In recent years, it's been hard to miss the fact that movie theaters are dominated by reboots, adaptations, and sequels. Even harder to miss are critics of this circumstance, those who probably believe that superhero and tentpole movies dominating the box office signal the end of times.
One of the latest industry professionals to take issue with the state of movies is Max Landis, the screenwriter of Chronicle and American Ultra. In an extensive series of tweets, Landis rails against modern audiences' tendency to see movies with familiar concepts and ignore the original fare.
Since he goes into great detail, I've begun with a summary for the too long, didn't read crowd, but his comments are listed in full at the bottom of this article.
Landis doesn't understand why people would want to see non-original films over American Ultra
So, what to make of this argument? I definitely think that Landis puts too much weight on reviews (they're not the be-all and end-all to most of us), and I also don't think that American Ultra is the best case study for this argument (a stoner sleeper agent flick is asking for a niche audience, not a big blockbuster premiere).
With that in mind, let's take a wider look at the most successful movies of teh past few years and see if originality is really dying out.
In 2010, three of the top 10 movies were original
These included Inception, Despicable Me, and How to Train Your Dragon. Of course, it should be noted that Despicable Me and How to Train Your Dragon went on to become huge franchises in their own right and continue to breed money-making sequels to this day.
Also, Landis directly calls out Nolan, the director of Inception, as one of the few who can make original concepts cross over into big-budget hits.
In 2011, none of the ten highest grossing movies were original
The biggest movies that year were almost all sequels (the final Harry Potter, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Kung Fu Panda 2, Fast Five, The Hangover Part II, and Cars 2). The only remaining movie was The Smurfs, a reboot/adaptation.
In 2012, there were no original films at the top once again
Sequels dominated another year with The Avengers, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, [Ice Age: Continental Drift](tag:38951), [The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2](tag:41139), [Madagascar 3 (2012)](tag:757698), and Men in Black 3 filling out most of the spots in the top ten.
A prequel ([The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey](tag:21016)), a reboot (The Amazing Spider-Man), and an adaptation (The Hunger Games) round out the rest.
In 2013, Frozen and Gravity bring back some glory to original films
You could definitely make the argument that Frozen is an adaptation of the The Snow Queen, but it strays so much from that central story that I consider it an entirely different entity.
Gravity is one of those rare films that won critical acclaim along with its massive box office success and took home an impressive number of awards.
In 2014, Christopher Nolan makes a return with Interstellar
But that's the only original film on the list, and it's at the very bottom of the top ten.
Which brings us up to 2015, which already had some original stand-outs
So far, Inside Out and San Andreas are holding their ranks among the massive sequels of the year, but there is definitely a stronger showing for non-original films.
So, what can we learn from this? For starters, there's no clear trend that original film is dead, but it does seem to have to fit into what's culturally relevant right now. That means animation and action movies, and that makes sense with what people want to go to the movies for.
As the industry slowly allows for video on demand and more movies to be available at home, it makes sense to me that consumers will shell out the big bucks for the visual spectacles that look so much better in theaters. This isn't really anything new, but it has certainly become more pronounced with updated technologies.
To me, it looks like movie theaters (and IMAX) are becoming the space for these tentpole epics, and perhaps films like American Ultra could have fared better as an indie favorite you watch in your living room. Maybe originality isn't dying, it's just finding a new home.
Here are Max Landis's tweets in full for those who want to read them
So, with all of this is mind, what do you guys think?