It’s been over three years since Steven Spielberg and George Lucas made the provocative prediction that Hollywood is heading towards an implosion. And now after a string of flops this year it’s about time to look closely at what’s going on in Hollywood.
They were specifically referring to the ways in which Hollywood is almost strictly funding large-budget action flicks, some of which have a budget over a quarter of a billion dollars. Think hits like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Tangled,” each earning $1.5 billion and half a billion respectively. But what happens when the movies like “John Carter” are a flop?
Spielberg and Lucas may have made an accurate prediction, but they didn’t touch on the reason why the studios are doing this.
The reasons for this new era in Hollywood stretch well back into the previous century with the rise of television. As television sets became cheaper in the 1950s, families were more liable to stay in rather than pay to watch a feature film — all of which is accurately reflected in a massive drop in ticket sales around this time, never to rise to such heights again.
A massive shift like this made Hollywood shift the entire film making paradigm, becoming edgier and bigger than TV could be.
Flash forward to today and the same thing is happening — television has once again risen to a new height, albeit with a new model as well. Also with the rise of TV streaming like Netflix and Hulu, TV has begun to make people want to stay in again.
The second coming of TV mixed with the crash of DVD sales, which represented around 50 percent of the profits for films, is now leading Hollywood into a new direction.
In the days of yore, Hollywood would have a range of films in production — the blockbusters, whose budgets are dwarfed by todays big films, the middle budget films that were a little riskier but had the potential to be hits, and the independent films that were usually cheaply produced.
Blockbusters came to prominence because of directors like Spielberg and Lucas, with “Jaws” being credited as the film that sparked the blockbuster revolution. These films receive big budgets because they will hopefully pay off big. Although Hollywood is terrible at predicting whether a film will be profitable, they still chose this model because if all goes well it will pay off. So ironically Spielberg and Lucas are partly the reason for Hollywood being this way.
Once TV stepped its game up and streaming services were more profitable for independent films, Hollywood opted for the blockbuster model.
This switch to the current model has lead to hits like the Marvel cinematic universe and Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy.” It has also had its hiccups with “The Lone Ranger” and the remake of “Ben Hur,” a terrible flop.
And flops can be a detriment to a studio, causing them to either restructure or be absorbed by another studio.
And flops are even more dangerous today because studios are pouring so much money into them. With very little cushion from DVD sales, indie films and other smaller films, companies are at higher and higher risk of creating a flop and going bankrupt.
So what does this mean for Spielberg and Lucas’ prediction? Is Hollywood going to crash? Well, probably not.
Their prediction was that an implosion would occur do to multiple big-budget flops in a row. And flops are bound to happen and maybe in a row, but an implosion would just cause the studios to restructure their techniques.
Hollywood is already doing that to some extent by having studio executives and producers take a larger role in the film making process and removing the director from a lot of filmmaking activities. By doing this the studio makes a safer film, but safe is the exact opposite of what people will eventually want. It happened with Spielberg and Lucas’ generation — people liked that these new directors were doing something different.
It isn’t worth speculating more than a decade into the future, but for right now we can expect more homogeneity in films. More of the same franchises, more of the same three act action movies and above all less than classic big-budget films.
Blake Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.