It is well-established that Hollywood is now more risk-averse than ever. Genuinely “original” films (despite the fact that very little really qualifies for that tag these days) are at least perceived to have much less of a guaranteed audience than established franchises, or adaptations of existing properties. For every Inception or Avatar that succeeds, there are half a dozen comic book adaptations, sequels or spin-offs that do well enough to reassure Hollywood that sticking with the predictable is the best way forward. The thing is, films like Battleship, John Carter, The Lone Ranger, Green Lantern and their respective box office underperformances should give Hollywood pause for thought, but as long as films like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3 and Skyfall pull in over a billion dollars each (and deservedly so), it is unrealistic to expect Hollywood, as commercially driven an institution as any, to take a wild punt on new material.
Many are getting wildly excited about the giddy prospects for 2015 and the ridiculous number of tent-pole releases that will be splashed across our screens. It certainly is an imposing line-up – The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Bond 24, Jurassic World, Star Wars Episode VII, Finding Dory, Batman vs Superman, another Hunger Games film, Prometheus 2, Warcraft, Assassins Creed, Alvin & the Chipmunks, More Smurfs, Terminator 5, Fantastic Four, Mission Impossible:5, Kung Fu Panda, Tintin – but all tried and tested “products”, whether as sequels, reboots, franchise extensions or adaptations.
When Pacific Rim opened in the US against Grown Ups 2 (and lost the box office battle against that particular foe), many tweeted comments along the lines of “this is why we can’t have any of the nice things”. Pacific Rim is far from the most original of ideas, drawing from all manner of established genres and archetypes, but it is undoubtedly more original than Grown Ups 2 and it now seems that it is only on the basis of a surprisingly healthy BO performance in China that Pacific Rim might get its own sequel. But should that even be the objective? Pacific Rim holds its own against sequels and franchise entries, so Hollywood turns it into a franchise? Shouldn’t the response be to decide to invest in more original content, for which there is clearly a global market, even if my local multiplex is putting out a fairly myopic schedule? Christopher Nolan has been trusted with big budgets and key summer release dates for films like Inception and his next film, Interstellar, seems to be original. Doubtless the success of his Bat-trilogy has helped grease the wheels, but why not trust successful, innovative film-makers to continue to be successful with new material? Why so consistently play it safe? Yes, a couple of big-budget disasters can quickly sink a studio, so why not give someone a chance with a medium-sized budget?
In the end, it seems that our cinema attendance, the derivative films that we champion by buying tickets with our hard-earned money, drive Hollywood’s decisions about where it throws its money. If we keep going to see established products and forsake original material, we have no-one but ourselves to blame when the original content dries up. We are simply not giving producers, studio heads and money men any reason to give a chance to original films. Undoubtedly the waters of this argument are muddied considerably when “derivative” films are altogether more enjoyable (“better”?) than original ones – if my future cinema attendance is destined to be in the company of films as genuinely excellent as the afore-mentioned Skyfall, Avengers and Dark Knight Trilogy then I will have little to complain about, but the fact remains that seeing a genuinely great and genuinely original film on the big screen is a thrill and altogether more special (in a difficult to describe but tangible way) than however much enjoyment Man of Steel gave me.
But going to the cinema is an expensive business these days and if I take a chance on something different and potentially a bit special, I’m also running the risk of blowing my heard-earned cinema budget on something I would just as soon have missed in favour of something reassuringly and enjoyably familiar. So there is the quandary. Anyone got any ideas how to resolve it?