Steven Spielberg and George Lucas foresee a year in the future in which there will be something akin to a movie apocalypse -- "an implosion -- or a big meltdown," Spielberg said, in which multiple big budget, Hollywood features tank, marking a turning point in movies. If true, the reasons for such a scenario to take place aren't exactly cut-and-dry. However, looking at the list of films currently slated for release in 2015 it would seem something has to break.
After all, we've only just passed the midway point in 2013 and we're talking about 2015 where upwards of 20 major releases already have release dates as studios jockey for marketing position with several films still waiting in the wings, looking for a date of their own.
Looking over the list it would appear a lot of the film's slated for release are part of an established franchise of some sort. Is it possible for multiple established franchises to falter and what exactly is an "established" franchise?
In 2015 an adaptation of the popular Blizzard videogame WarCraft is expected to hit theaters under the direction of Duncan Jones. Millions play the online role-playing game, but if they don't show up to support the film is it a franchise failure? The same could be asked of the anticipated, Michael Fassbender-led Assassin's Creed adaptation.
Of course, there are obvious established franchises eying release in 2015 including The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Star Wars: Episode VII, the Batman vs. Superman film that was just announced, the Fantastic Four reboot with Chronicle director Josh Trank, Jurassic Park IV, James Bond 24, the reuniting of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks for yet another Dan Brown adaptation in Inferno, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, a new Terminator film, Independence Day 2, the Hunger Games finale The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, Pixar's Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory and plenty of other animated franchises including Penguins of Madagascar, Hotel Transylvania 2, Kung Fu Panda 3, The Smurfs 3 and Alvin and the Chipmunks 4. What, you thought the list would be short?
The big titles don't stop there as Pixar has Inside Out from Peter Docter (Up), DreamWorks has B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations and an animated Peanuts film is looking to take on both Ant-Man and Bond 24 on November 6, though I expect one or more of those films will be searching for a new date soon enough.
Considering it's only 2013, plenty more will be added to that list, but does the audience have enough money to support all these films? Will they get out of the idea of making feature film-length commercials for toys and start making movies again? Will Avatar 2 be added to the mix? Something has got to give, but is it something that will cause a cinematic implosion? Will the increasingly global cinematic community be enough to support this many titles? Or will it simply be just other year with hits, misses and those in-between?
My assumption is the latter, but I do see this as a sign of an ever-increasing emphasis on big budget features and specifically big budget features with franchise potential. These films are investments in the future and the risk is limited compared to the reward potential, even if that reward is simply bedsheets and lunchboxes.
The Marvel Studios films have shown clear staying power, Batman vs. Superman will be DC and Warner's big attempt at starting a Justice League franchise as big as The Avengers, the newest Star Wars trilogy will just be getting underway, Bond is coming off its highest grossing effort ever, Hunger Games should be an even larger global phenomenon by the time the bloody finale is on screen and the series of animated films will have their hits and misses, but if spread out properly all should find success in some way or another.
What should be interesting is to see what other films show up. This year we have sequels such as Kick-Ass 2 and Red 2, what unexpected sequels will get the green light next? Will The Conjuring 2 be ready by then, how about Alice in Wonderland 2, Grown Ups 3, Step Up 5 or another installment in the Paranormal Activity franchise? How about Magic Mike 2 and Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan's Rocky spin-off, Creed?
What's even more amazing is all of this is primarily looking at what the Hollywood majors are offering. It's often forgotten that while we pay a lot of attention to the films vying to become the next $1 billion earner we forget about everything else in the marketplace. For example, the impressive crop of films just announced for the 2013 Toronto Film Festival and those I just got done raving about out of Cannes this past May.
In my eye, the large number of big budget sequels, spin-offs and hopeful franchise starters coming out of Hollywood are merely the films the masses talk about, but it's the gems that don't get all the pre-release attention that will continue to allow the industry to thrive. Few, if any, of the films mentioned above will be competing for the top categories at the Oscars. These aren't the films that headline the major film festivals or the passion projects from your favorite directors.
It's often forgotten how much films like these allow the rest of the industry to thrive and exist. For every Ant-Man Edgar Wright directs how many more collaborations will he be able to afford to do with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost? Without films such as Source Code, Safety Not Guaranteed and Chronicle who would be directing WarCraft, Jurassic Park IV and Fantastic Four?
Yes, there are a lot of bad films every year and the list of bad compared to good can feel like it grows each and every year, but at the same time there are a lot of good films to see and many of them great. Summer 2013 wasn't a great year at the box office and as Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos recently said to The Guardian, "It's unlikely that the studios are going to drastically change course as the result of one bad summer." He does add one caveat, "However, it is imperative they diversify their slate. They're laying down too many big bets without anything else on the agenda. They have to kick their dependency on $300m blockbusters. If they don't, they're going out of business."
That last sentence sounds as dire as Spielberg's proposition above, but I think it's a bit of an overstatement to say the least. You make mistakes in this business and you seem to simply need to learn from them. Studios may need to cut back on the number of comic book franchises they look to create, but they aren't going to stop altogether. On top of that, it's not all on the studios' shoulders.
It's up to the audience to seek the frequently better, smaller movies out as studios are only going to continue to make what they think you are going to go see. As much as you may look at the list of films above and shrug at the number of sequels, they aren't making those because you didn't support the films that came before them.