Truman Ruberti delves into the world of movie franchising and analyses the decisions behind endless sequels and remakes. The question which will forever remain attached to this kind of film production, is if it is always (and possibly only) focused on making a quick buck.
Nostalgia pervades all in 2018. With what feels like the world coming apart at the seams, it’s only natural to harken back to a time when life appeared simpler, even if that time wasn’t too long ago. Now that members of Generation X are running Hollywood, we have seen an uptick of ‘80s throwbacks in modern pop culture. Stranger Things is the most notable example; the Netflix hit sci-fi series is heavily influenced by popular children’s media of the era, such as E.T. and The Goonies. 2014 saw Robocop, Godzilla, and The Equalizer. Last year, we got Baywatch, It, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and Blade Runner 2049. This month, The Predator and Halloween are hitting theaters – reboots of movies more than 30 years old, sporting the same exact names as their predecessors. The list is endless. Shockingly, it would appear that there’s nothing new under the sun in Hollywood.
However, as we know, nostalgia is not an exclusive trait of those above the age of 30, and Millennials have accelerated this sentimentality like they do with everything else. The turnaround rate of something falling out of the general consciousness, and then becoming remembered fondly through rose-tinted glasses, has shortened dramatically thanks to the astounding leap of technology that has occurred over the past 20 years. The modern world, in terms of entertainment, socialisation, and household appliances, is unrecognisable from the world that Millennials grew up in. So, instead of only pining for bygone films and songs, so-called ‘90s kids are also nostalgic for VHS tapes, AOL, and phones with cords – a world that existed less than two decades ago. If this trend continues, what can we expect for future generations, as technology continues to evolve more and more rapidly? In five years, will today’s young children and pre-teens become nostalgic for fidget spinners, Fortnite, and the iPhone 8? Have they already?
Applying this question of accelerated nostalgia to film – not only thinking about the ways that it shapes aesthetic, but also how it changes the corporate side of film production – it is obvious that media companies have long since recognised the potential that sentimentality has to generate revenue and put people in seats. Remakes and sequels built on fond memories of beloved films have been massive cash cows for studios; since 2010, 19 of the top 20 grossing movies were one or the other. Contrast this with the ‘90s, where 15 out of the top 20 films were unaffiliated with previous franchises or films. I would say that this is indicative of a worrying trend, epitomised by Disney Pixar’s unnecessary sequels like Finding Dory and The Incredibles 2, which were made not because the characters were dying to be explored and had more room to grow, or because some new, exciting scenarios had been dreamt up. These sequels were made because people love the originals and the studios recognised the opportunity to cash in on both children and young adults: people who were young when Finding Nemo and The Incredibles hit theatres are now adults with disposable income. Does this mean that these movies are inherently bad? No, but they lack the passion and creativity of the originals. They are still good-looking, big-budget animated features, with likeable, recognisable characters, but they don’t have the heart of a production a tenth of their budget, and it comes down to the motives for production.
So, what is in store for us in the future? Hopefully, something different. I believe that we have reached a plateau for the amount of nostalgic exploitation we can take in our movies. As younger and younger people begin to yearn for films whose posters are still on billboards, studios will continually attempt to exploit them. As of now, the market is critically oversaturated with sequels and franchises, and the flaws in the current trend are beginning to show. Last year’s The Mummy – a remake of a remake, and the first of Universal Studio’s hilarious attempt at a retro horror-based cinematic universe, underperformed at the box office and led to plans for further instalments in the franchise being put on hold. More recently, Solo: A Star Wars Story just became the lowest-grossing Star Wars movie ever; is this therefore emblematic of the unnecessary over-telling of stories that we don’t need, nor want to hear? Of course, this doesn’t mean that Hollywood releasing only original movies is the answer, original films like Gotti and Skyscraper came out this year and sucked, while Blade Runner 2049 and Mad Max: Fury Road bucked the trend and were amazing films that stand on their own merit, independent of any attachment we feel towards their franchises.
There’s nothing wrong with a film wanting to generate money. But when a movie is made because a studio wants a focus-tested, trend-following franchise that lazily pursues the safe route of relying on audience nostalgia, the movie isn’t guaranteed to be good. Ultimately, the quality of a film comes down to unique directorial vision and creative control. Only then can amazing films can be made, and we’re all better off. Terrible films are always going to get produced – nothing can be done about that, but by supporting independent artists that take risks and demand something more from the viewer than just your tally in a number count, we can at least try to steer the film industry in the right direction.