by Peter Franklin
Monday, 25
October 2021
Chart
13:00

Globalisation has ruined Hollywood

These days it's nothing but sequels and movie ‘franchises’
by Peter Franklin

Do you ever get the impression that most films these days are sequels and remakes?

Well I’ve got some good news — it’s not just your imagination. According to a chart tweeted out this weekend by Derek Thompson of The Atlantic, original films really are dying out: 

Here’s the original source for the chart, which covers the top 50 highest grossing films each year. One can quibble with precise methods and suggest alternative measures, but there’s little doubt that sequels and movie ‘franchises’ have come to dominate Hollywood’s output.

The question is why? Are we living through a collapse in creativity? If even the Hollywood dream factory is struggling to come up with original ideas that can’t be a good sign for the vitality of western culture.

Those who resist the idea of civilisational decline point to TV shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Less highbrow offerings like Game of Thrones and Succession also stand out as some of the best television ever made. So on the small screen, the 21st century doesn’t look too shabby. The fact that this golden age coincides with the rise of the Hollywood sequel suggests that originality hasn’t disappeared, it’s just moved to a different medium. 

Thompson suggests some other potential explanations. For instance, the “Phantom Menace theory” — a reference to the 1999 Star Wars prequel that was savaged by the critics, but which made a heap of money. It turns out that there’s a huge market to be exploited at the intersection between spectacle and familiarity. And, for that, the sci-fi, fantasy, horror and superhero genres are ideal.

One factor that Thompson doesn’t mention is globalisation. The opening of new markets in China and elsewhere has created a demand for films that are effortlessly cross-cultural in appeal. This means lots of special effects, action-driven plots, archetypal characters and no problematic politics. Again, it’s the same sequel-ridden genres that benefit. 

Martin Scorsese got a lot a flak when he compared superhero films to theme park rides. But the parallel is a useful one. A literal rollercoaster is primarily a visceral, sensory experience. It is readily transferable between cultures and customers will come back to experience much the same thing over-and-over again. 

Globalisation was meant to enrich us culturally. On one level it has — by providing access to the finest products of cultures other than our own. However, the problem comes when we try to make products that appeal without effort to every culture at the same time. That isn’t enrichment, but a slide towards the lowest common denominator. 

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
20 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Cat Fan
Cat Fan
1 year ago

I assume they must be very easy to market: familiar characters, a story to follow from one movie to the next, relatively easy to make merchandise for in terms of character logos and costumes (backpacks, t-shirts, costumes for children for play and Halloween and adults for cosplay and also Halloween) bedding, posters.
Aside from the marketability of them, I think there is something infantile about adults who love superhero movies. I think the childish nature of a superhero franchise appeals to a swathe of people, a form escapism from what seems like a complex world where the modern day mores are constantly in flux.

Mel Bass
Mel Bass
1 year ago
Reply to  Cat Fan

Superhero films are just another genre of escapism. They usually present formula entertainment without being too thought-provoking – and sometimes, that’s what people need. I know plenty of grown adults who enjoy them, for exactly that reason, and I’d describe very few of those as ‘infantile’. Speaking from experience, I find that if you’ve just spent your working day thinking on your feet and dealing with some of the most difficult people in society, with perhaps, a life-threatening incident or two, you may not fancy a complicated highbrow drama when you’re trying to relax afterwards. I do find it very patronising and snobbish when people look down on others for their choice of entertainment.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
1 year ago
Reply to  Mel Bass

Very good point. I only like a couple of the MCU superhero movies, along with the Chris Nolan Batman series. But I understand the appeal. I’m a non-repentant Star Wars fan, even when I get critical of certain specific offerings.
I remember about fifteen years ago I was about to take over an extremely stressful and life-consuming job (as in, it became your whole life). The person I was taking over from warned me to stock on up on DVDs of stupid humor. He said that in what little time I had at home, I would be too mentally and emotionally exhausted to have to think about anything. He was right. I read less than normal, and generally simpler books. And I had no patience for a serious movie. Thankfully that was the kind of job you only hold for a while before moving on, but some people are stuck in demanding jobs, and perhaps have demanding personal lives while outside the job, and they just don’t have the energy to expend on difficult or thought-provoking entertainment. They get those things the rest of the day, entertainment is meant as a way to get away from all that. Doesn’t speak poorly of them. And in many ways, makes them less infantile than people who have easy lives that leave them with all the time and energy they need to dedicate to entertainment (I’m more in that class now, but have a lot more respect for what I used to do, and for those who will deal with that their whole lives)

Cat Fan
Cat Fan
1 year ago
Reply to  Sean Penley

Whilst I have some sympathy with that view point, I do disagree. I think there is plenty of fun or zone-out level, undemanding entertainment out there which is produced with adults in mind. This is my main point, not that it is bad to enjoy entertainment which in itself is lowbrow or easy, but that it odd for adults to gravitate towards entertainment that is really for younger people. I feel it is on the same wavelength as an adult who still plays video games or reads ‘teenage’ literature like The Twilight Saga or even Harry Potter. I am pretty certain that if I told you that after a hard day at work I liked to come home and spend time playing Barbie or My Little Pony, or recreating scenes from Thomas the Tank Engine, and that I had no children and these were solely for me, most people would find that odd for an adult. Is it harmless? Probably. Is it anyone else’s business? No. Will I be judged for doing this? Probably. Is that ‘patronizing and snobbish’? So be it. People will be patronizing and snobbish about all kinds of things: the way someone dresses or does their hair, the food they eat, the way they talk, what they drink, how many children they choose to have or not have, where they holiday, what car they drive, where they choose to live, how they take their tea or coffee.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

“”Globalisation was meant to enrich us culturally.””

WTF??? No it was not. It is to break the power and cohesion of sovereign nations and people to ultimately unite them under the control of the Global Elites.

From WikiLefty:

“The term “globalist” has been used as a pejorative in right-wing and far-right politics. For example, during the election and presidency of United States president Donald Trump, he and members of his administration used the term globalist on multiple occasions. The administration was accused of using the term as an antisemitic “dog-whistle”, to associate their critics with a Jewish conspiracy Followers of the (Qanon) use “The Cabal” to refer to a secret worldwide elite organisation who wish to undermine democracy and freedom, and implement their own globalist agendas.[25] “Globalists” has been used as a reference by Alex Jones to those who promote Covid-19 lockdowns, mask mandates, and forced vaccinations. In general the term is used by the right to mean an ideology that advocates strongly hierarchical, autocratic political ties binding all or most nations together, which threaten to obliterate national independence and that such ties are also heavily influenced by behind-the-scenes financial interests”

Which is lies as the Right likes Israel and Jewish people, it is the Left which dislikes them… But otherwise, well , OK, they make some points…

And, so, yes, movies are Globalism as they are Psy-ops to make us Woke, as in to undermine family, patriotism, Nationalism, Morality, and the West. The shows the writer lists as very good do not do this.

John Tyler
John Tyler
1 year ago

Surely it’s always been the same, though the terminology has changed. Audiences knew exactly what to expect in movies starring Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable or Doris Day. Some studios specialised in romance, others Westerns or thrillers or musical and dance extravaganzas. Stars could be leased across studios, effectively selling the brand on a limited contract. Are today’s franchises not much the same as the old studios monopolies, though with greatly increased product spin-offs?

George Glashan
George Glashan
1 year ago

Does the Unherd community have any good recommendations for recent -ish original films? i think their are some good or at least interesting things that are coming out on streaming services if not in the cinema.

Last edited 1 year ago by George Glashan
George Glashan
George Glashan
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

I’ll start the ball rolling.
Prospect ( amazon) a space / sci-fi western, a bit of a slow starter but once it picks up the build up to the finale and the score that accompany it are incredible.
The endless (was on netflix maybe gone now) two brothers who escaped a cult as children return to it as adults, again the score is brilliant for the tone of the story, very unsettling.
the empty man, (amazon but i think you need to pay extra for it) a mix of supernatural / pyschological murder mystery , hard to classify as its keeps jumping genre and its also sort of boring in part but then has really ingenious bits which make it very uneven to watch but more interesting than similar films.

Last edited 1 year ago by George Glashan
Cat Fan
Cat Fan
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

I quite liked In the The Vast of the Night, an Amazon movie. The first twenty minutes were pretty bad but I thought it was interesting and atmospheric if you like The Twilight Zone (which I think the director tried to ape). I watched The Tomorrow War, also on Amazon and it was so-bad-it’s-good, I thought.
I haven’t seen it yet, but I look forward to seeing Last Night in Soho.

George Glashan
George Glashan
1 year ago
Reply to  Cat Fan

thanks ill check out Vast of the Night, lookslike my kind of film

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

Too talky for me. No money for cinematography so a lot of relating the plot to camera.

William Murphy
William Murphy
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

I loved “The Last Duel”. Spectacle, fascinating plot, intelligently shot and attention to period detail – such as Benefit of Clergy. But it sank quicker than the Titanic. $100m budget, $5m opening weekend. No wonder studios prefer to put big bucks into safe mega-sequels.

I liked “Dear Evan Hansen”, even though I am way over that age demographic. This is admittedly another “safe” approach – make the movie version of a story which has been a monster hit in book or stage format. Or, like “Beauty and the Beast”, the live action version of a story which was a smash hit as a cartoon.

George Glashan
George Glashan
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

thanks T i didnt know there was another colour out of space so ill check that out

George Glashan
George Glashan
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

thanks again T, yes im a big fan of the fountain, not sure ive ever really understood it but the finale with death is the road to awe from the score is incredible cinema

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

Great challenge.
No, I can’t think of anything. The Next Three Days and Jack Reacher were sort of 6.5 out of 10; formula movies quite well played and executed but similar to things you’ve seen before, eg most films with Keanu or Jason in them..
The last 9/10 movie I saw was Memento which is nearly 25 years old. Arrival was quite interesting; about 7/10.
My only 10/10 moves are from the early 90s or earlier.

George Glashan
George Glashan
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Memento is a classic, Nolans best imo, Arrival was a good scifi, i like that directors work i think he did Sicario also which is brilliant but maybe the bleakest story i’ve ever seen.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

You should probably watch “Hell or High Water” then. Same director/writer team, but less bleak. I did love “Sicario” too though.

ralph bell
ralph bell
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

Squid is a massive hit and very interesting violent South Korean Netflix series. Parasite was a brilliant film from South Korea.
The USA film about living in a van: ‘Nomads’ and another beautiful classic Korean/American film about a family struggle through the eyes of a child: Minari
There are very few films I see at an independent cinema that I don’t enjoy tbh.

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
1 year ago
Reply to  George Glashan

The green knight – utterly strange, beautiful cinematography.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago

Well that’s one good thing its done