OPINION: Don’t Ban Comic Book Movies – Ban Blockbusters
Comic book movies – there are so many mother flipping comic book movies nowadays. At this point they surely make the things out of a special puréed syrup concocted from coked up movie executives and the decaying dreams of broken Hollywood screenwriters. My brother in arms here at Cultured Vultures, Mr Chris Wood, recently put forward a solution to this cinematic homogenisation: ban comic book films until Hollywood gets its bloody act together.
The Hollywood Problem
It’s a compelling suggestion, with some merit, but it betrays a naivety in one key area. Mr Wood, full of blinding bright hope for the world, does not realise that Hollywood is a cesspool of terrified, excitable, bandwagon jumping, bean counting gremlins. The tragedy of modern Hollywood, or what it has become, is that it has learnt precisely the wrong lesson from the rise of Marvel and its one-size-fits-all dream factory. With 2008’s Iron Man Marvel rolled the dice on a big idea, then cashed in their winnings after they knew they were on to a good thing.
What Marvel did next is quite possibly unique in decades of film making. Not since the Hollywood Golden Age, where the likes of Dracula, the Mummy and the Wolfman might appear together across a single cinematic continuity had any movie franchise tried such a thing. And never on such a scale. It was, for all intents and purposes, a brand new way of selling movies. Oh, and it made Marvel so much money they could have emptied the Hoover Dam and filled it with cocaine (that’s what movie studios spend their profits on, right? Or has someone been bullshitting me this whole time?).
It was new! It was exciting! Joss frickin’ Whedon was directing! The only problem was, Hollywood is Hollywood, and Hollywood had to go and fuck it up. Picture the scene for a moment:
Movie Executive 1: Hey, those guys are making a dick load of money. Are we making that much money? (snorts a line of cocaine)
Movie Executive 2: Well yes, we always make a dick load of money. But I think they’re making even more. Should we look in to they’re business model?
Movie Executive 1: Ha! No, we’ll just copy what it looks like they’re doing but turn everything up to 11. In fact, yeah, let’s do their thing, but with 11 movies. Give me ten minutes then get me the shareholders on line one – they need to know how much money we’re going to make. (plants face in cocaine)
Too much? If my brief foray into screenwriting was a little on the nose, let me speak plainly. Right now, Hollywood is a reactive beast. If, as Marvel did, a studio strikes hot with a risky idea the American movie industry has become so high stakes and averse to risk it will take that idea and slowly run it into the ground. See, my little skit above is actually a little unfair: movie executives don’t avoid untested ideas because they are stupid. They avoid them because if the risk doesn’t pay off they probably just lost their company 100 million dollars. And also they’re fired.
If it wasn’t comic book movies saturating our box office, it would be some other genre of over-budget super movie cluttering up our multiplexes. Anime adaptations perhaps? Harry Potter knock offs? Star Wars clones? Each one made for $150 million or more.
Invasion of the Blockbusters
Not that long ago, it was possible to broadly break movie budgets into three tiers. There were the indies, where young new creatives would find their voices. At the other end of the spectrum were the blockbusters – massive budgets handed to trusted creative talent who had spent decades honing the craft to perfection. In the middle were the middle-brow movies. Not as financially risky as the blockbusters, but with a bigger cheque book and potentially bigger stars to play with. Here’s where your indie directors would become journeymen, with a smaller number stepping up and eventually directing blockbusters.
It’s an oversimplification, but it gets us to the broken pencil tip of the problem. This mid-brow tier of movies has slowly become a smaller part of the industry as Hollywood chases that ever elusive money making mega hit. Movie executives aren’t addicted to cocaine, but they are addicted to that one massive payday that keeps on coming. They want the blockbuster money stream so bad they’ve hollowed out the middle of their industry.
Take a glance at some of the directing talent employed on these mega projects. Josh Trank notoriously only had one directing credit (indie hit Chronicle) before he was handed $120 million to monumentally botch Fantastic Four. The Russo Brothers appear to have learnt the directorial ropes in the television industry before they were called upon to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Until it breaks its addiction to massive pay days, Hollywood will always find a way take a good idea and beat it until it’s nothing more than bruised, flaccid pulp.
Confiscate Hollywood’s Cheque Book
Here’s my suggestion then. Instead of banning comic book movies, isn’t it time we banned blockbusters? With the likes of John Carter, The Huntsman: Winter’s War and Alice Through The Looking Glass, Hollywood has proven itself incapable of restraint, so we need to restrain it ourselves. Henceforth, I propose a temporary ban on all movies costing more than $100 million. It’s time to force movie studios to diversify. There’s more than one way to make money, and there’s only so much money any one idea can make.
If studios are forced to earn their cheddar through a healthy number of mid-budget flicks, it’s possible they’ll relearn the art of frugal film making. Let’s be honest; no amount of open cheque books were going to save Gods of Egypt. Hollywood needs to learn to be thrifty, and stop betting the bank on franchises which cost hundreds of millions to make. Superhero movies are a symptom of this sickness, not the disease itself.
And Hollywood, I understand it’s hard. It’s harder to make ten mid-budget movies than it is to pump all your money into three mega films. The thing is, that extra bit of work makes it less risky for you and gives audiences greater cinematic variety. It’s a win-win, so let’s ban all blockbuster movies. Give it ten years, and Hollywood might be in a place where it can think about making their so called ‘summer tent poles’ once again.
Or maybe they’ll learn nothing. Who knows?