Often in the world of movie fandom you will hear complaints about Hollywood’s lack of originality. That all we get are sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots. I include myself in that number. If it isn’t a direct remake it is an adaptation of a popular book or a close copy of a popular franchise. It seems like it is pretty rare that something truly original comes along. Or so the argument typically starts out.
But wait, lately I’ve been wondering if that is actually the case? This year we have seen original ideas in Tomorrowland, Chappie, Jupiter Ascending, Strange Magic, Pixels and of course Inside Out (as well as I’m sure others I am overlooking). Last year we had Snowpiercer, Grand Budapest Hotel, Locke, Song of the Sea and more. Come to think of it last year was actually a pretty good year for original stories.
What’s the problem then? Well, most of those movies didn’t do very well at the box office and had often be hunted down rather than the big name sequels, and reboots which are so prominently marketed. Obviously something like Pixels, Tomorrowland and Inside Out get a lot of marketing but it does seem to me the tried and true franchises are more shoved in our face than the original ideas (Amazing Spiderman 2 great example of that kind of obnoxious marketing).
Franchises can also have original ideas. Christopher Nolan has certainly proven that with his Dark Knight saga.
But I was thinking about particularly this year. Aside from Inside Out we’ve seen original concept films tank at box office and with critics. I had fun with Jupiter Ascending but it isn’t a good movie. I just watched Chappie and it was terrible. Tomorrowland was a disappointment. We will see how Pixels does but I don’t anticipate great numbers George Lucas’ Strange Magic came and went with few people seeing it, making only 12.5 mil at box office.
So what’s the problem? Why aren’t audiences flocking to see these original ideas but showing up in droves to see Jurassic World? This year I think it is simply the original movies haven’t been that good. If Tomorrowland had been great it would have gotten tons of buzz and people would have gone to see it. Most were disappointed including myself and I’m certainly not going to give something a pass just because it is original.
The problem with Jupiter Ascending is it was trying to be a soap opera (or space opera) and was very campy and silly but it also has too much exposition and is full of dopey ‘so bad it’s good’ style dialogue. The filmmakers didn’t even seem to have a handle on the type of movie it was premiering it at Sundance of all places. That is not the right spot for a silly space opera. So it got booed at Sundance and the bad word spread till it did very poorly.
A lot of these original concepts are also difficult to market because they don’t have the established characters or worlds we know. Something like Mad Max Fury Road is in many ways an original movie but it had the benefits of a franchise that while many hadn’t seen the originals they recognized all the tropes and style of what a Mad Max film is. Tomorrowland in particular was very tough to market. Is it an AI movie? Is it sci-fi? Is it fantasy? A comedy? A coming of age story? An action movie? It’s kind of all of it but none of it completely.
Chappie didn’t work because it has some of the most obnoxious characters I’ve seen on screen in a long time. Pixels and Strange Magic had good ideas but the scripts were so lazy and characters so stupid.
Could it be that original concepts can be too caught up with their concept and forget to craft a compelling script? With a franchise you already have a framework to help you write said script and an eye for what works with the audience. In an original feature film you are throwing concepts out to see what sticks. You don’t know how the audience will respond because it is original so the pass fail ratio is naturally going to be higher. That’s why Hollywood loves franchises. They are safe and fairly predictable.
But then you have an Inside Out or The Artist- original concepts that people enjoy and tell their friends about. I still want to take anyone and everyone to see Inside Out. It inspired me so much with the original story and writing. So brilliant.
Maybe Pixar does it right spacing out their sequels with original movies in between? This gives a mixture of the predictable for both us and them and the new exciting risky concepts.
What do you think about original movies vs reboots, remakes and sequels? Why do you think at least this year so many original conepts have not worked (at least at the box office)? What’s the key to making an original movie a success both in content and at box office?
Regardless of the reason I hope the studios take heart from success stories like Ex-Machina and Inside Out and continue carving out room for new ideas. I hope they keep taking risks even if a lot of them don’t pay off critically or monetarily. Let’s hope!