Editorial: Movie franchises limit storytelling options

Regardless of if you agree with Martin Scorsese’s opinion about the validity of Marvel movies, their popularity does edge out other films from getting attention.

Sarah Mai

Sarah Mai

Martin Scorsese’s recent column for the New York Times clarifying his prior comments about how Marvel movies aren’t cinema set off a debate on the internet about the place of franchise films in our lives and if they constitute art.

Love or hate Marvel movies, Scorsese has valid points. One that is particularly compelling comes at the end of the piece: “For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art.”

You might think Marvel movies are art, but it’s undeniable that it’s become more difficult to make movies that aren’t franchises on the big screen, and more difficult to see them as well. Minneapolis residents are luckier than most. But small town residents who have to drive 45 minutes to get to the nearest movie theater? Chances are, Marvel will be most of what’s playing. 

In 2017, five of the 10 highest grossing films were superhero movies. While the numbers for superhero movies soar, The Ringer reported movies in general were down 5.1 percent domestically. 

Entangled within opinions about superhero films is also an inevitable conversation about Hollywood’s current propensity to produce remakes and reboots, but not original ideas. Though Scorsese discusses Marvel, the same could be said about Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and countless other franchises.

One of the only other guaranteed ways to watch a movie on the big screen is if it’s coming from a director like Scorsese. Very few people, let alone students who want to go into film, have those kinds of connections. Sure, the internet gives us options like YouTube or Netflix, but there is a difference in how those movies are viewed and judged compared to those in movie theaters. 

So what are students who want to make films that aren’t about superheroes meant to do? And what about students who aren’t at NYU or UCLA, and are instead in Minnesota?

Michelle Lekas, a professor with the University of Minnesota’s Studies in Cinema and Media Culture program, says that the University attracts students to its program because it’s less expensive than coastal schools, and less stressful, giving students the chance to explore more. 

“It readies people to be able to do the work they want to do, or to find out the work they want to do without having to jump into a niche major,” Lekas said.

She also stresses the importance of having a strong backbone in critical theory and film history, while pointing out that Minnesota offers film production courses as well.

Lucia Macagno, a senior in SCMC, likes the flexibility of the program, but says that she wishes the school did have more production classes than those currently offered. She wishes there were options for classes in cinematography, camera operating, editing, and special effects, among others.

“In order to actually be flexible, they have to have more options for production,” she said. 

Film is a difficult industry to break into, and even more so when the movies being made and distributed in such high volume are so similar. If we want diverse storytelling, and the opportunity to produce movies with original concepts, we have to support original filmmaking outside of these franchises.

Regardless of your love for Marvel or Star Wars, their ubiquity isn’t doing you any favors if you want to make art of your own someday, particularly if you want to see that art on the big screen.