The summer blockbuster season is about to kick off with “Avengers: Age of Ultron” coming out today in the U.S. When people think about summer movies, they think about grandiose displays of CGI (computer-generated imagery) and epic battles. They prepare to munch on some buttery popcorn and be entertained by the bombastic spectacle before them. The Coliseum is an adequate comparison for some avid fans.
Weekends will be spent in the large auditorium, discussions about theories and characters will become heated, and much fun will be had. It is a time of joy and suspense as moviegoers prepare for the thrill they’ve been waiting months or years for come to life onscreen. Critics’ responses will not match the box office gross, but who cares? It was awesome!
In three wild months, the spectacle will begin to wind down and that summery high will dissipate. Now it is time for the cerebral films with micro-budgets and critically lauded performances. It is award season, the time of year where, by the time you leave the theater, you are exhausted. These films take a hefty emotional, mental or physical toll. Sometimes all three.
Everyone becomes a couch critic as the Oscars roll out the red carpet. There will be one or two big-budget entertainers to keep the money rolling as original ideas are given their chance to shine. For three months, the industry’s I.Q. seems to raise about 50 points.
In between the two big seasons, the films that don’t quite fit the main molds are thrown in to fill the time. A bit of dirt to dig through with a gem here or there.
It’s pretty clear where the divide is. The problem is that it is getting bigger. Franchises are the main money-makers for the big companies. This year alone Disney is going to rake in over $2 billion in movie revenue. That’s just from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” Disney still has at least three or four other major releases to go with the flagships.
“Furious 7” has already grossed over $1 billion and it is still in theaters. The more money a franchise makes, the more money gets poured into sequel production. The film industry is a business, and blockbusters are booming.
Herein lies the problem. Businesses tend to lean toward the moneymakers. Awards season is great for those of us who enjoy the slow-burn of a taut thriller or the low-budget sci-fi that makes you question your place in the universe. The problem is, these do not make anywhere near what executives want.
The Oscars are slowly becoming a place for promising actors to make a name for themselves, to essentially become a brand, before getting their name plastered on the title card of a film. The critics and art-house fans are sated, while actors and actresses launch their careers at festivals.
The sad part is, the divide has been acknowledged by thespians and production workers in the industry. Guillermo del Toro and other big names have admitted that they take a “one for me, one for them” approach to projects. They do a big-budget, easy-to-sell film for the studio in order to secure backing for a smaller project they personally care about.
Director Peter Berg worked on “Battleship” to secure creative independence on “Lone Survivor,” which was independently financed and partially backed by Universal.
Certain studios have noticed this trend and combat it by trying to mix the two approaches. Marvel has done a great job of bringing bombastic films that entertain, yet contain great stories and strong characters. The franchises have only gotten stronger as time has passed. Disney is being very careful to build its newly acquired “Star Wars” franchise.
Perhaps one day audiences can be treated to the best of both sides of the coin. The thing is, the future is up to the audience. Only support of certain films will guarantee their continuation. If people start backing the trends they want, the studios will listen through the cash flow. People complain about the blockbusters, yet those are the films making money.
To bring change to the industry, the audience must speak and act, not simply complain and criticize.