What's in Store for the '10s? The '90s, Bloat & a Renaissance
by Brandon Lee Tenney
December 21, 2009
The aughts are coming to a close. And what better time than now to look forward, over the crest of 2010, into the next decade? What will the '10s bring to the silver screen? What legacy have the past ten years left for them to follow -- or veer away from? This, of course, is the way of the soothsayer, reading fortunes via palms and tea leaves, but from where I'm sitting, a tempest is brewing. A tempest that's poised to make landfall during the decade to come.
The last ten years in film, more specifically the latter aughts, have been defined by the continuous, endless production of sequels, remakes, and adaptations. Originality has proved scarce. SlashFilm just posted two articles last month dealing with just that exact issue. After crunching some statistics, Peter found that only two of the thirty top grossing films of the last decade were original properties. And of the past decade's Academy Awards Best Picture nominees, only eight (of forty-five total) are born of originality.
The studios seem to be terrified by the prospect of something completely new; a film that's conceived wholly and purposefully to be displayed on film, from conception to completion. From adaptations of comic books and their heroes to board games to true stories, a recognizable hook is the preferred starting line of late. With the evidence presented by SlashFilm, why shouldn't it be? Audiences have showed the studios that that's what we'll pay to see. We all like what's familiar. We seek out what's comforting; who wants to be challenged when we're meant to be entertained? The major studios are simply applying basic human psychology. And not only will audiences pay to see 'em, the Academy will award them. But how long can this philosophy last? When will the cup finally runneth over?
The trend looks to be holding true over the next few years. If moving at all, the amount of remakes and franchise sequels appear to be on the rise. Where we've been seeing remakes of films from the '70s and '80s, it's the '90s that are in Hollywood's crosshairs now. The coming decade will see sequels to the blockbuster 90s films Men in Black, (possibly) Independence Day, Toy Story, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mission: Impossible, and, if I'm going to speculate, probably another Mummy film, another Die Hard, and perhaps even Jurassic Park 4. The remakes are being produced in such close succession to the original properties that soon it's the remakes that will lead to the originals, instead of the other way around. It's all a bit too much. And during the '10s the first cracks in this foundation will start to form.
There's a fine line between seeking what's familiar and becoming complacent (and downright bored) with sameness. Sooner, rather than later, the franchise sequel machine will start to fail. The adaptations will begin to display less of a return. And as the news becomes even more ubiquitous, true stories will cease to find as great an audience. This isn't to say that they'll stop outright. That's ludicrous. There will always be a place for the summer blockbuster franchise, the incredible true story, and the revelatory novel adaptation. It's the volume of the above that will become diminished. And it'll be because we, the audience, will be the harbingers of such change.
The current (and immediate future's) economic climate is not one conducive to the entertainment industry. There's not a lot of expendable income floating around in our figurative couch cushions. While going to the movies is still one of the cheaper outings for a family (or a couple... or a single guy), the gimmicks (3D, IMAX, LieMAX) being employed are making the cost enough to give some pause. It'll be during the '10s that the market will become so saturated, the lack of choice so ubiquitous, that our wallets will begin to do some major talking. At least, I hope so.
So, what will remain? What new standard will rise from the ashes? The low-budget film. And, furthermore, the resurgence of originality. A renaissance. Films like Paranormal Activity, District 9, (the upcoming) Area 51, and Panic Attack (among many others) are proving their worth as fresh signals among the noise. They're also the beginning of a growing trend where Hollywood is taking notice of the techniques and viability of the creativity shown on YouTube. The problem with big budgets is that there are so many options that it's actually stunting the creativity of filmmakers. Put their backs to the wall, and the mind will expand to new heights. By spending less money, yet gaining similar returns, the industry may be able to inject a much needed boost into its originality glands. This would lead to less money spent on rights ownership and an increased market for original spec screenplays. Perhaps even a following built around the people who are creating the films as much as the franchise itself.
Well, I can dream. Overall, I think the '10s are going to be hopeful years for film. The way we think of media is changing every year. The way we consume media, especially. The film industry will change, there's no doubt about that. It's up to us, though, to guide the change. While the above is, of course, all speculation, it's the past that's always been the best predictor of the future. A renaissance is possible. But so is a bloated, totalitarian dark age. Doesn't the former sound a whole lot better?