This movie year is an absolute mess of sequels and reboots. The past few years have seen a few questionable additions which had people saying, "Do we really need that fourth Transformers movie?" and "Huh, I don't remember asking for a Minions standalone movie." Regardless, both of these movies ended up becoming top-grossers of their respective years, and have proved that worldwide viewers have forsaken originality in favor of familiarity. Hollywood executives have definitely caught onto these numbers and have initiated the process of Hollywood's death to ambition and originality. Audiences have closed their minds to only a few set original ideas, and are only willing to go see a movie if Robert Downey Jr. is in it. It's slightly appalling to see The Fault in Our Stars thrive the same weekend a creative and intelligent movie comes out, Edge of Tomorrow, which kind of flopped when compared to other blockbusters. Hollywood has always been about the dollar, but they are simply getting lazier and lazier, and, somehow, they are making more money than ever before.
Now, I suppose there needs to be set definitions of "original" and "unoriginal" before I go on and complain about Hollywood for twenty minutes. "Ambition" is a bit of a scary word for Hollywood executives, because they need to be sure they will make their profoundly large investment back when funding a project. "Ambition" implies "unfamiliarity," which implies "net loss" for most Hollywood suits. I will use three separate movies to define "unoriginal" and "unnecessary," all of which have come out this year, and are the third, seventh, and ninth highest-grossing movies of the year so far, respectively: The Jungle Book, Kung Fu Panda 3, and London Has Fallen. All of these movies are shameless cash-grabs, and they show in their quality, from The Jungle Book's inept storytelling to Kung Fu Panda 3's blatant laziness to London Has Fallen's jarringly retrograde worldview, none of these movies are any good. Yet, because their predecessor's made so much money, Hollywood executives give up and point to this well-trod territory for an easy gold mine. The scariest part of this thought process, however, is that they are absolutely correct in their thinking. These movies are absolute rehashes and offer nothing new to the table, nothing brilliant, nothing that shows any sort of creativity. These movies are not trying to be forms of entertainment; they are blatant commodities, and in my opinion, that is when you have failed as a filmmaker.
In stark contrast to everything I just said, three brilliant films were released this year to startlingly disappointing returns: The Witch, Triple 9, and Midnight Special. These three movies are filled with original content that serve to genuinely entertain the viewer and make them think. The Witch is a unique horror movie that delivers horror through the director's mastery of building suspense, as well as the mindblowing visuals that accompany it. The Witch received a profit of $32 million off of its $1 budget, which is a nice net gain, but when you factor in the dense advertising and widespread release of the film, it still went vastly under-seen and under-appreciated by audiences. Triple 9 is a daring and gripping thriller that calls back to Michael Mann's Heat, with spellbinding performances (except Kate Winslet's cartoonish turn) and one of the best musical scores I've heard this year. It doesn't hold the viewer's hand and presents actual issues for the viewer to chew on once they have left the theater. Triple 9 had a net production gain of about $1.9 million, which is pretty paltry. With the advertising and distribution budgets thrown into the equation, Triple 9 suffered a net loss of about $18.1 million. Midnight Special is a terrifically ambitious movie that has things to say about the movie industry, and specifically, super power-oriented movies. The movie ends on an ambiguous note that doesn't resolve all of its plot, and this is done intentionally. The movie is profoundly thought-provoking and is an exciting journey through the mind of director Jeff Nichols. With the advertising and distribution budget, Midnight Special suffered a net loss of about $25.6 million. Why has this happened? Why do half-baked, lazy movies like London Has Fallen rake in so much money while Triple 9 loses money for its investors?
People like familiarity and are afraid of things they don't understand. Brainless money-grabs like Civil War are able to rake in a billion dollars in box office cash because everybody is familiar with the characters, the story presents no challenges to the audience, and there is a grand spectacle to behold. Style over substance takes the reigns in Hollywood, especially during the summer months, where movie trailers advertise expensive destruction scenes and charming stills of Will Smith's pearly-white smile. These movies are infinitely accessible to all audiences and pander to the maximum degree. Anyone is able to go out to the theater (or sit at their computer and pirate) a movie like Ride Along 2 because everyone knows Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, and the original Ride Along. Nobody notices the fact that it's one of the most unnecessary sequels of this year (or maybe it's Zoolander 2? Or My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2? Neighbors 2? Oh, for Christ's sake, Hollywood). Hollywood thrives on this, and the audience's craving for familiarity enables lazy producers and writers to shamelessly borrow from other, better movies, and still triple their investment.
By this point, however, the familiarity is becoming so overwhelming that it feels like Hollywood is releasing the same movies with different titles. Remember how Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down were released in the same summer? Or maybe Deep Impact and Armageddon? Perhaps The Illusionist and The Prestige? These movies are about the same thing, unfold in the ways you would expect them to, and all amount to an empty spectacle without anything tangible to grasp after the experience is over? Hollywood has started ripping off its terrible ripoffs. Olympus Has Fallen heavily borrows from Die Hard and Deep Impact heavily borrows from The Day After. These movies are so blatant and lazy in their stealing, yet look at how much box office money the producers are swimming in. Deep Impact and Armageddon were released almost 20 years ago, and they really set a precedent for how lazy Hollywood has become. At least at this point, executives didn't really on tired franchises that would seemingly never end with their rote plots and banal executions.
Oh my god, you guys, how many Harry Potter movies were there? Eight? There can't be any excuse for this type of transparency. The books, maybe, but I don't see how there's enough substance in one children's book to justify a 150-minute movie. People cherish these movies, though, so I don't see a reason for me to bash them without even reading the books. The Hobbit, movies, though, I feel justified in attacking. The Hobbit is 300 pages. It's one book. How many hours long in the entire Hobbit trilogy? I calculated it to somewhere slightly under eight hours. Eight hours. Peter Jackson crafted a perfectly middling trilogy that everyone instantly forgot, but those three movies earned well over two billion dollars. More of these awful movies are going to come, because people speak with their wallets. That's why there are four terrible Hunger Games movies, four terrible Divergent movies, and seven Fast and Furious movies. People flock to see these movies all the time, and it's not because they expect anything different. They want the opposite. They go because they love seeing Jennifer Lawrence pretend to shoot arrows and they love to see The Rock take his shirt off and unveil his gloriously oily torso. People moan and groan over Hollywood so much, and admittedly I am, too, but all they care about is earning money. The audience are the ones giving them $200 million license to remake Independence Day.
In Hollywood, audiences speak with their wallets, not with verbal praise or verbal assault. You can complain all you want about how much The Purge wasted its potential and how it turned into dollar store Panic Room, you're getting two more of them because The Purge made thirty-two times his budget. Are you tired of the Minions? Well, Minions is the 10th highest-grossing movie of all time, so chances are, we're going to get more of them. This has been the Hollywood standard for years, and only more recently has it gotten gratuitous. With Marvel Studios successfully lowering the bar of summer blockbuster to the ground itself, Hollywood can pretty much get away with anything. I find it strange that the Ghostbusters reboot is the only movie everyone is up in arms about, considering another Ice Age movie comes out the weekend after that and another Bridget Jones movie. Are we really not noticing how cynical directors, producers and writers have become? It's difficult to not come off as a pretentious hipster while saying this, but big-budget blockbusters have no incentive to be high quality anymore. Spend enough money on well-known actors, solid visual effects, and a massive advertising campaign, and your movie is going to rake in a lot of money, no matter how awful it is. Don't believe me? Transformers: Age of Extinction was the only movie to cross the $1 billion barrier in 2014. Still don't believe me? Jurassic World is the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time, and it is basically 2014's Godzilla, but a lot less exciting. Hollywood formula works flawlessly to create a cycle of bad, stale movies that will not stand the test of time besides breaking box office records. To me, that is incredibly frightening.
Out of the top 10 highest-grossing movies of 2015, only two of them are not based on a franchise: Inside Out and The Martian, neither of which were particularly outstanding. In 2014, every single movie that made that top 10 list were based on a franchise or part of a long-running story everyone was familiar with, except Interstellar, which clocked in at number 10 on that list. 2013? Frozen and Gravity, the latter being an absolute masterpiece. My point here is that everyone is giving up on standalone movies that have nothing to do with anything previously. A movie that bursts with creativity, visually and audibly, and proves that a master of their craft is backing it that actually makes a lot of money, like Gravity, is a type of movie that sadly doesn't come often enough. Gravity earned $700 million at the box office, and it deserves every penny. Monsters University earned about $20 million more, but why? Monsters University has nothing original or profound to bring to the table. Sure, it's just a kid's movie, but why is that any reason to lower expectations? It's a lazy rehash of a better, more successful movie. Children of Men, another big-budget gamble, produced a net loss of about $82 million, and it's one of the best movies to come this century. It's no coincidence that lazy, terrible movies rake in the big bucks while Children of Men is punished for being ambitious and incredible. I don't think the moviegoing public likes seeing bad movies, but as a whole, we like to go see movies that will just entertain us. Maybe a lot of us want to forget to experience and just live in the moment. That's all up to the subjective nature of joy, but for me, I can't take a movie at face-value. If a movie is obviously a cash-grab, I can't let that slide. If a movie is too stupid and it ends up being 2012, I can't let that slide. I elicit entertainment out of movies for different reasons than you probably do, and that's fine. I just prefer cerebral movies, and brainless romps like comic book movies will never give me a satisfying experience.
Perhaps it's naive of me to expect movies like Enemy or Sicario to gross $900 million, but I don't know if a movie deserves to earn that much money at all. What did The Force Awakens do to deserve $2 billion? It wasn't the prequels, I guess, but when you remake A New Hope and never tell audiences that's exactly what you did, you're sure to make a lot of money with minimal creative input. What did Avatar do to become the highest-grossing movie of all time? I have seen that movie four times and if you asked me to describe a single scene of it, I couldn't. I don't understand the appeal of that movie past its visual beauty, and maybe that's all the average moviegoer cares about. I feel that's where we are wrong, however, because we are the reason all originality is being sucked out of Hollywood. We are giving up on original stories because of a few bad eggs (Jupiter Ascending comes to mind) and we really shouldn't. There are so many great things that could come from watching a beautiful, genius story unfold, and it could extract a strong emotional response from you. The movies I like aren't for everyone, and I know that, but I feel like lazy, big-budget movies are beginning to crowd out smaller, heavier films, and I can't sit back and watch the type of movies that I love die out because Hollywood loves our money too much.
I have a little request for you: Instead of watching Civil War for a second or third time this weekend, go find The Lobster and watch it instead. If you hate it, the comments section is open for you to tell me how wrong I am.