6 Brilliant Explanations For Why Modern Movies Are So Stupid
Despite having the highest number of films with over 60 percent "fresh" reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, 2016 has been a diaper year for box office numbers. Specifically, sequels/prequels/derivatives like Zoolander 2, The Huntsman: Winter's War, Ghostbusters, and Alice Through The Looking Glass all ate a runny dump on account of "audience fatigue." (Which is a fancy term for "ENOUGH WITH THE DAMN REHASHES ALREADY.")
So why does Hollywood keep making sequels that nobody wants? The phenomenon makes way more sense if you think of it as a really expensive addiction, like snorting gold-laced cocaine or strangling pandas. And the industry will never kick it as long as the following truths continue to exist ...
Maintaining Film Rights Is A Juggling Act Of Rushed Sequels
Wanna hear something insane? Despite being the cinematic equivalent of freebasing Ambien, Fox is still toying with the idea of a Fantastic Four sequel. While that sounds self-defeating, the move fits the long tradition of half-assedly adapting Marvel's First Family as a legal gambit. Not only was the 1994 Roger Corman film done to maintain the studio's film rights, but so was the 2005 film AND the 2015 abomination ... which, amazingly, makes Rise Of The Silver Surfer the only one not made out of obligation.
Yes. THIS one.
And this practice of begrudgingly rushing sequels is no Hollywood fluke. Anyone catch the 2010 fever dream TCM Dick Tracy Special about a grizzled Warren Beatty getting interviewed in character by Leonard Maltin? Of course you didn't. It only aired once, and was made solely so the actor could hold on to the rights to the character.
Spoilers: They talk shit about Madonna for half an hour.
But hey, at least Beatty was kind enough to let his legal obligation quietly sneak by like a fart in a windstorm, unlike when the studios needed some extra negotiation time between Bourne films and this happened:
Ah, the old "Garfield without Garfield" approach.
Did you really think anyone wanted to make a Bourne movie starring a character other than Jason Bourne? Of course not. But thanks to Matt Damon getting his acting rocks off elsewhere, poor Jeremy Renner was corralled from whatever cubby Marvel keeps him in.
The mindset is this: Make a shitty film now so you can buy time to make a good one later. Unfortunately, there are entire franchises blissfully ignoring the second half of that equation. Take, for example, 2011's Hellraiser: Revelations, a profound piece of crap filmed in only two weeks in order to maintain the property rights while the Weinstein Company and Dimension Films worked on putting together a remake. Even the actor who has played Pinhead in all previous movies said, "Nope, ain't touching this one."
They hired a guy who plays Uncle Fester in birthday parties instead.
This would be the last we'd hear of the series until this past February, when it was announced that Dimension (having just lost the rights to Halloween) was rushing yet another Hellraiser, in hopes of hanging on to the series. This means we're getting two back-to-back Hellraiser sequels made solely as shoddy placeholders -- basically putting this franchise in the same purgatorial torture realm where Pinhead dwells.
Producers Will Hijack Original Scripts To Make Them Sequels
So how do we know that Hollywood isn't just as desperate for unique stories, but finds itself buried in a McDuckian vault of proposed spinoffs and sequels? As fun as that image is, the reality is that studios get original scripts all the damn time. Take The Passion Of The Ark, an original script about a man tasked by God to save the world from another great deluge ...
... which would become Evan Almighty. Then there's Honor Among Thieves, a heist film about two competing criminals ...
Give or take.
... that was hacked to shreds to become Ocean's Twelve. Because why bother writing a sequel when you can jam an original idea into a template of characters? Did you enjoy Saw II, you monster? Well, you can thank a script called The Desperate for that. Every Die Hard movie except the latest one started as something else. But while Hollywood has cannibalized original scripts since forever, only recently has this act become way more cobbled, last-minute, and transparently greedy. Case in point:
"Look, it was this or calling it a Roseanne reunion special."
10 Cloverfield Lane (SPOILERS AHEAD) was announced as The Cellar, then suddenly changed its name mid-production. But unlike a popular movie being shot under a false title (see 2016's Blair Witch), this particular revelation wasn't planned all along. It was only during production that JJ Abrams realized this low-budget psychological indie film had "elements that felt like the DNA" of Cloverfield ... such as being of the same "genre" and having "weirdness." It was so similar, in fact, that they had to go ahead and reshoot the entire ending to include a UFO fight.
Nothing says "Hitchcockian Thriller" like bottle-bombing a UFO vagina.
In other words, The Cellar was fucking nothing like Cloverfield. It was a much darker and more ambiguous story about people trapped in a bunker. Then, halfway through production, the studio decided they couldn't sell that, and so they slapped on an alien ending and called it a "blood-relative to Cloverfield" in order to justify banking off the title. It was a goddamn money grab at the cost of turning an original story into a freaking episode of Lost. And everyone praised JJ Abrams for being the mastermind behind it, instead of, you know, the people who actually wrote and directed it.
"This is the one about the ladies who hunt ghosts, right? Yeah, I totally wrote that."
Hollywood Has No Idea How To Sell Original Films
So why are studios so desperate to shoehorn franchises into original scripts? The obvious reason is that having a familiar title makes the movie way easier to sell. Batman V. Superman was a disjointed dick contusion of a movie, but made hundreds of millions on the title alone. You can't say the same about Ex Machina or It Follows -- films that completely rely on their own cinematic merit to make a splash. This is why when an indie or original film does really well, it's often referred to as a "sleeper" or "surprise" hit.
"A well-directed and original film resonated with audiences? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!"
Meanwhile, when a non-franchise film flops, there's a much different tune to play ...
Why else would "The Bourne Identity, but with a stoner" fail?
Originality is dead! Why do we even bother? The more we paint audiences as a horde of simpletons who only react positively to brand recognition, the easier it gets for studios to handwave original successes as bizarre flukes. This is why directors who make legitimately original films often get turned into their own brands. That way, a movie like Inception didn't succeed because it was an "original film," but rather because it was a "Christopher Nolan film." This hilarious need for director branding in the face of originality is so strong that it often upstages common sense.
As evidenced by the wailing groan your brain is making right now.
Because when studios are handed films that can't be easily categorized, things often get super wacky. Observe And Report and Rules Of Attraction are randomly advertised as romantic comedies, while Drive becomes the next Fast & Furious. Tomorrowland -- a Disney movie about a girl going on a sci-fi adventure -- was tragically advertised as a JJ-Abrams-style mystery box focused around 50-year-old George Clooney. If there was ever a clear lesson from that flop, it's that Hollywood has a severe advertising problem ... right?
Film journalists could have told them that a long time ago.
Movies Don't Know How To End Anymore
No doubt you've noticed that post-credits scenes are happening more and more frequently, and to less and less deserving films. At face value, it's an attempt by studios to copy Marvel's cinematic success. And why shouldn't they? After-credits scenes are the easiest way to set up a sequel without compromising the film itself. They're aimed squarely on audience members who enjoyed the film enough to sit through the credits, and studios can use that buzz to gauge the demand for more films. Everybody wins!
Except any sad soul hoping this was really gonna happen.
But as franchises were mapped out years in advance, post-credit teasers became less of an Easter egg and more like an arms race. Films began adding mid-credit scenes in addition to the ones after the credits, and soon after did we see entire plotlines affected by sequel pandering. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was originally written to kill off James Franco's character to end Caesar's tragic arc, but instead opted to keep him alive in case he was needed for a sequel ... only to end up killing him off in between films anyway.
In the industry, they call this "pulling a Han."
Modern films are sacrificing brevity and conclusiveness for franchise-building. Age Of Ultron's producers forced Joss Whedon to add a baffling cave scene to set up a Thor sequel. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 spent all its energy on endless Sinister Six references instead of being a good film. And Batman V. Superman brought its entire storyline to a screeching halt to give us a fucking PowerPoint presentation on the Justice League.
Ironically, Wonder Woman has to watch a ten-second ad for Marvel's Agents Of SHIELD before each clip.
This is the cinematic equivalent of taking your blind date maternity clothes shopping. It's looking so far into the future that you forget to notice what's important now. But more than anything, the constant promise of more is making individual movies less special.
"Not if you don't hand over the gems right now, Mr. Bond."
One of the biggest reasons we loved Star Wars was because it ended. It was a finite commodity, lasting only three films while implying a much larger universe around it. The idea that we're going to keep getting more until we can't stand it anymore isn't just one of Kevin Spacey's convoluted murder plots from Se7en -- it's THE business model.
Films And Characters Are Now "Brands," And Brands Never Die
A few years ago, GQ ran an article titled "The Day The Movies Died" which pinpointed the exact moment blockbusters started drifting toward mediocrity. That moment was Top Gun, a film created by and responsible for producer Jerry Bruckheimer's reign of mindless action. This is the theorized turning point which inspired a legion of now-40-something marketing executives to regard movies less like works of art and more like oiled-up playthings ripe for exploitation.
This precise second in the movie, to be more exact.
Whether or not you agree with that specific film being the catalyst, there's no denying that things have gotten hairy for home video in the age of internet. The money-earning potential of a film's post-theatrical run plummeted, and the primary focus has shifted to ticket sales and finding alternative means of commodifying cinema through merchandising ties. Luckily for Hollywood, the death of video coincided with the rise of superheroes, who are essentially walking brands to begin with.
Having an endless library of source material, Hollywood had a roster of deathless mascots impervious to audience disappointment. We now live in a world with five Spider-Man movies with four separate costume variations on three different actors. Only two of them are any good, and yet the character makes over one billion dollars annually. It's not that all superheroes movies suck, but rather that they have no financial incentive to not suck. And this trend is bleeding over to non-superhero films, as we're now seeing seemingly actor-centric characters like Han Solo and Jason Bourne get replaced with younger models.
They're brands now. And brands never die. Or they do, and then insist on coming back. Much like ...
Maybe they'll do a spinoff about all the people the charlatan protagonists screwed.
You think The Conjuring keeps introducing and spinning off side villains because the filmmakers have an interesting story in mind? No, dummy. Like everything else, it's about maintaining a brand. It doesn't matter if there's a script or even an idea, so long as the canopy keeps extending out. Only the further it goes, the thinner that material gets. And at a certain point, there's simply no going back from the inevitable tear ...
Once A Sequel Is Greenlit, It's Financially Impossible To Stop It
In poker, a "straddle" bet is when a player doubles the big blind before even seeing their cards, arbitrarily raising the stakes to push other people out. While fun to do and a great way to make friends, there is a consequence to betting big while early in a hand, which is investing so many of your chips that, despite what gets dealt, you become statistically unable to fold. This is called being "pot committed."
And that leads us to Babe: Pig In The City.
And not only because it's much more enjoyable with pot involved.
The only reason that movie exists is that studios are in a similar scenario when it comes to sequels. As The New York Times once detailed, Universal Pictures made over a hundred international licensing deals for computer games and toys before the film was fully conceived. Then they locked down a Thanksgiving release, which ended up screwing them when Paramount's Rugrats movie changed its schedule to compete. In other words, Universal raised the stakes before even knowing the hand they were being dealt, and found themselves financially committed to a movie way weirder than the original Babe, what with its clown thieves and inflatable asses. Cut to now, and the Pig In The City model has become the go-to movie making tactic, all thanks to studios announcing their sequels years and years in advance.
"Jared Leto's co-stars on suicide watch."
Suicide Squad was so rushed that the studio only gave David Ayer six weeks to write the script before immediately going into production. But when every film is hurtling toward a predetermined release date, Hollywood has no choice but to blindly straddle their way from one project to the next. Suddenly, merchandising and licensing gets locked down before even finishing a script. And because of that, films like Iron Man 3 get rewrites specifically to cater to toy sales, and the quality of the film takes a backseat to fulfilling all the financial obligations set in place.
Because what kid doesn't want a "Shirtless Guy Pearce" action figure?
And since the marketing is in place, studios start signing expensive contracts with actors. Scummy Johnny Depp gets stupid money for a fifth Pirates film that nobody wants. Terminator films are hung on $30 million signing contracts with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mark Wahlberg is legally obligated to do two more Transformers films. Sebastian Stan must play the Winter Soldier nine fucking times. Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana are legally going to be in three Avatar sequels, whether they or anyone else on the planet wants it or not.
As more and more chips are thrown into that poker pot, studios become financially handcuffed to unwritten films. James Cameron could die tomorrow having yet to finish the Avatar 2 script, and they would still have to make it to justify the $500 million theme park coinciding with its release.
Here's an idea: Maybe FINISH WRITING THE MOVIE before you start laying roller coaster track?
And while all this fuss is being poured into the release, the studio has completely forgotten to check if the movie is any good. Suddenly, hastily written films like Rogue One, Fantastic Four, and Suicide Squad are getting so many reshoots and competing edits that you can make entire films with the deleted footage.
THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF HOW GOOD MOVIES ARE MADE. By working backwards from the marketing, studios are forced to gamble large sums of money on long-term projects that may or may not be viable in the future. Instead of single houses, they are now building entire neighborhoods constrained by specific sizes and time tables. The result is to either throw out craftsmanship for automation and uniformity (Marvel), or treat every new project like a mad dash (DC). Either way, the result is goddamn hideous from a distance. In conclusion, go fuck yourself, Babe.
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