Is originality dead?

If you’re interested in movies, you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘There’s nothing new coming out of Hollywood’ or something like that. And I have to admit I said it too when I’m frustrated because some Film disappointed me and was just a generic sequel. But when I look back at this year, I wonder to what extent this sentiment is actually true. So I looked at the top 75 highest grossing movies to get some perspective and here is what I thought:

First some numbers: Among those 75 movies I found 22 adaptations from books, comics, and films, 8 of which are remakes. 35 movies belonged to an existing or planned franchise (I even counted the failed Dark Universe and King Arthur franchise). Looking at those movies purely as numbers might give you the sense, that Hollywood has successfully wiped out creativity, but that’s the problem with numbers, they represent only a fraction of reality.

To get a better impression, let’s look at the movies directly. The highest grossing film is Beauty and the Beast, which, together with It (6th), are the only remakes in the top 20. This sounds pretty good to me because it means, that actual remakes of stories that were already told are quite rare among movies.

The second highest grossing film of 2017 is Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Although there is a lot of controversy surrounding the Star Wars franchise, lately, one definitely has to admit that The Last Jedi doesn’t lack creativity, even if you might disagree with the creative choices made by the filmmakers. I think Star Wars is also evidence of a pattern I started to see at the end of the year since Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (4th) and Thor: Ragnarok (7th), are movies that show a clear vision of the director. Taika Waititi, James Gunn, and Rian Johnson seemed to have had enough trust from Disney executives to make their own creative choices and break free from Disneys rather formulaic movie conventions.

2017 was a massacre for franchises and Disney seems to be the only studio that survived it unharmed. Warner’s Justice League, King Arthur and Blade runner franchise bombed, Universal’s Dark Universe was a big flop, Fox’s Alien franchise took a hit and Paramount had three (!) failed shared universes this year, since Ghost in the Shell, Baywatch and Transformers underperformed at the box office. So, can we expect a return to good old original movies over the next years? Probably, but Disney will likely continue their course of action and proceed with their shared universes. After Disney’s acquisition of  Fox, I don’t see a bright future for the fan-favorite Alien saga, though.

Going through the list, I couldn’t help but wonder, whether audiences even want originality. Because movies in their “purest”, absolutely original form are even rarer than I thought. In the top 20, there are only three movies that aren’t based on any preexisting property (Dunkirk, Get Out & Coco). The only possible solution to this problem isn’t petitions or complaints on Twitter, but rather the choices you make as a customer. Oh, and if you want to see the actual best movies, you rarely find them in multiplexes. More movies get produced each year and it is impossible to keep up with all of them, but the notion of all film being unoriginal is absurd, considering that in 2013 7610 movies got made, a number that will be far lower than the 2017 figures.

Another great piece of advice is “don’t judge a movie before you’ve seen it”. Just because a film is based on a preexisting property, it does not necessarily lack originality. A great example is Disney’s most recent movies. Star Wars: The Last Jedi simply can’t get enough praise for how original and inventive they are in their storytelling. It’s not like any director, screenwriter or anyone on set goes into production with the intention of making a bad movie. Sure, many movies turn out to be disappointing or even (subjectively) bad, but there is a huge difference between criticizing a piece of art and insulting the artist by assuming bad intentions.

It’s also worth mentioning that with the rise of VOD-services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video many big movies only get a limited release in theaters (to be eligible for awards) if they get released in theaters at all. Therefore movies like Netflix’s Bright won’t be listed.

So, back to the original question: Is originality dead? No, it never was and it never will be. For a while, it seemed as if franchises were the only kinds of movies that worked at the box office, but 2017 has been a purge for franchises and to stay competitive with streaming-services big studios will reconsider their approach to tentpole franchises. That does not mean they’re wiped out, but maybe we will breathe fresh and original movie-air after being trapped below a ton of generic sequels, although I would miss the influence some creative minds brought to franchise filmmaking recently. But as an audience, we also hold a responsibility to choose the best movies and when a friend tells you that he wants to go in the next installment of xXx, maybe just tell him to “No!” and offer an alternative. There always is one.

What do you think of my interpretation of the 2017 box office? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments and on Twitter.

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