#2. The Studios That Spend the Money Start Demanding More Control
So what started as a risky attempt to appeal to a nerdy demographic that was never seen as profitable before was now the studios' lifeblood. And next comes the meddling.
You could start to see the signs years ago. After the success of Raimi's first two Spider-Man movies, the studio pressured him into including Venom because he was a popular comic book character -- except Raimi had been concentrating on the Silver Age of comics, and the dark, gritty, '90s era Venom didn't fit into the world he'd created. When they greenlit a movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, they had such a limited idea of what a comic book movie could be that they turned Alan Moore's love letter to 19th century prose into a movie with vampires where things explode and Sean Connery does hero things. When they made The Losers, they cut out all the political commentary and replaced it with light-hearted action bullshit. When they made Watchmen, they cut out the self-loathing, rape, and moral complexity and replaced them with slow-motion action scenes. As other people have pointed out, this totally missed the point that Watchmen is about failure.
DC Comics/Warner Bros.
"Totally nailed the 'fat guy' look!" -costume designer
Of course Watchmen made money, but that's beside the point, because it made money in the same way all previous superhero movies had made money (by being an action movie) when the whole point of the comic book is that it's totally different from other superhero stories. They were scared to take a risk and actually try something new, even though exploring this stuff in a new way is exactly what brought about success in the first place.
There's just too much money at stake. Hey, wasn't it cool how Nolan was able to tell a complete story arc with Batman that actually ended, with Bruce Wayne flying off into the sunset? That sure as hell won't stop the studio from rebooting him back into existence in a couple of years, inexplicably in the same movie as Superman.
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Before you say how awesome that'll be, think about the possibility of this man donning that cowl.
And It Has Happened Before ...
This is where it gets ironic, because even though the brilliance of Apocalypse Now, Star Wars, and Jaws all came directly from fuck-ups, compromises, and crazy artistic vision, their massive success ended up leading to more studio control than ever before.
Once big companies saw how much money those movies made, they started buying up all the studios. And these companies wanted a safe, reliable return on their investment. It was a catch-22: The corporate owners wanted blockbuster cash cows like Jaws and Star Wars instead of risky, experimental money losers ... but they didn't understand that Jaws and Star Wars were risky and experimental and that everyone expected them to lose money at the time.
But with these massive budgets, studios were determined to play it safe. That meant, of course, some of the riskier directors had to go -- like when they were considering giving Straw Dogs director Sam Peckinpah the Superman movie, but fired him when he pulled a gun out during a meeting.
How badly do you wanna be traumatized by this movie?
After The Godfather: Part II made money and became the first sequel to win an Oscar, studios decided that this meant that people will pay money to go see things they've already seen -- this ushered in the age of the big-budget sequel (which, by the way, never ended). After risk, hardship, and innovation brought in the money, risk, hardship, and innovation were the first things the money tried to drive out.
And then ...
#1. The Bets Stop Paying Off
We mentioned that New Line has given Peter Jackson a castle made of money for his Hobbit trilogy, but we didn't mention that they're $5 billion in debt and need him to make all that money back to keep themselves from filing for bankruptcy. Is it any wonder that what was originally supposed to be one movie got stretched into two movies? And then, very late in production, they decided out of the blue to stretch it into three?
They needed three shots to recoup their investment. That's why the first film, An Unexpected Journey, was based less on the children's book it gets its name from and more on The Return of the King's appendices and whatever bullshit Tolkien scrawled on the Oxford staff bathroom's wall while he was fucked up on opium.
New Line Cinema
"A spawn of Ungoliant from Dol Goldur, Mithrandir!"
But they're not the only ones putting all of their chips on their geek franchise. In addition to the lineup of 10 massive Marvel sequels we mentioned earlier, you have Christopher Nolan (probably) signing on to "Godfather" a Justice League movie -- if you're not familiar, that means that in addition to the Superman reboot we're seeing this summer, they'd be launching another wave of superhero movies, including a Green Lantern sequel, a reboot of The Flash, a possible Wonder Woman movie, and God knows what else, in order to have them finally all team up in a Justice League tent-pole that would be the DC version of The Avengers.
Meanwhile, J.J. Abrams, who is already in charge of the new Star Trek franchise, has been tapped to direct the first of the new Star Wars sequels, of which there will be at least five -- three sequels, plus multiple stand-alone spinoffs (Disney wants a new Star Wars movie every single year, like clockwork). How much money in production and promotion do you suppose will be tied up in just the projects we mentioned up there? $10 billion? More?
Marianna Massey/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
"We're using three of that to create new state-of-the-art lens flare technology."
And It Has Happened Before ...
Star Wars and Jaws are called "the beginning of the end" of New Hollywood (by Wikipedia, anyway) because they created the blockbuster, but the real end didn't come until around 1980, with the release of two legendary flops: Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, and Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart.
Both cases were highly regarded auteur filmmakers at the peak of their career, fresh off a huge success (One from the Heart was Coppola's first film after Apocalypse Now). In both cases, the studios allowed their crazy, ambitious filmmaker to go way over budget with a deeply personal film. And in both cases, the results were disastrous: One from the Heart bankrupted Coppola, who had tried to start his own studio with George Lucas, and Heaven's Gate drove United Artists straight out of business.
When the New Hollywood era ended, Hollywood changed how it does business. The blockbuster era began, and high-concept, family-friendly franchises dominated. Now look at the timeline: Bonnie and Clyde kicked off the New Hollywood era in 1967, and Heaven's Gate brought it crashing down in 1980 -- 13 years later. X-Men came out in 2000, so ...