Are We Approaching The Sequel & Blockbuster Implosion Spielberg Warned Us About?

spielberg

The commercial failure of The BFG has normally reputable outlets like Variety (the journalists of which have had, shall we say, a bad few days) asking whether Steven Spielberg had lost his touch. It’s bizarre for a number of reasons, but the biggest of which asks who looks at the current cinematic landscape and thinks Spielberg is the one who has lost it?

It’s apparent the problem isn’t the guy who has essentially dreamt the childhoods of millions for going on 50 years in cinema, especially since it’s not like The BFG got savaged; it’s rated fresh on RT. And not even a year ago Spielberg released Bridge of Spies, an Oscar-nominated historical drama that spared no expense with its period Cold War setting and movie star (Tom Hanks) despite an economical $40 million budget. It ended up grossing $165.5 million worldwide, quadrupling the investment and earning supporting star Mark Rylance an Oscar.

While interest in the films’ stories may vary (I definitely prefer Bridge of Spies), they are both master classes in filmmaking, effortlessly elegant enough to seem simple, leading to such wrong-headed pronouncements as Variety’s. The BFG wasn’t a victim of quality but of the release calendar and crowded highways they’ve become. The last couple years are littered with examples of sequels, remakes and adaptations of literally any and all IP you can think of, jockeying for eyeballs and 2016 has seen a full-on pile-up.

Spielberg

No less than THR, Vox and /Film analyzed the recent “sequel slump” as we’re alliteratively calling it now, with Vox in particular using Metacritic statistics to “prove” this year is particularly bad for sequels.

According to the same site, this year has seen 37 sequels hit theaters so far, a record. That list includes Ride Along 2, Zoolander 2, London Has Fallen, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, X-Men: Apocalypse, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Now You See Me 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, all of which undergrossed their predecessors sometimes by half, in some cases even accounting for inflation. 

And who was it who foretold a potential convergence akin to this? Oh yeah, that “hack” Spielberg.

In 2013, he predicted an “implosion” of the film industry when a bunch of $250+ million dollar films flop and upend the model of massive investment=massive profits.

“That’s the big danger, and there’s eventually going to be an implosion — or a big meltdown. There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.”

After such an event, he imagined ticket prices would scale to the film, “you’re gonna have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man, you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln,” a film he had to co-own a studio to make (even then, it was very nearly an HBO telemovie).

George Lucas, who, along with Spielberg’s Jaws, helped birth summer movie season with Star Wars, agreed that a Broadway model may be the way of the future. Three years after the two legends’ comments, a version of this has emerged as the Screening Room is now a thing. It’s already happening, as forward thinking producers like Daniel Alter note.

His view on the two-part Avengers: Infinity War could be prescient. The films stand as the culmination of the entire MCU, Phases 1-3, which already includes four billion-plus-dollar films. With the stakes nothing less than the fate of the universe and all possible realities plus the possible departure of several of its superhero actors (contracts are up, after all), it is the most ambitious finale to a cinematic franchise ever conceived. As such, it could also stand as the Peak Blockbuster, because, as far as populist filmmaking goes, Marvel Studios reigns supreme at the moment. They know as well as any storyteller that after going as big and cosmic as Infinity War, the only option is to scale-back the stakes. Like the whole “cinematic universe” notion to begin with, Marvel may be ahead of the curve here, too. Whether post-Infinity War amounts to a soft reboot, simple recasting, or business as usual, I have no idea.

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Sam Flynn

Sam Flynn

Sam is a writer and journalist whose passion for pop culture burns with the fire of a thousand suns and at least three LED lamps.

  • Joseph Chaisson

    It’s quality. It’s not because it’s a sequel. Quality needs to be in the forefront of the movie

    • John Smith

      Yep, I read that list of sequels and kept waiting for a good movie to be in the list. Even most of the movies the sequels follow are not really all that great.

      • Julie Crabtree

        <<o. ✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:✸✸✸✸✸:::::::!bq401p:….,….

    • xxjinzaxx

      Not just quality. But it has to be tethered on something general audiences can reference to. A clueless audience is an unhappy audience. One of the biggest reasons why Independence Day: Resurgence didn’t resonate with most was because it did not ground itself to modern times; instead the movie was still tethered to pre/911 zeitgeist.

      Movies have always been fine in the past with not referencing pop culture, but we are in a time where general audiences are responding positively well to films that use current pop culture themes in their blockbusters.

      A fine example where the absence of pop culture, but a pretty good film nonetheless, that was penalized for not appealing to general audiences was Edge of Tomorrow.

  • beane2099

    I’m glad someone brought up the reuse of trailer and poster tropes. I’m so tired of seeing the same trailer again and again. Please, no more quick cuts of things interspersed with a loud sound.

  • beane2099

    One of the other issues here is that people say they want something new but when something new comes out I hear a lot of “Oh I don’t know what that is.” But then they flock to the next YA book adaptation. Movie goers have rewarded these behaviors and in some cases indirectly. The success of the shared universe over at Marvel has prompted a litany of imitation, which granted is still at the planning stages in most cases. But we’ve seen a few movies trying to do in one movie what Marvel did over the course of six movies. As a result those movies suffered. I think what you’re gonna see is Marvel pull back on their connectedness just as everyone else is gearing into full swing. And you’re gonna see some serious worlds colliding – and not in a good way. And I’ll bet big money that before long you WILL see a crossover movie between properties owned by different studios at some point in the future.

    Then we’ve got the nostalgia wave. I thought was going away but then suddenly we see dozens of remade tv and movie properties in various stages of production. Do we really need a movie AND TV remake of MacGuyver?? Hasbro is combining both trends by making a shared universe out of old 80’s properties.

    Then there’s the issue of out of control budgets. In my opinion a movie like the Lone Ranger shouldn’t cost any more than $40 million tops. If you’re going higher than that then you’re doing something wrong. With so much spectacle in movies now its losing its luster. They don’t all have to be about the end of the world.

    So you have repetition across multiple domains and it’s becoming tedious – repetition in business models, advertising, leading actors, movie tropes, stories, promotion materials, and even the cg fx. One thing that made the 80’s great was the willingness of studios to do off the wall things and see what sticks. For every Terminator or Rocky there’s a Commando or Over the Top lurking. But at least they tried. There’s very little of that now. I hope it comes back.

  • Darthmanwe

    Quality is a problem, posters being generic photoshop products is definitely a symptom, but the root cause is simple and ties two factors.

    1) While big budget movie BO’s go up, total BO for studios keep dropping each year as home entertainment and streaming services dominate the quality content generation more and more.

    2) The simple fact that most people only go to the cinema a few times a year, and they have to pick and choose according to their living situation, i.e. family, kids, spouses or girlfriends/boyfriends, etc.. That’s why animation BO doesn’t drop, because families always choose to entertain their kids first, naturally.

    With so many event movies collapsing on top of each other, the already diminishing market base is being cannibalized by each other. And the solution isn’t to make more and more event films and less and less original content, instead, trying to take the movies to home entertainment, but studios have not really woken up yet.