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"The movie business is macabre. Grotesque.
It is a combination of a football game
and a brothel."
-- Federico Fellini
Aug 062019
 

The music industry was the first major casualty caused by the rise of the Internet in the early 2000s. In recent decades, the print media has followed suit, with newspapers and magazines forced to shut down or migrate online to survive. The recent demise of Mad Magazine really does feel like the end of an era.

How things have changed, I must be old

As many of the media sectors crumble left and right, how is Hollywood coping with the rise of video streaming? Have movie releases decreased in the last five years since 2014? In these uncertain times when nothing seems invulnerable, how safe is the industry that churns out dreams?

No, the number of releases has NOT decreased

Let’s get the title question out of the way before anything else. Yes, you are crazy, movie releases have not decreased in the last five years if you go purely by the number of releases. And that is a big “if” right there.

The biggest dip in Hollywood movie production in recent years dates back to 2008-09 when the recession was at its peak. From above 600, the annual output plummeted to 521 that year. It hovered around there in 2010 at 538, but the industry bounced back in the following year, going above 600.

Since then, Hollywood has been on a steady uptick, inching above 700 movies per year in 2014, before hitting the peak of 871 in 2018. That is a whopping 130 movies more than the previous year.

But note who is making the movies

2018 was a blessing for Hollywood in more ways than one

The number of movie releases does not tell the whole story. As always, there is the important issue of box office performance as well. And this is where 2018 was as vital to the industry as a of glass water to a man in the desert.

The three years before 2018 made for grim viewing as far as studio executives and producers were concerned. Revenues kept falling for those three years since 2015. What made things even worse was the fact that ticket prices are at historic highs, meaning the actual plunge in viewership might be even worse than expected.

But 2018 chased away all the doom and gloom with a flurry of records. The biggest haul at the North American box office was $11.8 billion, a near 5% increase in tickets sold, even as average the ticket price peaked at $9.14 – those are some serious numbers. However 2019 looks problematic.

So, are the fears about the movie industry exaggerated and overblown? Well, not quite. The ringing of the cash registers is always good news, but often, they can also hide serious systemic flaws and imbalances. To explore one major issue, we must return to our original question, albeit slightly rephrased:

Have original movie releases decreased in the past 5 years?

If by original we mean movies that are not based on a comic book, other books, TV series, or based on existing movie franchises (sequels, prequels, remakes), then the answer is a resounding YES. The number of original movies has indeed plummeted in recent years.

Actually, we should not be looking at years when we talk about the issue of original movie ideas in Hollywood. The decline in originality has been evident for well over three decades, and we have the numbers and graphs to prove it, thanks to an enterprising Reddit user called rewindturtle.

His research makes for some depressing, if not entirely shocking figures. 2018 marked a low point in recent history when it comes to new movies. Of the ones that performed well at the box office in 2018, dipping dangerously close to the 10% mark. In fact, according to rewindturtle’s figures, they have struggled to break beyond 25% since 2010.

Comics and sequels rule the roost

In recent years, franchises like Marvel’s Avengers have come to dominate the box office. But Hollywood’s love affair with sequels goes way back to the 1950s and 60s. That was the era when the studio system came to an end, and TV started cannibalizing movie audiences.

All in the works

When new big-budget movies started flopping, studio executives discovered the power of franchises and sequels. From a monetary perspective, sequels make a lot of sense. They are usually based on a hit original movie, and come with the following advantages:

  • They are easy to market since the audience is already familiar with the main theme
  • They pose less risk than an unknown IP
  • Often, they have strong demand from fans

Jaws, Star Wars, Terminator, Alien, and Jurassic Park – all are franchises that have led to a whole series of sequels and prequels in Hollywood history. But the rise of comic-book movies, especially the Avenger series, takes this trend to a new extreme, by building a “cinematic universe.”

And they will continue this trend in the coming years as well, with Disney looking at a whole bunch of Marvel movies in the next five years. Whether you like it or not, this is the direction the industry is headed.

Technology – a threat or pastures anew?

Many have cited the rise of Netflix and video streaming as the biggest threat to Hollywood. But as even Netflix slowly loses its steam, this idea does not hold much water. What we are seeing is the trend of big media houses and studios like Disney powering their way into the streaming arena for their share of the pie, while simultaneously making movies for theaters.

Perhaps more than other industries like music and print, movies have depended and thrived on new technologies. Take a look at 3D for instance – Hollywood was one of the earliest pioneers of 3D in entertainment. Now, 3D is everywhere, in movies, video games, and taken to the next level with VR.

Rather than seeing new technology as the threat to movies, maybe we should see it as the threat to the way we watch movies. Theaters may lose out in the end as screens multiply in our lives. But the actual movie-making process itself should continue unabated.

It still has plenty to offer, even if stale franchises and sequels keep piling up. Thanks to technology, it is now easier than ever to create movies with studio quality. And with the Internet, distribution is also highly simplified.

For the most part, even the lack of originality is not really a critical issue, except for big studios. And in many ways, we the audience share the blame, making these big-budget sequels box office gold with our support and cash. But that will inevitably face a correction as sequel fatigue sets in. When that happens sometime in the future, maybe we can hope for another golden age for Hollywood.

 Posted by on August 6, 2019  Add comments

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