Where have the generic movies gone?

Curious things are happening at your local movie theatre at the moment. There are hardly any non-decent movies showing. Scroll down the list of movies on show and you’ll find that even the most popcorn-friendly action film is either directed by an acclaimed director or based on a literary franchise(and yes, I do realise that applying the term ‘literary’ to a Lee Childs novel is probably stretching its definition by quite a bit, but bear with me). Curiously, there seem to be very few avowedly bad movies on show. No generic romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks or John Cusack, no run-of-the-mill action film starring Bruce Willis(although we’re surely due for Jason Stratham remaking the ‘Transporter’ again sometime soon).

A startling turnaround, considering the situation a decade ago. This was when conversations with a movie-obsessed friend used to end in several swear words being applied to the prospect of a never-ending tide of Sleepless in Seattle and Titanic wannabes overtaking our multiplexes. A fate that, in his mind, was worse than even the most dystopian imaginings of Hollywood’s most depraved Sci-Fi scriptwriters.

Fast forward to today and the exact opposite seems to have happened. The quest to find a truly generic movie screening at a mainstream theatre will probably see you embark on a journey worthy of H. Rider Haggard. Big studios seem unable to green-light even the most basic of action films without a recognised artist playing some sort of a role at the helm.  Whether that be a talented actor (Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man), or a Director better known for his Shakespearian adaptations(Kenneth Branagh directing Thor). Whatever happened to the days when people would be satisfied with Brett Ratner or Michael Bay directing an action movie?

I suspect a couple of things happened:

  1. The prevalence of education.It’s worth bearing in mind that a lot of the generic movies of previous decades achieved their high grosses off of the backs of middle-aged adults for whom College/University-level education was not a prerequisite for career advancement, as well as the offspring of those adults. While that doesn’t mean everybody is reading Shakespeare all of a sudden it does presumably mean two things: one, that there’s more of a market for Shakespeare, and two, there’s less of a market for Jason Stratham.
  2. Cinemas pricing themselves into the luxury market. 

    Even the mainstream cinemas are moving upmarket. Seeking to create an experience around going to the movies, so that they can better compete with home cinema systems as well as undercut live theatre shows. And it’s not much of an experience watching a forgettable John Cusack romantic comedy(unless you’re necking someone during it).

  3.  The success of movie franchises. 

    The mentality of the movie studio producing the throwaway big-budget action action movie has changed. Previously they used to be satisfied throwing together something that would entertain audiences for 2 hours and vanish just as quickly. Now, they’re realising that the real money is to be made in creating a movie, and a set of characters, so compelling, that audiences will line up see the second, third, and-in the case of The Avengers-sixth installment.

This has created something of a bipolar market for movies. Whereby huge demand and supply exists for two vastly different types of movies:  one, barely comprehensible arthouse films, and two, far-too-easy-to-comprehend comic book movies.

In today’s market the arthouse movies must be green-lit, because they supply the high-brow talent needed to staff that big budget action-films now require. Plus, there is now a sizeable demand for those arthouse films in and of their own right. On a recent flight to Europe I caught myself glancing at peoples personal tv-sets and noticed that almost half of those watching movies were choosing to watch an independently-produced film of some description.

And it is now also worth adapting comic books into films, because of their franchising potential. Of course, this has always theoretically been the case, but now if you’re going to do this you better make sure you have an auteur at the helm. Remember when a camp Gothic adaptation of Batman was the best a comic book fan could hope for? Well, forget that, now you’ve got to, at least, have Christopher Nolan directing one of these things.

It’s made for some good quality movies, and helped us forget the truly terrible comic-book adaptations, and generic tripe, that used to be the norm at the movie theatre. But, you know what? I still kind of miss those old cookie-cutter movies, both in their generic action-flick form and their generic romantic comedy one. And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if some of those old movies with broad appeal, started making a bit of a comeback. Not as they did before of course-I suspect those days have well and truly passed-but in a newer, smarter form, with tighter scripts and more three-dimensional characters(although not in actual 3D please). The evolution of mainstream movies into a higher art-form should be welcomed, but we also shouldn’t forget those movies that got everybody to the movie theatre in the first place.


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