Just when you're ready to pop bottles over 2014's movie output, along comes an exceptional and alarming essay by esteemed film journalist Mark Harris. On Grantland yesterday, Harris, the site’s go-to awards season critic, wrote a lengthy, superb piece about how Hollywood’s overdosing on franchises, sequels, and reboots over the next few years could signal the end.
The end of what, exactly? Originality, it seems. Harris writes:
In 2014, franchises are not a big part of the movie business. They are not the biggest part of the movie business. They are the movie business. Period. Twelve of the year’s 14 highest grossers are, or will spawn, sequels. (The sole exceptions—assuming they remain exceptions, which is iffy—are Big Hero 6 and Maleficent.) Almost everything else that comes out of Hollywood is either an accident, a penance (people who run the studios do like to have a reason to go to the Oscars), a modestly budgeted bone thrown to an audience perceived as niche (black people, women, adults), an appeasement (movie stars are still important and they must occasionally be placated with something interesting to do so they’ll be cooperative about doing the big stuff), or a necessity (sometimes, unfortunately, it is required that a studio take a chance on something new in order to initiate a franchise).
In that same piece, Harris includes two infographics that list every single sequel, franchise picture, Marvel Studios release, and DC-produced superhero flick audiences will see from 2015 through 2020—the grand total is, *zoinks*, 99. That’s an average of just under 17 per year. As much as we all love a good comic book page-to-screen adaptation, oversaturation looms. By the time there’s a standalone Cyborg movie in 2020, will you even care anymore?
As for Harris’ comments, they’re spot-on. But, if anything, they’re also indirectly reassuring. As you’ll see on our list of The 30 Best Movies of 2014, the films we’ve honored are, for the most part, exceptions to Harris’ understandable disappointment. Granted, a few mega-budget blockbusters made the cut, but they’re the undeniably excellent ones, the ones that turned Chris Pratt into an A-list actor and made talking performance-capture apes emotionally poignant. The rest of the countdown, though, is dedicated to smaller character-driven films that only made the festival circuit and modestly budgeted popcorn entertainment with more brains than bucks.
The future may look like a barrage of Struggle Imagination™, but as long as filmmakers like the ones responsible for the following movies keep working, cinema lovers should breathe easy. Creativity isn't dead.