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

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.