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Performer Mayyadda singing at the University of Minnesota Juneteenth Celebration “We Are The Noise: The Echoes of Our Ancestors” captured on Saturday, June 15.
Best photos of June '24
Published June 23, 2024

White: Hollywood has run out of ideas

The most popular movies coming out all seem to be sequels or parts of larger cinematic universes. Are we seeing the death of originality in cinema?
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

Hollywood is out of ideas. The movie industry has been boiled down to a recipe: get a big star or intellectual property that has made money in the past and make 90–180 minutes of relatable jokes and uninspired storytelling.

Okay, so maybe not all of it is completely uninspired garbage made to appeal to the lowest common denominator. In fact, the sheer amount of money poured into most movies coming from Hollywood means they are at least competently assembled. Plus, big-name actors mean big-name acting ability.

With all of this money and talent infused into production, it is unfortunate the creative process has been reduced to little more than an equation to generate box office revenue. Often, the whole adds up to less than the sum of its parts.

The highest grossing movie of 2022 so far — which no film this year has come close to yet — is “Top Gun: Maverick.” It’s a sequel to one of the most popular films of all time and stars one of the most popular actors of all time: Tom Cruise.

“Top Gun: Maverick” was filled with stunning practical effects, relatable characters and unmatched levels of fun and the cool factor. The lack of new intellectual property doesn’t necessitate a drop in production quality, but if you are looking for a fresh, nuanced and groundbreaking story, “Top Gun: Maverick” isn’t the movie for you.

Of the top 10 highest grossing movies this year, all of them are either sequels, reboots or an expansion of existing intellectual property in one way or another. The only questionable one is “Uncharted,” which is not a sequel or reboot, but rather a movie adaptation of one of the most popular video game franchises of all time.

The highest-grossing film this year that wasn’t based off of an existing movie is “Elvis” at number 12. However, this movie does still undoubtedly capitalize on an existing entity — namely one of the most famous musicians of all time. If you really want to nitpick, you could even argue that “Elvis” is just capitalizing on the success of movies like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Rocket Man,” dramatic tellings of the lives of some of the most prolific musical performers of all time.

On one hand, it is disheartening to see that most of the content coming out of Hollywood lacks originality, but it being so profitable means there is certainly an audience for it.

“There’s a comfort behind that and a kind of reliability that there is an audience for these [movies],” said Emily Roswald, a second-year psychology student and the operator of the University of Minnesota Film Club Instagram account.

Given the rise of streaming services in the last few years and the lull in box office sales, it makes sense that a film studio would want to make sure whatever it is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on would have an audience excited to see it.

“Hollywood is going to continue to regurgitate older ideas for quite some time because that’s what makes money,” Roswald said. “Audiences would rather go with what’s comfortable and what’s reliable to them, rather than not liking something that is completely original.”

Consumers want to be sure if they spend their hard-earned dollars at the cinema, they are going to enjoy what they see. It’s a whole lot easier to pony up $25 for a ticket and some snacks to go watch 120 minutes of characters you already know having new adventures in high definition than to roll the dice on something you’ve never heard of before.

“That’s the way audiences are looking at doing anything post-pandemic: ‘Is it worth my time?’” said Xavier Greene, a second-year social science student and member of the University Film Club.

However, Greene drew attention to movies like “Lightyear,” “Halloween Ends” and “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which all underperformed at the box office. All of these films were sequels or spinoffs of some kind, “Halloween Ends” in particular being the 13th movie of its franchise.

Just as not all spinoffs and sequels are destined to overperform, new intellectual material isn’t necessarily destined to underperform. “There is ‘Smile,’ which is just about to hit 100 million for domestic box office, which is incredibly rare for a horror film overall,” Greene said.

The market is obviously not dead for new intellectual property yet, and it shouldn’t be anytime soon. With studios continually making and remaking the same ideas over and over again, fatigue is inevitable. That opens the door for new stories and ideas to be told.

Until then, however, Hollywood will continue down its path. Sequel to the second highest grossing film of all time, “Avatar: The Way of Water” comes out later this year. Will it be a revelation of fun like “Top Gun: Maverick,” or will it be another in a line of disappointing sequels and story continuations like “Halloween Ends?”

Only time will tell. Until then, take the time to watch some movies with actors and stories you’re unfamiliar with. You might be surprised how entertaining a fresh outlook can be.

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