Earlier today, I read an article on Grantland by Mark Harris, entitled: The Birdcage:
How Hollywood’s toxic (and worsening) addiction to franchises changed movies forever in 2014. Wordy title aside, it brings up some interesting points regarding the lack of creative and financial risk Hollywood is willing to take regarding new and original film ideas. Steven Soderbergh made headlines addressing the same issue last year, discussing how difficult it is to pursue original ideas in the Hollywood machine.
Marvel Studios' success with their cinematic universe is pointed to as a cause of this new wave of studio planning years into the future for their franchises. Warner Bros. has finally followed suit and recently unveiled their own competing slate, and more and more movie studios are trying to emulate this business model. I mean, who doesn't want a connected Universal Monsters universe? Obviously, where profitability is bred, emulation will folow, and the chart below just shows a snippet of this sequel/connected universe extravaganza to come:
As an avid comic book reader, I am absolutely excited for all of these films. I can see how some would say it's unnecessary, but my counter would be, "is any film truly necessary?" That's not to say I can only enjoy these types of films. I, Origins and Nightcrawler were two of the most profound and interesting films I saw this year and prove that movies aren't just one profit machine where the product isn't considered. Almost every Marvel film has been critically acclaimed, and the box office successes have followed suite. If a string of several terrible films under the Marvel banner were to be released, I'm sure the box office would be damaged, perhaps irreparably. After all, one misstep almost killed Batman as a film franchise.
Ultimately, I'm not naive enough to not understand money drives most Hollywood decision making, but we cannot complain about the lack of originality in the film industry now when sequels have been a part of the film industry since the beginning (six Sherlock Holmes films in 2 years). Perhaps we have more sequels than ever before, but we also have more films than ever before. Am I clamoring for three films of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them? Not particularly. However, if the product is quality and entertaining, I'll likely end up seeing them in the theater. Ultimately, a good movie isn't reliant on the originality or reliance on existing property. What matters is how affecting the story is, how the film looks, and makes you feel. I don't want Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix to stop collaborating and giving us films like Inherent Vice, but I don't think that should come at the expense of seeing my favorite characters reiterated on screen if there's something new to be shown.
Granted, Hollywood executives still will follow the money, which generally follows big franchises since the public has something existing to latch onto, and the studios have previous success in the franchises to lean on. Yet, I manage to find gems year after year, and as long as the creative spark exists, we, as an audience, should expect both to inhabit our theaters. Perhaps there are more franchises than ever before, making films like Birdman a cultural satire about the current state of Hollywood. Blaming franchises isn't going to solve anything. It's not an either/or situation. To completely change the fundamental lifeblood of how the movie industry works is possible, but will take a change in mindsets of the executives pulling the string. That becomes an entirely different issue altogether since the issue with the sequels and franchises is just a symptom of a much more deep seated capitalistic mindset among the Hollywood string pullers. Personally, I'm content with sequels and franchises as long as they keep churning out good films, but I like to watch my original IPs and independent films all the same because, ultimately, I love movies.