Hollywood Is Officially Out of Ideas, and That’s Fine

The eighth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise just hit theaters, and Nos. 9 and 10 are already in the works.
The eighth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise just hit theaters, and Nos. 9 and 10 are already in the works.
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
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The Hollywood summer movie season used to start during, you know, summer. Once upon a time, the biggest and (occasionally) best in big-budget entertainment would roll out into theaters in June or over July 4 weekend. Then, Memorial Day weekend understandably became the summer movie kickoff. Then early May. Then Easter weekend.

Yes, the summer movie season now starts closer to winter than it does summer. This is fine. After all, moviegoers love entertainment, and the recent Fate of the Furious (the eighth film in the never-say-die franchise) is about as summer a summer movie as you can get.

Take a look at the calendar over the next few months. In the coming weeks, audiences will be treated – or subjected, depending on your viewpoint – to a second Guardians of the Galaxy, a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean, third installments from the Cars and Despicable Me franchises, and yet another Spider-Man reboot. Not only that, Baywatch is being adapted for the big screen, The Mummy is getting a reboot and DC is still beating the dead horse that is its Justice League series with a standalone Wonder Woman installment. The Avengers this series is most certainly not, but I digress.

Point being, the summer movie season has always been a haven for sequels, franchises and reboots, but that mindset has now taken over the entire year. This year has already witnessed franchise installments from the likes of Underworld, XXX, John Wick, 50 Shades and LEGO Batman, along with familiar properties like Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers.

That won’t let up any time soon, with or without the summer movie season to serve as a showcase for tentpole pictures and franchise kick-offs. In fact, the holiday movie season – once reserved primarily for original blockbusters and awards season fare – in 2017 will play host to a long-awaited Justice League film, another Star Wars flick, Pitch Perfect 3 and a Jumanji reboot.

So yeah, Hollywood – as it’s prone to do – is going to milk every last dollar out of every last possible avenue. But this feels like overload, with some franchises planned out over the next decade. The question has often been posed – has Hollywood simply run out of ideas? The answer, for the most part, is yes. And that’s okay.

In theory, the goal of a motion picture is to entertain, and to an extent, this is certainly true. However, as movie studios go, the goal of a motion picture is not only to make a ton of money, but to potentially spawn a series of sequels and spin-offs that also make a ton of money. This explains why Dwayne Johnson – a.k.a. The Rock, a.k.a. Franchise Viagra, a.k.a. The People’s Champ, a.k.a. the Biggest, Most Charming Movie Star on the Planet – is starring in three big-budget films in 2017, none of them original properties.

This approach, for the most part, is foolproof. Sure, there are misfires; the recent Power Rangers film was kind of a dud, and eventually folks are going to tire of future installments from the Fast and Furious and Transformers franchises. But on the whole, franchises are safe, predictable properties that keep movie stars and movie executives rich, behind-the-scenes employees working and, most important, asses in the seats.

Of course, those who contend Hollywood is still flush with original ideas will point to unique success stories. Hey, Get Out – which, admittedly, was awesome – was a critical darling that made back its budget, plus another $200 million! Hidden Figures and Split were both adored and successful. Others will point to La La Land, which is simply inaccurate, mostly because La La Land was neither great nor original, but rather a mediocre throwback to a bygone era.

Yes, these films were all critically adored and profitable, but there aren’t enough of them to keep the lights on. Rather, movie studios bank on franchises and sequels to help produce and market critical darlings like Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox) and Moonlight (Plan B Entertainment, which has a holding deal with Paramount, Warner Bros, Fox and Disney).

Hell, even lately, when Hollywood attempts to go big-budget with a somewhat original concept, the results are mixed. For every Deadpool, there’s a Power Rangers. For every Martian, there’s a Passengers. Yes, a big-budget space movie with two of the most gorgeous and charming movie stars on the planet – Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt – was somewhat underwhelming at the turnstiles upon its release in December. If Hollywood can’t create and market an original film with those two names above the marquee, can it even be done anymore?

Probably. After all, Hollywood is littered with smart, creative types, so it stands to reason that movie studios will stumble into an original hit from time to time. Even so, and for the foreseeable future, Hollywood is betting its livelihood on any number of sequels, franchises and reboots, all designed to sell a ton of tickets and yield corporate tie-ins aplenty.

Is it original? Not exactly. But it’s profitable, and in a results-driven industry, that’s really all that matters.

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