Originality in Hollywood: Is It Really As Bad As You Think?

By October 20, 2015

Last week it was announced that 20th Century Fox will be producing a Die Hard prequel, the 6th film in that franchise. Immediately a familiar cry rose up from fans throughout the interwebz:


We’ve done this dance before. A sequel/prequel/reboot/remake is announced, fans vocalize their outrage on comment boards everywhere (sometimes even in ALL CAPS for added effect), the film still makes millions of dollars, and on and on. But is Hollywood really all out of ideas, or is this just another case of empty internet rage? Who’s really to blame for the perceived lack of originality in Hollywood? The studio? The filmmakers? The fans? Most importantly, does it even really matter? Let’s take a look at originality in Hollywood and see if this truly is a problem deserving of the world’s scorn.

movie-poster-remakes-originalsTo begin with, let’s acknowledge a very important fact: remakes and reboots have been around forever. Al Pacino’s beloved Scarface was a remake of a film made in 1932 starring Paul Muni. 2013’s The Great Gatsby starring Leo DeCaprio was the fourth time that novel has been adapted for the big screen. Man of Steel was the second reboot of the Superman franchise to be made in the past decade. This is far from a new phenomenon, but it certainly does appear as if the “problem” of recycled ideas has been more pervasive in the last, say, five years or so. But whose fault is it really? Fans are quick to blame studios, but evidence suggests they may want to turn their criticism towards their fellow movie-goers.

Let’s take a look at the top ten films of 2010 (courtesy of Box Office Mojo) as determined by domestic gross. Five of those films were sequels. Alice in Wonderland was a live-action remake of a 1952 animated film. Tangled was loosely based on the 200+ year old tale of Rapunzel. How To Train Your Dragon was based on a series of books. Only two of the top ten films from that year could be truly considered “original” ideas, and if we expand it to the top twenty you see titles like The Karate Kid, Tron Legacy, True Grit, Clash of the Titans, Little Fockers, and The Last Airbender. If you think that’s something, check out 2011. All but one of the top ten films that year was a sequel, and that exception was Thor, part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and an adaptation of a comic series that’s been around since the 1960’s. Delving further into the top twenty of that year we saw a reboot/prequel of the Planet of the Apes film series, another MCU film in Captain America: The First Avenger, an X-Men franchise reboot/prequel, and Kung Fu Panda 2. Just go ahead and look at the data from 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. It’s all more of the same.

What may come as a surprise is the fact that this really isn’t anything new. Go back twenty years to 1995. You’ve got three sequels in the top ten, along with a James Bond reboot/sequel, and an adaptation of a popular cartoon from the 1940’s. Expanding to the top twenty gives us two more sequels and novel adaptations each. True, it’s not quite as commonplace as it seems to be today, but the precedent is clear.

Hollywood has long relied on familiar properties to base their films on. While it may draw the ire of the “OUT OF IDEAS” crowd (whose backlash is naturally amplified by social media and whatnot), it’s hard to fault their logic here. After all, these are the films that most people are going to see. The proof is right there in the financial figures. So we can get mad at Hollywood for, say, greenlighting an entire Transformers expanded film universe, but Transformers 4 made A BILLION DOLLARS worldwide. Sure, that movie was hot garbage, but it SOLD TICKETS. With theater attendance at an all-time low (courtesy Slashfilm) last year due to factors like increased ticket prices and the rise of in-home viewing via Netflix, finding a film that will sell is of the utmost importance. What studio executive, whose job it is to ensure that the studio continues to make money AND who most likely wants to remain employed, is going to look at the numbers and shoot these ideas down? This isn’t about whether or not the movies are good, that’s a whole other discussion. Based purely on what’s historically happened at the box office, can we really fault studios for responding to what the tendencies of their audience has clearly told them? This is a business after all. We can dream of a world where studios operate based on artistic expression and integrity all we want, but at the end of the day this is show BUSINESS. As much as you can’t get mad at Coca-cola for continuing to make soda, you can’t get mad at studios for continuing to make the types of movies that make them the most money. So if you’re going to blame anyone for this, blame the people buying the tickets.

Now I need to pause for a second as I feel a bit nauseous for defending studio executives. Hold on….ok. I’m back.

The perception seems to be that these “rehash” films are being made at the expense of “real” films. While it’s clear that the major studios by and large rely mainly on the big budget flicks like the Marvel Studios films or Fast & Furious types to get by, it’s not like the indie film scene is dead and buried. Far from it. They may not bring in the hundreds of millions like the major studios projects do, but they’re just as accessible and in many ways receive more attention than the blockbusters. After all, last year’s Oscar race was almost completely indie. Aside from American Sniper and Selma, every Best Picture nominee came from an indie studio. That includes the winner, Birdman. But, of course, these films have smaller audiences than the folks that go see things from Marvel Studios. The highest grossing indie film from last year (which also tied Birdman for the most nominations), was The Grand Budapest Hotel, which pulled in just under $60 million (courtesy Indiewire). That made it the 55th highest grossing film of the year.

It’s also important to realize that the line between the big studios (Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, etc.) and the smaller indies has begun to blur. Most of these studios now have their own indie label that puts out just as many films as their larger counterparts. Sure, 20th Century Fox might focus on producing bigger movies (like, say, a new Die Hard movie), but Fox Searchlight has produced 3 of the last 7 Best Picture winners. This type of set-up allows the parent company to service both its mainstream audiences as well as the smaller, niche crowd. The studios may be “out of ideas” for their tentpoles, but they’re still creating original content on a smaller scale. Which, again, makes perfect financial sense.

The big/indie film dynamic isn’t the only change the film industry’s seeing. With the rise of streaming services like Netflix, filmmakers have an entirely new way to get their work out there in front of the masses. Take the recent release of Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba. It’s the first original film production from Netflix, which released it simultaneously on its streaming service and in 31 theaters. It pulled in just over $50,000, which would make it a colossal flop by both major and indie studio standards alike. But if you look at this article from Forbes, you’ll see the pitiful box office returns don’t mean a thing to Netflix. Though we’ll probably never know the exact number of viewers since that’s how the streaming giant operates, it’s pretty safe to say that there were a lot more eyes watching this film at home than in the theaters given how many Netflix subscribers there are worldwide. Plus the film is generating serious Oscar buzz in spite of the fact that it’s box office take was the equivalent of a new Mercedes. If this trend continues (and why wouldn’t it?), filmmakers will be able to bypass the studios in a brand new way and still have their work available to millions of people.

And so, to the folks screaming “HOLLYWOOD IS OUT OF IDEAS” any time a new big studio project is announced, I say two things. First, calm down. I know the internet is filled with rage and it’s easy to get swept up in it, but still…just calm down. Second, and most importantly, Hollywood still has plenty of original, great ideas that are available for your viewing pleasure in ways you’ve probably never even thought of. Sure, the blockbuster may always dominate the box office, but unless you’re a studio executive, you don’t need to worry about things like that. You just have to see the movies. Seriously, GO SEE THE MOVIES. I mean, if you’re really determined to send Hollywood a message, that’s the way to do it. If you show them their audience wants something different, they will listen. Promise. Or just accept that while the big blockbusters may not be for you, you still have plenty of movies available for your viewing pleasure. And with Netflix becoming a player in the film industry, you’ll soon have access to more content than ever before.

Now let’s all continue to get excited about the next installment in a film franchise that’s nearly 40 years old and whose last three, ahem, episodes have been mostly derided by fans and critics alike. See? Hollywood’s not so bad after all.

Make sure you check back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.

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Joe Ruggirello
Joe is a writer, retired comedian, and giant nerd. He's particularly fond of comic books, pro wrestling, and Godzilla. Oh, and that Star Wars thing. You can yell at him on Twitter @JoeRu23.
  • David Johnson

    I mainly follow Indie Directors, the last big studio film I actually went to see was Avengers Age Of Ultron mainly because of Joss Whedon & James Spader!!!