I have trod the soil before of how I lament the dearth of originality in today’s American cinema (see here and here for previous examples). For those expecting another blog post about how Hollywood has lost its creativity, I can only say you will be disappointed.
I realize that my original thesis about the death of originality in Tinseltown is wrong.
(And honestly, when is the last time you read a blogger admit an error?).
While doing some research to bolster my original point, I looked at the top ten grossing films of 2011. Of that dozen-minus-two collection of film (full list here), nine of them were sequels and the remaining one (The Smurfs) was based on prior material (in the case of the little blue creatures, it was the comic strip created by Belgian artist Peyo).
Of those sequels (and only because I love diving into numbers), three were the immediate sequel (Cars, Hangover, Panda), one was the 3rd installment (Transformers), three were the 4th flick (Mission:Impossible, Pirates, Twilight), one was the 5th movie (Fast), and one was the 8th incarnation (Potter).
I decided to look back thirty years and see what audiences flocked to in 1981. Of the top ten grossing movies three decades ago (see full list here), there are only two sequels (Superman II, For Your Eyes Only) and one based on prior material (On Golden Pond). Those of you with good math skills will recognize that this means that seven of the top ten grossing films were original (Arthur, The Cannonball Run, Chariots of Fire, The Four Seasons, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Stripes, Time Bandits).
All of that data is interesting, but looking deeper into those movies is where I did a mental hiccup.
The top ten grossing films of 1981 won a combined twenty-one (there’s your number for the day) Academy Awards. Of what I consider to be the Big Six of Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress), these ten movies won four (Chariots: Picture; Golden: Actor, Actress; Arthur: Supporting Actor). The other two of my Big Six (Director, Supporting Actress) was won by Reds, which (by the way) came in 13th place of the highest-grossing films.
Not only did 1981 produce high-quality cinema, but the audiences flocked to those movies.
Leap forward thirty years and the top ten grossing films of 2011 took home a combined grand total of three Academy Awards which were all won by Transformers: Dark of the Moon and they were all for technical merit.
I have discarded my original thesis because Hollywood in 2011 did produce some highly original fare. That year saw the release of The Artist, The Help, The Iron Lady, and Beginners, which were the movies that won the Big Six of Academy Awards that year. However, none of those films – nor any of other original films that year (including Sucker Punch, Source Code, or Midnight in Paris) – came close to the box office tally ($559 million) earned by the movie that clocked in at number ten on the highest-grossing list, Cars 2.
I revise my original statement and now assert that Hollywood does indeed make quality original fare. It’s just that the audience doesn’t go see it. The masses vote with their wallets and they want sequels and movies made from books or comics. The film industry, like any good profit-seeking business, is only provided what the buying population has shown they want.
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