The State of Live-Action Original Movies in Hollywood

Since 2018 is well into action, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a crop of films that I think maybe slowly losing hope for being financially successful.  If I was alive 30 years ago and you told me that there may not be another big live action original film that does box office wonders like Star Wars, Jaws, E.T., or Indiana Jones, I wouldn’t believe you.  At the time, Hollywood ushered in an era of blockbuster filmmaking and saw the rise of industry tycoons such as George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg.  Original films were capable of doing greater box office numbers than adaptations or sequels, and the notion of prequels and spinoffs as a bankable surefire success just didn’t exist.  Now, the original live-action genre seems to be waning in theatrical popularity, and this is due to the public’s perception of what it means to go to the theaters today.

First of all, it’s important to ask the question of why people go to the theaters.  It used to be that the experience was far greater than that of the home television, but movie theaters have undoubtedly lost their touch over time.  The theater film quality can be easily matched by everyday TVs that people have at home, and the quality of TV shows has been drastically increasing since the expansion of premium channels that gave rise to shows like HBO’s Game of Thrones, an event-like show that tops the experience that most movies give these days.

The only live action original film that managed to make the top 25 films worldwide in 2017 was Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.  This is mainly due to the director’s influence on audiences and how people know that he somehow always manages to create a cinematic experience.  Dunkirk was one of my favorite movies of the year so I’m glad it grossed $525.6 million worldwide and became one of Nolan’s most successful films.  However, it was the only live action original film that did those kinds of numbers, and that raises some concerns.  I guess Coco, Your Name, and The Boss Baby were original and in the top 25 worldwide, but they weren’t live action.

Some of the other live action originals that were in the top 50 worldwide were The Great Wall ($334.6 million), Split (if you count it as an original and not a sequel to Unbreakable – $278.3 million), Get Out ($254.3 million), Kung Fu Yoga ($254.2 million), Baby Driver ($226.9 million), *sigh* The Emoji Movie (a wasted $217 million), Geostorm ($208.4 million), A Dog’s Purpose ($196.2 million), The Hitman’s Bodyguard ($176.6 million), and Duckweed ($151.1 million).

Out of these ten films, three of them were critically praised (Split, Get Out, and Baby Driver) and they all made most of the their money in America relative to other countries (49.7%, 69%, and 47.5% respectively).  The Hitman’s Bodyguard did great domestically $75 million out of $176 million) due to its American star power and solid timing of release.  The Great Wall, Kung Fu Yoga, and Duckweed were are major releases overseas (all in China) and weren’t necessarily intended for American audiences.  I’m wondering if in the future, we’re going to see a lot of these successful live action original films coming from China.

The other thing to note is that streaming services managed to get the majority of live-action originals, indicating a shift in the movie-going experience.  Netflix released Bright and the Meyerowitz Stories, which could have both easily been released in theaters.  Directors are more willing to do movies for Netflix and Hulu because of the creative freedom those companies allow.  Since there isn’t a set number of showings in a day, more people can see it.  Netflix’s Will Smith-starring Bright reportedly had 11 million viewers in its first three days according to Variety.  That would roughly translate to an 80 million opening if the film had come out in theaters, but I doubt it would have made that much given the heavy competition from studio tentpole blockbusters like Star Wars.  However, I think studios are realizing that people are nowadays more likely to go to a movie if it’s a blockbuster spectacle with big names and labels behind it.  Your Marvel, DC, and Star Wars movies will all do great at the box office relative to smaller movies.

I’ve personally only been going to see a lot of smaller original films this year because I have a Moviepass, which allows me to pay $10 a month to see any movie in almost any theater.  Using the card, I recently saw Oscar front-runners that didn’t initially have a ton of commercial buzz such as The Shape of Water and Lady Bird.  Maybe this is how these smaller films will get noticed – through subscription services like Moviepass and Netflix that pride themselves and getting the most bang per buck.  However, it’s important to note that while Netflix has a booming business going, Moviepass seems to be losing money.  From what I can tell (and I can’t be sure because they may be making money from unexpected ways), it’s not a reliable business model, and it will probably go out of business.  At that point, do you think Netflix and Hulu will be the primary source for live-action originals gunning for the Academy?  If so, do you think the Academy will start to be more on board with streaming services?  Netflix, Hulu, and HBO are destroying everything right now in the television realm, but could the same thing happen with movies?  This is all just speculation, and some of what I’m saying probably doesn’t make sense.  However, this is just something I wanted to talk about and get my thoughts out there to open up the discussion.

I think that right now there are a few directors out there who still respect the notion of going to the theaters and being immersed in a movie as the lights dim down.  Both Dunkirk and The Shape of Water were cinematic experiences that even if you had the best TV back home, you just wouldn’t get the same experience.  I believe that Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro, and Dennis Villeneuve are among the current directors right now who, above all else in filmmaking, believe that the idea of going to the movie theater and allowing yourself to become encapsulated by art is more surreal than watching anything at home.  These are just my personal thoughts, and I’m sure some of you are going to disagree.

There’s still hope for live action original films, but I don’t know if we can get the kinds of original box office smashes of the 70’s and 80’s. Then again, you never know when the next Avatar might hit, and that’s the beauty of film – there will always be creativity 🙂

Twitter: @MohitPuvvala

Instagram: @MohitPuvvala

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