Is there really a lack of originality in the film industry?

In an era where sitting down in front of a screen on a relaxing Friday night has become commonplace for many, the production of film has become a very profitable, yet expensive, business to pursue. In fact, the revenue acquired in filmed entertainment during 2014 was an astonishing $88.3bn, a massive $11.2bn more than the net worth of Bill Gates, the current richest person alive. Despite the love and dedication that goes into these projects, there is a worrying trend arising in a majority of big budget films: they are too similar. For example, 6 of the 10 most expensive films ever made are sequels. In an industry where the pursuit of brilliant new ideas is considered ‘risky business,’ it is becoming increasingly more challenging to find innovative, original features at your local cinema. However, the statement implying that there is a lack of originality in Hollywood may be incorrect. Perhaps the problem is that there is not a lack of originality in films, but a lack of the public’s acceptance of more unique films, a possible fear of the unknown.

It has become a recurring misconception that if a movie makes absurd amounts of profit, it is a masterpiece. For example, as a way of advertising for the DVD release of Jurassic World, posters were put on display claiming the film to be “the #1 movie of the year” which, according to many critics, is certainly not the case. However, that poses the question: if Jurassic World was such a mediocre production, how is it that it is the third-highest grossing film of all time? The answer can be defined in one word: action. A cinema’s purpose is to emphasise the quality of the film and amplify the excitement and immersion the audience obtains from the experience, crafting memorable scenes such as the sinking of the Titanic or King Kong scaling the Empire State Building much more enjoyable which receives the company funding the film more money. The cinema cannot unfortunately escalate the experience of watching a thoughtful, progressive art film such as Birdman or Under the Skin. This kind of production requires a lot of dialogue and character building, with exciting action scenes being superfluous in this genre of filmmaking. This forces the consumer to ask themselves if it is worth the extra money for the same experience on DVD at home as opposed to seeing the next Mission: Impossible with an enhanced experience only achieved in theatre.

Young children can play a vital role in the success of a film. A child with an active imagination would much rather see a film about dinosaurs or superheroes than how Alan Turing created the computer that won the war, despite the similar age ratings, for the simple reason that the more action-packed option is far more entertaining. Similarly, Jurassic World’s opening weekend audience consisted of a huge 39% being under the age of 25 and a majority of the remainder being the parents of those in the 39% who were children. A polar opposite scenario is the opening weekend of The Shawshank Redemption, which is not only a mature-rated film, but is also a more slower-paced, intelligent production. Shawshank only made $727,327, a measly amount in comparison to its $25m budget, but ended up as the most rented film of the next year, further illustrating that cinema is not a place for art, but for adrenaline-pumping fun. It is not a lack of originality in films; the public’s preference to the loud, exhilarating films that make the most money means it makes more financial sense to create action over art. We do not hear about original films because they perform more poorly in the box office, drawing less attention to themselves.

In this day and age it is incredibly risky for large corporations to throw a $100m budget at an original concept that may not perform well financially and while this method can occasionally create entire franchises such as Star Wars and Die Hard, it can go wrong. Films such as Pacific Rim have proven, despite its $180m budget, that it’s very unlikely a new idea will make the studio producing it much profit. The safer option is to use other material and convert it into a movie or make a sequel. In fact, out of the Top 50 highest-grossing films of all time, thirty-five are sequels, twenty-five are book-to-film adaptations and one is based on a true story. There is clear evidence that not only do the companies producing the films have little faith in new ideas, but so do the public. There is little reason to invest in smaller, independent films which are equally capable of being masterpieces, thus receiving a smaller marketing budget, making less money. It is more likely to hear of the next Transformers film making similar revenue because of the large amounts of gold coins the producers are raining down on the advertising budget. More trailers, more posters, more merchandise reacts to create more curiosity from the consumer. For example, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, a series famed for being the most expensive in the history of film, received extremely high budgets, each one larger than the last (after the incredible success of its first film, The Curse of the Black Pearl) and the profits followed a similar trend. Disney decided to take a chance on The Curse of the Black Pearl and it paid off magnificently. The reason people do not hear of the more interesting, thought-provoking films is because it is more of a financial risk to support projects not proven to be successful in theatres.

In 2011, the crime drama titled Drive was unveiled to the world in the form of a high-octane, fast-paced action trailer, tricking viewers into watching it under false pretences. This sparked outrage among consumers and critics alike, and the film was panned, making a lot less money than it maybe could have. However, under the layers of lies, there hid a wonderful, tense experience unique from other dramas, resulting in cult classic status. The issue is not that the film’s marketing team decided lying was the best way to draw in the crowds, but that the choice itself was unavoidable. Otherwise, not as much anticipation would have been garnered for the film, which could have made the company funding the project even less financial gain. The same is seen worryingly too often and it is shameful to admit that without these deceitful decisions, many films would have gone unnoticed. Another unfortunate trend is the unveiling of too much plot information in a trailer, spoiling the full film when it arrives. This tactic is perhaps less mandatory than the former but some marketing teams are not good enough at their jobs to invent a creative, interesting way of advertising a film, so the inclusion of spoilers in trailers and posters is their way of gathering interest. These methods of attraction may seem outrageous, but it is unfortunately the only way to engage viewers and, in the age of social media, causes a hurricane of hashtags and a torrent of tweets. Or else, the trailers just shows off yet another uninteresting independent production and the world continues to turn.

Despite the endless complaints from moviegoers and the pages of blog posts and newspaper articles addressing this ‘problem,’ there is still originality within the film industry. While this may not seem apparent to many, it all comes down to the number  of zeroes in the marketing budget. Whether the film has unorthodox marketing tactics or wears a mask made of explosions, it has become near-impossible for unique films to spread their wings under the ever-growing shadow of public ingratitude. That isn’t to say there is no originality in films today, but with film industry revenue rising, the desire for something slightly different has reached a steeper hill than ever and, for now, there doesn’t seem to be a long enough rope to hoist itself back up.


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