There’s nothing quite like going to the movies. I know people watch more films through television and streaming services now. But the shared experience of gathering around a big screen for an all-new experience still excites me long after I spent the summer of 1997 seeing every movie that came to town.
This summer, for the first time in years, I indulged myself in a weekday afternoon matinee all by myself, a favorite activity when I was a teenager. Fittingly, it was Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood,” an ode, of sorts, to the retro chic of Old Hollywood. Popcorn, pop by the gallon, and a cinematic experience that offered brief escape from the modern world: what more could I ask?
Last week, however, I read about the top grossing movies of 2019 so far, a figure that now includes most of the big summer blockbusters. Without revealing their titles, consider this:
1) Comic book action sequel #4
2) CGI live action remake of animated movie
3) Comic book action movie
4) Animated movie franchise sequel #4
5) Comic book action reboot sequel #2
6) CGI live action remake of animated movie
7) Original thriller
8) Action movie franchise sequel #3
9) Animated movie franchise sequel #3
10) Animated move franchise sequel #2
Ten movies, almost $4 billion in revenue, and only one original film among them. (The #7 film of the year so far is Jordan Peele’s “Us,” a thriller about a family terrorized by creatures that look like them.)
There’s a, “which came first, chicken or egg?” thing happening here. Are studios unwilling to take risks on more major original films? Or are audiences so happy to wallow in the same old stuff that studios have no choice but to provide them what they want?
And I get it, we see value in films like the top grossing “Avengers: End Game,” a movie that tied together a successful comic book storyline. But other than in “Us,” and perhaps the gender flipped “Captain Marvel,” we didn’t meet a single original leading character.
This isn’t terrible in itself. So what? We like Woody and Buzz! Spider-Man is awesome!
But what if that’s how it is for the rest of time? What happens when we run out of remakes? Do we remake the remakes? Enough zeros on the check and they’d dig up Iron Man and Mufasa for a buddy cop movie.
Just think if we were watching versions of the same movies that they made in early cinema history. Our list might look like this.
1) Johnny Depp is Charlie Chaplin in “Construction Hijinks 5”
2) Jennifer Lawrence in “Ha Ha, a Female Driver 4”
3) “Racist Trope 6: This time it’s ironic, not totally racist”
4) “Birth of a Nation: The Glory of 4chan”
5) “Wings 9: Now with Monoplanes”
6) “Snow White Live Action Reboot 3: Dopey’s Revenge”
7) “Fantasia, featuring the music of Lady Gaga”
8) Jennifer Lawrence in “Ha Ha, a Female Voter 3” (Big year for JLaw)
9) “A Trip to the Moon” CGI Remake starring The Rock as The Moon
10) “The Wizard of Tron”
Point being, we do well when our art keeps up with our development as a species.
And I think it does. Independent films abound. Streaming services provide new opportunities for original stories on television and in movies. Some of the best series in television history have been produced in just the past ten years. Many great stories find their way through a competitive field.
But nothing pulls an audience (and therefore income) together quite like a movie that’s a little bit like another movie you saw last year. Is that our fault? The media industrial complex? Maybe both. But I’ll keep my eye open for original stories, and maybe you should too.
Because there’s only so many times super heroes can save the world in the third act before we realize we’ve got to save the real world ourselves.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org).