Franchise films are omnipresent. I am certainly guilty of occasionally binging Marvel movies myself. However, the industry has come to a point where these franchise films, mass-produced by giant corporations, are pushing cinema towards extinction. The cinema that audiences love is on its deathbed.
Films are traditionally screened in theaters. With limited space and time, a theater may only offer a few time slots to a movie. Films that are popular will naturally be offered more time slots, as they generate more revenue for both the production company and the theater. This creates incentives for movie theaters to exhibit fewer films from small companies. When pitted against corporate giants, who often have superior advertising and a guaranteed safety net in the ‘blockbuster formula,’ smaller film companies stand no chance. Take Quentin Tarantino, a renowned director known for his satirical and humorously gory movies. Tarantino described Disney’s monopoly over movie theaters as “vindictive,” “mean,” and “extort[ive].” Tarantino had originally booked the Cinerama Dome, a venue with which he was very familiar, for the screening of his film, The Hateful Eight. Disney obliterated the contract and insisted on screening Star Wars: The Force Awakens during Tarantino’s time slot. According to Tarantino, Disney had threatened to cease the distribution of future Star Wars films in the theater if the venue did not comply with their demands. The venue reluctantly obliged. After all, nine of the ten highest-grossing films of all time were franchise films, and Disney owned six of them.
Some companies have had an iron grip over the production and distribution of films over recent decades. However, Disney’s relatively recent monopoly over the entertainment industry has had an even more overwhelming influence, specifically on impressionable children and teenagers. Their monopoly has allowed Marvel merchandise sales to exceed the actual Marvel film revenue by 14 billion dollars!
Such a monopoly’s existence has unsettling implications: Why put in quality writing when you can get away with a facile one-liner? Why even bother with character development when the audience is predisposed to adore them no matter what, due to fan-baiting and their simple association with the franchise? Franchise films are comparable to fast foods. They are convenient, cheap and tasty. Occasionally, having fast food is an indulgence—they are whirlwinds of flavor. But fast food should never become the staple of one’s diet: they do not offer nutrition, nor do they, realistically, offer that much variety.
While it may seem that franchise films are the culprits of creative death, the corporations that sponsor them are really to blame. A Disney CEO once infamously confessed, “We have no obligation to make art… But to make money we must always make entertaining movies [which will] reliably make art.” He was promptly removed from his position. This begs the question, what is the relationship between monetization and art, and are they mutually exclusive? Personally, I believe cinema will always be entangled with capitalism. A feature film with a budget of roughly $25 million is considered average cost, and any major film made with less than $5 million is considered low-budget. Making film is simply not cheap; it is an art form with scales incomparable to other forms. Every contributor to a film, from the director to the extras, is at least somewhat motivated by payment. This does not negate their artistry in the slightest. Their zeal, intelligence and creativity still contribute to the artwork. Money is not the problem, but when art exists only for the purpose of monetization, it withers away. I caught a glimpse of hope this summer, when the sudden upsoar in popularity of the independent film, Everything Everywhere All At Once, rekindled my sentiments towards cinema. You may find this hard to believe, but the film was initially exhibited at only 10 venues. Through high praise and review, it eventually expanded to over 2000 theaters domestically. Alas, it was unable to outcompete Sonic the Hedgehog 2. So I ask you, dear readers of the Centipede and the next generation of extraordinary scholars and artists, to help save cinema. Next time you go to the theater with your friends and family, convince them to watch something independent. Who knows? Maybe you will discover a new favorite.