It’s hard not to feel glum about Hollywood these days. Despite box office revenue only being down 5 percent from 2013, there is an overwhelming sense of change that feels like decline. As media and the way we consume it changes and updates, some parts of Hollywood have been left behind as others struggle to find a way to run a business built on a display of excess.
The industry may only be down 5 percent, but theater owners were in dire straits, with revenue down by as much as 50 percent in the first 3 quarters. The 4th quarter was saved by big returns from the latest in the Hunger Games series and sadly, the last of the Hobbit series. Despite their bloated nature, the Tolkien films have been a reliable revenue driver for six of the last 13 holiday seasons. Without them, or an equivalent replacement, theater owners may be down and out next Christmas.
It’s also hard not to look at the slate of movies for 2015 and not feel as if Hollywood has simply ceded the battle and declared itself television writ large. Everything is a sequel, a reboot, or an adaptation. You half expect movies to start opening with a “previously on…”
When looking at the 2014 box office winners, it’s hard to blame them. Only Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” was an original film. And even that proves the point. Auteurs - that is, directors who have the kind of hipster following one would ordinarily associate with a musician - are a kind of serialization themselves. (That’s hardly new - one could certainly argue that the films of say, Alfred Hitchcock, are a kind of “shared universe.”)
While 2014 relied on serialized entertainment, it’s important to note that beloved directors David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson all released films in 2014. So far, 2015 really only has Quentin Tarantino (and to a lesser degree David O. Russell).
As theaters bleed audiences to Netflix, the only thing filmmakers can do to draw them back is to give them what they want on a big budget. This is certainly a loss for small films, but those small films are beginning to find homes in different media. And if Hollywood is going to churn out blockbusters, at least it can make some entertaining ones, some beautiful ones and occasionally, some that are actually art. It’s just hard not to feel like movies have entered a kind of jazz phase, clever twists on the same old melodies.
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