The Problem With Blockbusters


The first blockbuster, Jaws.

The first blockbuster, Jaws.

Tom Schatz analyses the studio system in his book, The Contemporary Hollywood Film Industry. He looks at how films are produced and by whom and the freedom to create within the confines of the business of Hollywood. Schatz makes a point of looking at New Hollywood. New Hollywood had a way with producing a new type of film: the blockbuster. The blockbuster was designed to produce “high-cost, high-speed, high-concept entertainment” (19). While the blockbuster is great for gaining revenue, it’s not focused on telling a compelling story. Schatz points out that the New Hollywood films “…quickly evolved into the model New Hollywood franchise- i.e., the blockbuster-spawning entertainment machine that exploited and expanded the original hit in an ever-widening range of entertainment products” (20). The main priority seems to have shifted from new, innovative, and enticing work to films that will get studios the most money.

The ‘better ending’ of Habeas Corpus.

In the movie, The Player, Griffin Mill is in charge of choosing 12 new screenplays, every year. Habeas Corpus, is pitched to him stating, “no stars on this project. We’re going out on a limb on this one.” For Mill, this is too much of a risk. The lack of stars, a happy ending, and even being a non-domestic film, is not worthy of being produced. Mill and the studio decide to go forward with the screenplay, but add in two major stars and change the conclusion of the film. Bonnie, an editor at the studio, objects to the new ending. She is told the happier ending will be more successful. While the original screenplay had a more compelling ending, the studio agreed, through their actions, money is of more value than content.

Today, films still mirror the blockbuster mold. Graeme Turner comments in Film as Social Practice, “…most of the blockbusters of today tend to be narratively conservative, featuring spectacular special effects and a limited group of established stars, and most often dependent on those elements for which an audience has already been established” (9). Unfortunately, a cliché plot line and a few big-name-stars will get a movie far at the box office. For instance, action and superhero movies. There has been a surge of action films over the years, not only because it fits the blockbuster mold (think big fight sequence with Christian Bale) but it is also easy to sell a film overseas when you don’t need to understand the English language because actions of superheroes speak for themselves.

Another problematic part of the blockbuster formula are the big names of Hollywood that are being used. I will always watch a Leo DiCaprio film, no matter how bad the film appears. The fact that my grade school crush is the star is enough to get me to the theater. And studios know that putting people like George Clooney or Jennifer Lawrence in a film will draw people to watch it, but I feel like this is sacrificing the integrity of the work.  Recently, Aloha, hit theaters. It features, Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, and Emma Stone, all big names in the film industry. However, controversy stirred around Stone’s character. She is supposed to be portraying a hapa (part Asian or Pacific Islander) woman, Allison Ng. Stone has no traces of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage, but was chosen for the role. The question then comes up, why was she cast? Was it to gain more money by getting another big name in the film?

New Hollywood innovated new formulas to get the most money out of a film, “aggressively [promoting] big-budget movie with high production values, big stars, massive simultaneous release patterns and, increasingly, expensive special effects,” even leading to a franchise beyond the film market (8-9, Turner). However, it comes with a cost, whether it be a sub-par plot, relying on CGI to carry the story, or whitewashing a cast. The studio system, at its core, isn’t trying to create art or story-tell. It’s trying to create profit, recognition, and prestige for its name.

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