Safety in Sequels | The State of Hollywood in 2018
Looking at the box-office records for 2018 thus far, you’d think that Hollywood was having a great year. They’ve had three hit films gross over 1 billion US dollars, a monumental feat when compared to the hugely disappointing summer of 2017. Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, have propelled this summer into the record books; but is everything as rosy as Hollywood would have us believe?
If you look at the top 10 movies at the US box-office this year so far, you’ll find that 8 of those 10 are either sequels or continuations of ongoing franchises, each boasting a tremendous amount of franchise backing from audiences, as well as a build-up fan base and a lot of goodwill. The only two movies not included here are: Ready Player One, an adaptation of Ernest Cline’s hugely popular novel and directed by Stephen Spielberg, while the other is A Quiet Place, an outlier in that this is genuinely an original movie that has managed, against the odds, to stick out in a sea of big-budget blockbusters. But what does it tell us about Hollywood when this many of its cash-cows are franchise creations?
Well, I think the first thing, and perhaps the most obvious, we can infer from these numbers is that audiences are still infatuated with superhero movies, nostalgia, and dinosaurs; at least, for the moment. Black Panther is perhaps the biggest surprise success story of 2018 so far, because while the movie was tipped to do well, by virtue of its association with the MCU, the movie eclipsed all of the most optimistic predictions to become a truly spectacular juggernaut at the box-office, out-grossing Avengers: Infinity War domestically. Incredibles 2 and Ready Player One highlighted how nostalgia for our childhood is still a major way for Hollywood to sell us one of their big-budget outings, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom shows us that, surprisingly, a movie series with no vision can succeed if they throw in dinosaurs, along with some of that nostalgia mentioned above.
There still seems to be a distinctive lack of enthusiasm on the part of Hollywood to take brave and bold risks with filmmakers and screenwriters who seek to try something new. The safest set of hands is still seen as the best, with the hiring of Ron Howard in the aftermath of the Lord/Miller firing is a prime example of this. Looking ahead to rest of 2018 and there isn’t any notable big-budget originals. Risk-taking filmmakers like Edgar Wright and Christopher Nolan are few and far between in the current climate of Hollywood directors, which is no doubt a result of studio executives refusing to give them to finances to go and create something wholly unique.
It’s actually ironic how conservative Hollywood is when it comes to their money, when they’re radical and progressive in their views; or at least, that’s how they present themselves. It seems as though the flags of diversity and inclusivity are only flown high from the rooftops when the venture is deemed profitable by the powers that be. Hollywood wouldn’t be falling over themselves for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman if the movie had flopped as hard as Hallie Berry’s Catwoman did; where were the Hollywood execs championing female empowerment back then? Radical filmmakers often walk off their projects like Edgar Wright, get ignored as in the case of the Wachowskis post-Jupiter Ascending, or relegated to the arthouse theatre as in the case of David Lynch, because they don’t make money like Michael Bay or Brett Ratner do.
A change in approach by Hollywood is necessary because they must know that the current cycle of superhero and nostalgia-driven movies cannot last forever. Like the Western, the Musical, and the Historical Epic, these genres will eventually cease to be as popular as they are in their current incarnations, and when that time comes Hollywood had better be ready, lest Hollywood studios go bankrupt after investing too much in their superhero franchise.