up with grunting-angry-whisper Batman Bale if it means people will keep throwing money at Nolan to make his own pet projects a reality.
posted by dis_integration at 11:59 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm not even entirely sure what this guy's argument is apart from "everything sucks now!"

Wrong - it's "a monoculture sucks".

If humanity suddenly stopped making movies and writing novels and recording songs, there would already be enough amazing and life-changing cinema and literature and music out there for nearly anyone to reasonably consume in a single lifetime. Or if that isn't true now, it will be true at some point in the future.

Well, see, we could have also said this back in 1910. But then think of the movies we wouldn't have gotten as a result.

Human creativity is actually not a finite resource. The means to manifest that creativity is, however, and what this article is calling for is some room for more than one species to breathe.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:15 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


corb,

It's called Infinity War but it's almost certainly going to be the story of Infinity Gauntlet, not the actual Infinity War story.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:16 PM on December 16, 2014


From the list of upcoming sequels/etc: "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension".

Be glad that I cannot embed audio of my endless keening wail of despair at the state of the world.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:18 PM on December 16, 2014


In terms of the author's thesis--which I'm putting at 'moviemaking is being transformed by the newly-installed MBAs at the top of studios into a risk-free venture from which lots of ultimately boring movies will be the only thing emerging, leaving authentically interesting movies to wither away'--I will say that while the short-term looks much of a muchness, in the long term it'll correct itself.

I guess I'm just not sure how it's going to correct itself. Yeah, we'll move away from superhero movies and onto something else, but whatever it is will likely be just as trite and formulaic.

Right now, if I wanted to see a movie in a theater that was not created by a committee, I'd have only a handful of options, and I'd have to pass easily a dozen or more multiplexes to get there. Even then, they'd mostly be documentaries and foreign movies. All of the theaters anywhere near me that used to be arthouses are now 90% big budget Hollywood movies that you watch in a venue with a liquor license.

I honestly think that's gone for good, or at least for the foreseeable future. I love being able to stream movies at home, but I think that technology has nearly eliminated the theater for anything but very broad appeal movies.

So I hope that I'll still be able to new auteur directors that I love, but it's probably not going to be in a theater.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:18 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Mark Harris, Wesley Morris and Molly Lambert are the only reasons worth reading Grantland these days (the entertainment side, maybe there's still a lot of good writing happening in the sports section).
posted by mannequito at 12:38 PM on December 16, 2014


Star Wars anything Spielberg touches Superheroes are the death of movies. ©1977, 1982, 2014
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:40 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


At some point, it should be OK to say, "That's enough incredible content, thank you. We're good." We don't need a firehose of good new art. A dribble is fine. No need to lament the demise of art films when there's such a deep back catalog to dive into.

You might as well say, "We've got enough books/music/etc., thank you. We're good." And what deep back catalog? Where is it? Netflix is jettisoning most of its older content in favor of TV shows, original content, and whatever recent films that it can convince the studios to hand over. If there's profit to be made from the deep back catalog, has it been found yet? TCM is in financial hard straits and is being pushed to add more and more original programming and other gimmicks to make it look trendy. There's no deep back catalog on cable (from what I can tell, it's mainly crappy non-blockbuster movies from the past 10-15 years that the studios couldn't dump anywhere else). If you're talking about buying Criterion DVDs, that's great if you can afford it.

I'm as content as the next person to sit back and hit up TCM or Netflix for my "old movie" fix, but if you think that cinema is worth something, or that it has or should have something to say about the world we now live in and not just the worlds of 100 or 50 or 25 years ago, and not just about alternate worlds that have nothing to do with our current reality, the trends this guy is outlining should be of concern to anyone (anyone who gives a shit). After all, there's only so much of the past you can cannibalize before there's nothing left.
posted by blucevalo at 12:46 PM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Well, see, we could have also said this back in 1910. But then think of the movies we wouldn't have gotten as a result.

Could we have said it back then? I mean, how much of a monoculture was there? It's very easy to respond to this kind of criticism by saying "'twas ever thus"; was it, though? Such that this is at most a difference in degree and not in kind? This is a real question—I'm skeptical, admittedly, but perhaps you know more about film history than I do.

I mean, perhaps audiences of the late 30s and 40s were inundated with screwball comedies, and god knows I love 'em, but Hollywood was making a lot more than just screwball comedies then.
posted by kenko at 12:55 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


No need to lament the demise of art films when there's such a deep back catalog to dive into.

This is bats.
posted by kenko at 12:58 PM on December 16, 2014


(The "'twas ever thus" crowd I think at least needs to address the author's claim that release schedules extending four-plus years into the future would never previously have been contemplated and would, in fact, have been derided.)
posted by kenko at 1:03 PM on December 16, 2014


I'm excited about the Marvel films and don't give a damn about the DC films. It's getting ridiculous to go to the movies for anything but the blockbusters, as most of us have large screens at home. Where it's quieter and you can hit the pause button.

Basically, the article was hella boring, didn't say anything new and sounded like a crotchety old person who needs a nap.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:07 PM on December 16, 2014


I'm just tired of the tropes and sequels and same-same-same stories. Hit us with something new.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:11 PM on December 16, 2014


And what deep back catalog? Where is it?

On private torrent sites, probably. I have definitely had thoughts in this general direction thinking about digital distribution and the future of music in particular - would I accept the trade of "no more commercial recordings ever" (doesn't mean no new music, doesn't even mean no new recordings) for unlimited access to all the recorded music that already exists? Probably, and I don't even think the reality is as stark as that. But I don't think that thought is especially relevant here, because huge amounts of resources are being allocated to new movies and the real issue at hand is about which movies. And the same people responsible for making those decisions also try very hard to limit the average person's access to the back catalog.
posted by atoxyl at 1:11 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Jeez people, the premise of this article is not that "superhero movies" per se are destroying Hollywood. It's about the rule of franchises, the transformation of the movie industry into a single-product industry where the goal is to devise a perfect formula whereby the audience can be milked for profit long-term. Because there's a lot of talent making these movies, certainly many will be entertaining, some even good, but the business plan is such that it attempts to lock the audience in so that the quality of the product is really besides the point. By turning Hollywood into a content-commodity manufacturer, the diversity of the available product diminishes until the only movies made are branded products, part of a planned series that delivers predictable entertainment and profits on a pre-planned schedule.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:12 PM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm just tired of the tropes and sequels and same-same-same stories.

Don't take this the wrong way (because I feel similarly), but I think this may just be a result of getting older. Not old (in a "lol, go away old way), just older, in that you have no doubt been exposed to an awful lot of stuff, and after a while it's hard to avoid seeing everything as variations on themes you've already seen.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:17 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


after a while it's hard to avoid seeing everything as variations on themes you've already seen.

Especially true when every new thing you see is a variation on something you've already seen.

I've read a lot of books but don't have much difficulty finding fairly new things to read that aren't mere variation in at least one dimension I care about.
posted by kenko at 1:20 PM on December 16, 2014


Netflix is jettisoning most of its older content in favor of TV shows, original content, and whatever recent films that it can convince the studios to hand over.

Wait wait wait. We should be concerned about the rise of a monoculture, and our culture cannibalizing itself, because one of the internet services that make more movies more easily available to human beings than anything else in history, ever, period, is jettisoning a bunch of its older content? Think about that for a minute.

There is some serious lack of historical perspective going on in this thread. First of all, as other folks have covered, studios lurching from one Big Thing to the Next Big Thing is far, far older than superheroes being the Next Big Thing following on the heels of fantasy movies being the Big Thing a few years ago when LotR and Harry Potter came out. Hell it's older than back when film noir was the Next Big Thing. Studio execs chasing after and cashing in on the Next Big Thing is as old as cinema itself.

But more significantly: we do not live in a rising monoculture; we live in less of a monoculture than ever before in human history, period. A couple minutes poking around on FanFare really ought to be enough to disabuse anybody of that notion. The fact that it seems like everybody is all choosing the same stuff? That's an optical illusion. No, it really is - it's primarily a function of having more choices than ever before. For a simplified example, think of it this way: if you have three channels on your tv, and across the country folks are evenly split so that each of those three channels is regularly watched by 33% of the population, do you have a monoculture? Now, if you have two thousand channels on your tv, but across the country folks are split up such that only twenty-five of those two thousand channels each gets about 4% of the viewing population and the rest get basically ignored, do you have more of a monoculture, or less of a monoculture?

That rigidity and fear of movie studio execs, their increasing risk-aversity? That's not leading to a rising monoculture, it's a reaction to the death of monoculture. Right now I have the opportunity to watch more movies - on my computer right now, as in I could start watching it in the next 60 seconds - than most previous generations would have ever had the opportunity to watch at all, of the course of their entire lives. And studios? Movies studios used to have an enormous amount of control over what movies people had the opportunity to watch. Now they don't. They've been reduced to just another voice in the insanely busy marketplace of things that are clamoring for my attention. They only have two dependable advantages they can use to make themselves stand out from the overwhelming din of everything else out there - gobs of money, and a track record with their audiences, a history of making movies audiences liked before that the studios can point back to. And so what's front and center in the movies they're putting out these days? Well, most major studio films recently star Gobs Of Money and That Thing You Liked Before. The last dying gasps of an old media empire. They are burning through their greatest hits in a desperate bid to stay relevant.

You want to know what comes after superhero movies? What the Next Next Big Thing will be? Maybe it won't be the very next thing, but soon enough will come a time when the Next Big Thing isn't "big-budget fantasy" or "big-budget superhero" or "big-budget fairytale remakes" -- eventually, the Next Big Thing will come from some kids on Youtube, some low-budget thing that has just the right combination of talent, genius, and luck. And the studios won't have a piece of it, and they won't be able to copy it (though you can bet they'll try) and instead it'll be other Youtubers cashing in on the Big Thing. That's the future, and these fear-driven studio execs? That's what they're afraid of.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:43 PM on December 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


I think the place where the author hits the mark is that hollywood has changed for the worse because of sequels. Sequels used to be a terrible thing, something that hacky producers did in order to make a quick buck off of an established property, using cheap, hacky writers. Prior to The Godfather Part II, you just didn't see very many sequels. Remakes sometimes, but sequels were rare, and almost always cheap and terrible. Godfather Part II happened and was good because Copola knew there was a lot more to be mined from that original novel that hadn't been filmed for the original story.

Even after that, there weren't that many good sequels until Star Wars came along and changed everything, but even then, most sequels came about "naturally." The original property made a metric shit-ton, and after it was considered okay to make sequels, good writers had a good idea that led to development.

Now we have Avatar IV in the pipeline. Am I really supposed to believe that Cameron and company already have three more equally [hamburger]good[/hamburger] stories to tell about the blue aliens? I'm doubtful. More likely, they're getting everybody hyped, inflating the value of their production company, and worrying about story later. And that sucks.
posted by nushustu at 1:47 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Could we have said it back then? I mean, how much of a monoculture was there?

I was actually not talking about the monoculture angle when I said that, but rather to what I thought was a somewhat outrageous claim that it's actually okay if we just stopped making new art because there's already enough of a back catalog to keep the people who don't like superhero movies happy. At least, I assume that was the argument.

But regardless, I was reacting more to the notion that "this is enough art in the world, we're full."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:03 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


More likely, they're getting everybody hyped, inflating the value of their production company, and worrying about story later.

In Hollywood at least, money talks and writers walk. So I hear.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:04 PM on December 16, 2014


I had no idea that maybe 1/4 of what I thought of as good, independent films produced in the past 5 years were all due to the good graces of the daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison

Who is of course the one Sony execs called "a bipolar 28-year-old lunatic." Seriously, thanks Megan, you're cool in my book.


Realizing that the answer to "Why do we still have decent independent films in America?" is "Because the billionaire who owns Oracle allows his daughter to go easy on the meds." does not fill me with hope for the future of cinema.
posted by jonp72 at 2:26 PM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Movies are no longer about the thing; they’re about the next thing, the tease, the Easter egg, the post-credit sequence, the promise of a future at which the moment we’re in can only hint.

This seems not only true of movies but the wider culture as well, talking constantly about the grand transformations just around the corner thanks to new technologies, when in reality what we get is pretty much the same, just faster, louder, more frantic.


Which reaffirms what a beautiful, unique, and important work of art Boyhood is.
posted by one_bean at 2:57 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Right now I have the opportunity to watch more movies - on my computer right now, as in I could start watching it in the next 60 seconds - than most previous generations would have ever had the opportunity to watch at all, of the course of their entire lives.

More movies, maybe. But which movies are they? Online streaming libraries are maddeningly incomplete and puzzlingly curated, especially when it comes to older films. If I relied on Internet streaming for watching movies, I wouldn't be able to watch half of what I really want to see. According to canistream.it, of the last half-dozen movies I've watched at home — Guardians of the Galaxy, F for Fake, The Vanishing, Dolls, All That Jazz, Trans-Europ-Express — only one would have been available for streaming digitally: the superhero movie, naturally. I get your point about "more choices" overall. But when it comes to cinema specifically, especially anything that predates Star Wars, I don't think Netflix Instant is nearly as useful a resource as a well-stocked, human-curated video store.
posted by Mothlight at 3:10 PM on December 16, 2014 [5 favorites]


Mothlight:

I just searched on my Roku, and The Vanishing (the original) and F For Fake are on Hulu, and Dolls is on VDU ($2.99), so you're actually batting 667.

Hulu has a lot of Criterion movies.

Streaming is better than you think.
posted by rfs at 6:15 PM on December 16, 2014


What we need is more hardboiled detective movies.

Unfortunately, they'll probably feature characters from Frank Miller.
posted by Apocryphon at 6:35 PM on December 16, 2014


Streaming is better than you think.

Huh. That's what I get for trusting canistream.it, I guess. It shows the remake of The Vanishing but not the original. However somehow I straight-up missed F for Fake — I'd swear it didn't show when I ran the search earlier, but now it does, so I must have been mistaken. Thanks for the correction.

I guess I'm biased against streaming partly because I appreciate the quality of Blu-ray so much, but to tell the truth the moment when I really soured on Netflix came when I realized they were screening only a censored version of Holy Motors, which was my favorite movie of a couple of years ago. They also cavalierly carry panned-and-scanned versions of movies, which always makes me feel like I can't really trust them even when I do find a title I'm interested in unless I research it to make sure the Netflix version actually has the correct framing.

Anyway, I don't mean to derail the bigger question of the "monoculture" except to say that I'm not overly impressed with what streaming brings to the table—but it's probably relative. I'm in New York and still mourning the demise of the amazing and irreplaceable Kim's Underground and its one-of-a-kind video library. If I lived in the middle of Iowa, I'd probably be freaking delighted with the selection.
posted by Mothlight at 9:29 PM on December 16, 2014


if it means people will keep throwing money at Nolan to make his own pet projects a reality.

Ironically, I keep hoping that people will do the reverse for Neill Blomkamp so the Halo adaptation will become reality.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:36 PM on December 16, 2014


Netflix is jettisoning most of its older content

Frankly, I don't see this. I have a full DVD queue of 500 films, and the percentage that are streamable is definitely up. It's hard to make a hard comparison (say, to a year ago) because I queue for streaming what I can and so that list is at 300 titles (at most 10% are TV shows). I would have to record the results of searching and adding at any given moment to do that. But while it's clear they are gradually shrinking the DVD business end of things, I don't see that they're "jettisoning" older content in any volume greater than they're adding it.

They did recently inform me that about 50 films in my Saved queue were not going to be carried on their website even for that inchoate (audience measuring?) purpose any longer. But those are titles that never were streaming in the first place, and likely only a few ever actually represented physical discs in their warehouse.

I can understand that they may not have the specific few films you want, but my sense of things is that the studios are the ones driving the "what Netflix gets" situation.

I don't think Netflix Instant is nearly as useful a resource as a well-stocked, human-curated video store.

In a number of significant ways, this is true, but it's also not true in others, and the business dynamic is quite different. I think it's lousy if you want to give yourself a good education in cinema; but on the other hand they sent me Tati's Playtime, and on Blu-Ray, via the DVD service. In a lot of ways the availability mirrors the way film used to be "available" -- when it gets around to your local theater, you can see it, and then you can't anymore. It's not exactly the old Qwest ad, but then again, did you ever limit yourself to that one good video store in your town, anyway?
posted by dhartung at 10:25 PM on December 16, 2014


I want to see more Wallace Beery wrastlin' flicks.
posted by Chitownfats at 11:02 PM on December 16, 2014


We'll be hearing from that crazy wrestler, and I don't mean a postcard.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:17 AM on December 17, 2014


Well on the bright side we're getting thirty heist movies! I love heist movies!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:00 AM on December 17, 2014


Anytime someone starts bemoaning the "horrible glut" of superhero movies (which might climb as high as an entire half dozen per year in the near future), I think of this chart and laugh. That's Westerns, as in the genre. Even restricted to solely major studio releases, it was over 25 a year for much of the last century, and if you include the minor studios that pumped them out by the dozens, it was frequently quadruple that. Just because the populist disposable cinema of today isn't the exact same as the populist disposable cinema of yesteryear, doesn't really mean the death of the medium.

(But, I'm something of a mark for the Marvel Studios attempt at a connected big-budget tentpole universe made of mostly enjoyable movies, so maybe I'm biased)
posted by Wandering Idiot at 1:53 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's a difference, I say. The franchise movie has an inherent dramatic limitation in that your lead can't change. There's really not much you can say about the human condition given that. "Western" is just a setting. You could totally do Lear as a western. (I'll bet it's been done -- Holy crap. I just remembered this minute, I've seen one. That's funny.)

I keep saying it, but in Homer the gods are not much more than comic relief because, by their nature, nothing tragic can happen to them.

These movies invent shmoes to kill off because nothing can really happen to the leads. And then they resurrect the shmoes. I'm looking at you, Agent of Shield Phil.
posted by Trochanter at 3:31 PM on December 17, 2014


And what deep back catalog? Where is it?

It's out there on private bittorrent sites. One of the more popular private trackers I know of has over 100,000 movies going back to the silent era.

And if it's important to you, you'll be happy to know these sites are generally full of movie nerds who discuss all the various edits, aspect ratios, censoring, and other changes between the different cuts of a film.
posted by ryanrs at 2:18 AM on December 18, 2014


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