The Decline of Modern Cinema
Writer: Riley Glenn
Picture via Movieweb
As we come out of what could be considered the worst year for summer blockbusters, all I can do is ask myself, “what is happening to movies?”. Let me say, I do not want to sound pretentious or anything when I’m saying that, I just feel like there have been a lot more mediocre movies since the turn of the decade than there have ever been. This could be the case because now is the time that I am most aware of what is going in the cinematic world and am paying the most attention to movies that come out. Maybe it’s because my tastes have changed and the movies that I used to enjoy now are laughable. Or maybe it is just due to the fact that I am the oldest I have ever been. It is possible that the amount of bad movies being released is constant every year, I am just more conscious of it. Whatever it is, it feels like cinema and Hollywood in general has just hit rock bottom.
However, this is not my way of saying that every movie that has come out in past 7 years is bad. in fact, 16 of the movies on my top 50 list (along with 3 of my 10 honorable mentions) have come from 2010 or after, including my favorite movie of all time, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Good movies come out every year, that’s what the Oscar’s are for. Although, GOOD movies that someone can view in theaters and that a general audience cares about are few and far between. Now by now you may be thinking one of two things; the first being “Riley, I like the movies that are coming out and think they’re good” and that is perfectly valid. I believe that everyone has their own views on certain movies and that no movie is objectively good or bad. If you believe that every horror movie to come out (something I will talk about later on), is the epitome of what a good movie should be, that’s your opinion and you have your right to that, and I will try my best not to cast judgement or look down on differences of opinion in this article. The second thing you could be thinking is, “Riley, who cares?”, and to be honest, that’s a valid point. I take movies very seriously because A: that is one of things I want to do with my career, and B: if I sit down for X amounts of minutes to watch a movie, I want to make sure that movie is good and that I don’t waste my time. Anyway, movies are important to me and I put a lot of thought and time into looking at them not only for reviewal but for learning and knowledge too. Basically, my goal in this article is to present my reasons for believing that there has been a decline in the standard of movies since 2010. Although the bad movie trend started taking roots long before then, it has really come to a head within the past 7 years.
I’m gonna start with summing this reason up. Because people have more access to information about a movie than ever before, studios spend lucrative amounts of money an advertising. They do this so that as many people as possible will see the movie within opening weekend, before reviews and public opinion is accessible. While this is not as much a reason as it is an indicator that a movie will not be that good. Think back to Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman (notice that they’re both superhero movies, something else I will get into later). You could not turn on any screen or go anywhere without seeing something for one of these two movies. Then, after theaters were flooded to see these movies, they conveniently realize that the movie isn’t that good. The power of advertising, everyone.
One type of movie that almost always flops, at least now, is your big budget summer blockbusters, especially ones that not many people have heard of care about. Movies like Valerian and The Dark Tower, both from this year, are examples of movies adapted from some previous source that not many people care about. Because of the lack of knowledge of the source material, studios and producers get huge budgets for their movies to create something more “visually appealing” than something that has a good story. However for the most part, I put “visually appealing in quotations because they are just the opposite. They rely heavily on terrible CGI as a crutch to get people in seats. Below I put shots from Valerian and Arrival (a movie that while it did come out in October of 2016, ismprobably my favorite movie to come out in the past year, so far) and I’ll let you be the judge of what is more “visually appealing”. If you have yet to see Arrival, you definitely should watch it, it’s beautiful, but I digress.
Picture via Baltana
Picture via iTunes Movie Trailers
Nobody really knows why big budget movies aren’t as good as they used to be. Although big budget blockbusters were never meant to be looked at as the epitome of a good film, just look back to 1975 when Jaws came out. Jaws, the movie that LITERALLY created what is known as the summer blockbuster. Somewhere down the road, producers and directors began believing the only way to get tickets sold was to have some huge spectacle, and because that is the movies we were getting, we started basing other movies off of those. People often a movie “slow”, “long”, or “boring” if it is not an hour and a half long action movie with a bunch of light shows and big name actors. Because those are the movies that people go and see, studios step in and try to tell the producers and directors what kind of movie to make, which often compromises the original vision a director has in mind, as was the case with the new Fantastic 4. However, what studios do not know, is that the only reason people see those movies, is because those are the only movies being created and distributed on such a large scale. I’m sure you get the idea but I’m gonna paraphrase anyway. Imagine you have 2 food carts next to each other on the road. One sells popcorn, the other pretzels, however, the popcorn maker can make popcorn at such a quicker rate because he A: thinks that his popcorn is the snack everyone wants, and B: he does not put as much time and effort as the pretzel maker does. So, as busy people pass the two on the street, they have no time to wait for the pretzel maker to create his masterpiece, even though they would prefer it, so they buy popcorn the majority of the time. Eventually, the city decides to make one of the carts move. They look at the sales of the carts over the day and see that the popcorn maker gets a lot more money (but remember this is only because he makes it quicker and with less care). The city then assumes that people always prefer popcorn to pretzels. They then proceed to not only kick the pretzel maker out, but open 2 more popcorn carts around town, with the same work ethic as the first popcorn maker. Long story short what I am saying is that movie studios really only see things in black and white, a common theme you will find in other aspects of this list. In 2009, Avatar came out with a massive budget, so studios read that as “People want massive budget, CGI films”. In 2012, The Hunger Games came out and studios read that as “People want teenage action movies”. Studios look at audiences reaction to one film and think that means that those are the types of movies we always want to see.
The Abundance of Horror Movies
For whatever reason, Hollywood really has a tough time making good horror movies. When I say “good horror movies”, I do not mean “good horror” movies, I mean good “horror movies”. I am not looking for a horror movie with good levels of horror and scares, I am looking for a horror movie that is good and has a good story. Usually, if a horror movie is not good, it does not have good horror elements either. But that as well, is lost on studios, and also viewers. Every recent mainstream horror movie (and a lot of movies have become this way too) are more style over substance. People only care about cheap scares. Every “scare” in a horror movie has become so formulaic that it is just painful to watch. This one is not really something that recognize though, and it shocks me. The trailer for the newest horror movie comes out, take The Bye Bye Man for example. People then get all excited and I see people looking for “horror movie dates” because this looks like “the scariest movie of X year”. Then, without fail, the movie flops and everyone that was so excited to see it gets disappointed because it turned out to suck, who would’ve guessed? However, when an original horror movie comes out such as It Follows, The VVitch, and The Cabin in the Woods, people do not like it because it is either “not scary enough”, “too pretentious”, “boring”, or simply “not good”.
First of all, 2017 marked the third incarnation of Spider-Man and the sixth movie within 15 years. The Mummy, Jumanji, and Baywatch, to name only a couple, are all getting reboots in 2017, not to mention the years before that. Hollywood is trying out this thing where they reboot classic movies like the ones above, Ben-Hur, Godzilla & King Kong, Star Trek, Terminator, Total Recall, Dredd, and RoboCop, almost all of which have flopped or will flop. Studios will never be able to capture the essence of what made the original films so good, and they never will. Instead they try to up the ante by adding more spectacles to their version, something we talked about earlier, rather than competent directors and actors, which ultimately hurts the movie.
Sequels and Extended Universes
Another thing that I feel is responsible for the downfall of cinema is sequels and extended universes. Mainly this is done within superhero movies, like everything in Marvel and DC’s lineup. However, other franchises are relentless with movies, these include the Fast and Furious series, the Transformers series, the Harry Potter series, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and many more. With the exception of maybe the Harry Potter franchise, each of these have begun to grow more and more over the top than the movie that preceded it. Sometimes you have franchise movies that are sequels such as Star Trek and the James Bond series. I have many problems with this reason specifically because I think it is the main cause of the downfall of modern cinema. I am hesitant to say that it is all Marvel’s fault but since the creation of their extended cinematic universe, other studios have felt the need to copy them. DC, Disney, and Star Wars are just a couple of studios that have followed suit in trying to create their own cinematic universes, although for the most part they fail. The reason this upsets me is A: because you need to see 40 different movies and 3 TV shows to fully understand the movie, and B: there is no finality. Each Marvel movie I watch (which are becoming less and less as I grow tired of the superhero trend) I feel like there is little to no ending, just so they can set things up for the next movie. What ties into that is that there are no stakes in any of the movies, just so that all the characters can meet in one of the movies down the road. At no point in The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy am I worried about one of the characters dying, something that adds genuine tension. I know that nobody will important will die, not only because they need to meet later on, but because Marvel makes their contracts with actors common knowledge. I knew that Captain America was not going to (like he was supposed to) in Civil War because Chris Evans still had movies left to fill in his contract. Having to constantly be reminded of what happened in the past, alongside with that none of the characters change or grow throughout the movies, does nothing but hurt it.
Valerian, Baywatch, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Alien; Covenant, Wonder Woman, It Comes At Night, The Mummy, Baby Driver, Spiderman Homecoming, War For the Planet of the Apes, Dunkirk, The Dark Tower, The Emoji Movie, and Detroit is the almost complete list of summer blockbusters. Aside from Baby Driver, Dunkirk, and Detroit; every single film on this list fits into at least 1 of categories. These are: Horror movies, movies made for kids not created by Disney or Dreamworks, sequels, reboots, adaptations, or superhero movies. Also, of these 13 movies, 6 of them had 70% or less on Rotten Tomatoes (something I was hesitant to use because I am not the biggest proponent for Rotten Tomatoes, but you get the picture), can you guess which ones they are? Of the 7 that got higher than a 70%, 2 of them were superhero movies (both of which got higher scores than I feel like they deserve).
Finally, this is not me saying that these movies have to be bad if they are a horror movie, franchise movie, or a reboot. I think with the right director, writer, and team behind the film, you can actually get something out of it, such is the case with the most recent Planet of the Apes movies. These are even better than earlier versions of the same story. Either way, in my opinion, with the right team and motivation behind a movie, it has the potential to be amazing, but since the majority of motivation in Hollywood is to make a quick buck, I unfortunately don’t see these trends going away any time soon. However, at the same time, you may love superhero movies or bad horror movies, and you have every right to. I’m not saying that these are objectively the cause of bad movies, this is just how I feel about them and their effects.