Is the Movie Industry close to an Implosion?

Steven Spielberg George Lucas

Earlier this week Steven Spielberg and George Lucas spoke at the opening of a new media centre at the University of Southern California. While speaking to students at USC, Spielberg made the following claim:

There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm

They went on to say:

I think eventually the Lincolns will go away and they’re going to be on television,” Lucas said. “As mine almost was,” Spielberg interjected. “This close — ask HBO — this close.”

“We’re talking Lincoln and Red Tails — we barely got them into theaters. You’re talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can’t get their movie into a theater,” Lucas said.

Whilst reading this my irony meter went into overdrive. Let me explain why.

Let us take a trip back in time to the 1970s. American cinema creatively was thriving. Auteurs like Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman and Roman Polanski were all making great films that made Hollywood the place to be both commercially and creatively.

However, the failure of Heaven’s Gate by Michael Camino meant that these great auteurs were given less control as studios looked to a different type of film with less financial risk involved.

Then in 1975 along came a film called Jaws. Not only was it a great film, it was a film with that was easy to sell and audiences loved it. Later in 1977 a film called Star Wars cemented the Hollywood studios new direction. “Event” movies, which came to be known as “blockbusters” set up a trend known as “Want. See.” That is, if people wanted space battles, time traveling cars, dinosaurs or futuristic robots they got them. Largely the landscape for big budget projects has remained unchanged since.

So now Spielberg and Lucas, two of the directors who have benefited most from blockbuster cinema in the past forty years are complaining about that very model. Having seen off the threat of home video, they now seem resigned to the fact that the combination of the latest technology and changing viewing habits will see off whatever grand vision they have for their next project.

The reality is that Red Tails was not well received by audiences or movie-goers; and Lincoln was released into the cinema and performed pretty well. It is also unfair of them to assume that because of their previous successes they should find it easy to persuade studios to back every single project they can come up with.

Yes, studios can get it wrong, but then so too can directors. If the history of cinema shows us anything, it is that the arrogance of both studios and directors knows no bounds.

As a way of disproving Spielberg and Lucas’ narrative that the movie industry is about to implode I decided to find some information about how cinema habits are changing over the past decade.

This very informative and far-reaching report by the MPAA provided a lot of the answers I was looking for. On page 9 it shows the number of admissions in the USA has gone down slightly over the past ten years (by about 10%). Box office revenue has also gone down in real terms. Adjusted for inflation (which the report does not do), it was $11.4 billion is 2003, compared with $10.8 billion in 2012, a drop of 5%.

Finally the number of theatrical releases in the U.S. is shown on page 20. Contrary to what Spielberg says, this does not show a decrease in the number of movies being released at the cinema. In 2003, it was 455, and now it has pretty consistently increased over the past decade to 677 last year. An increase of 49%.

This data suggests a smaller number of cinema-goers are seeing a wider range of movies compared with ten years ago. So far from it being harder for movies to get into cinemas, it’s actually easier for a young filmmaker to get their film into a theater than it was ten years ago. This probably goes against the personal experience of Lucas and Spielberg but that should not suggest it will be the same for the audience they were speaking to.

Finally their claim that three of four blockbusters will come crashing down seems to have no grounding in reality. Yes, high profile movies like John Carter catch the headlines every so often. However, even it made $282 million at the box office, which means after DVD sales and so on it will not lose money. Mark Kermode has a chapter in his latest book, The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex entitled “Why Blockbusters Should Be Better” where he makes the case that “event” films will always make their money back “no matter how awful they might be”.

So, Spielberg and Lucas, still great at making dramatic statements. It’s just a pity this one is about as believable as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘s fridge.


52 responses to “Is the Movie Industry close to an Implosion?

  1. phillybookpicks

    Awesome posting, thanks !

  2. I went to see Man of Steel Saturday evening, and the movie theater was packed. Despite the bad review I gave the movie, I know it’s going to make money and that there will be a sequel, so I’m seriously not worried about the movie industry having any sort of implosion.

  3. An interesting, well-reasoned analysis of the news article – well done!

  4. If a few megabudget movies come crashing down, maybe that’s what it will take for the studios and distributors to stop gambling everything on a handful of commercially contrived blockbusters. From my perspective, that would be liberating, opening those resources for greater variety and expression and likely, greater returns overall.
    Early on, Hollywood decided to manufacture “stars” to propel movie sales, rather than sell the film itself or the director — and many have seen this as a disaster, in the long haul. Just look at the salaries demanded by the box-office draws, regardless of acting ability.
    In contrast, the best films we’ve seen over the past decade have nearly all been low-budget indies, and many of those have been available only on Netflix, which is often a more enjoyable viewing experience than many of the sterile, overpriced multiplexes in the malls.

  5. Real issue is, does “film” deserve to survive. Pauline Kael’s 1980 essay “Why are Movies so Bad”? is as relevant as ever.

  6. Idiotic movies with overblown effects, that blast your eardrums clean into your eustachian tubes, and feature a juvenile, insulting script that took two days for a minimum-wage typist to bang out, may be going the way of the dodo, yes. The question is whether this is a bad thing or not.

    I long ago stopped going to movies entirely. What little video entertainment I consume is composer of NASA’s Ustream and vlogs from people I find interesting.

    I can sit in traffic to waste $12 and two hours on some special effect laden piece of garbage where the only “girl” in the movie is the hero’s girlfriend and a screaming, mincing idiot who exists to be rescued, and every other character is an ugly, scowling man with a gun, or I can sit in my living room, open a browser, and listen to Joyce DiDonato muse engagingly about singing. I’m not even an opera singer, and I’ll take door #2, thanks.

  7. 5oci4lm3di4101

    Hasn’t Hollywood always been about change? There was a time when Katharine Hepburn was “box office poison,” and Joan Crawford and Bette Davis also suffered from fickle audiences and manipulative studios. All three went on to be icons of the screen in their lifetimes.

    Yesterday I went to see the new “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” I’ve never been a Trekkie, but I did watch the TV show growing as a kid. When the first prequel came out a couple of years ago, I fell hook, line, and Enterprise for this fourth overhaul of our space friends. In the radiation scene between Scotty, Spock, and Kirk I couldn’t help but remember the story about how Clark Gable was shaken to his core when they wanted to show him crying on screen in “Gone With The Wind.” He had true fear his career would be ruined by showing ‘weakness’ on screen. At the distance of 2013 from 1939 it’s one of the best bits of acting in his career. Thankfully he cried. Now this new macho trio of the future gives us a scene that we all can related to – the loss of someone for whom we love or care deeply. Maybe I’m a sap, but it touched me.

    So, to our legends George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, gentleman, you may be right. You have however been at the forefront of cinematic change long ago, and many times since. You may be again. “These times are a changing,” as the saying goes and that is something you can bank on always being the case.


  8. Is the Movie Industry close to an Implosion? No, I believe it is moving cloe to an Explosion!

  9. I would welcome a game changer of any sort to what Hollywood has been pumping out over the last 20 or 30 years. There’s a lot of complacency on the parts of the actors, directors, producers and writers evident in a lot of films.

    Maybe explosion, maybe implosion, maybe neither. A shift in the expectations of the film viewing public will drive a shift in how Hollywood approaches things.

    So long as people are willing to buy into blockbusters en masse, there really is little incentive for Hollywood to challenge themselves or part from giving us more of the same.

  10. its about time the movie industry changed…to big at the expense of character, plot, and simple story telling…..

  11. Haven’t been to a movie theater in half a decade and I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything. If it’s good, I’ll hear about it from trusted friends within a year and by then, I can check it out for free from my local library and watch it in the comfort of my own home, beswaddled in ratty sweatshirt and yoga pants, microbrew in hand, volume button at my control.

  12. The problem with Hollywood: The old-school visionary filmmakers will pass away and there is little in the way of fresh, game-changing talent. The closest would have to be Quentin Tarantino, J.J. Abrams, Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon. Spike Lee, too. They are the little ray of hope that keeps the industry filled with new ideas and stories that challenge audiences, but out of all 5 I just mentioned, Tarantino and Abrams are really the only two who have the kind of power needed to push their projects into mainstream theaters.

    Hollywood wants to make a quick buck and they do so by continuing to crank out remakes and sequels of the same things over and over again. Theater attendance is continuing to drop and yet Hollywood is pushing more movies into theaters ever year. See the problem? It’s an over saturation of bad-art. I’m sure the studio system will never turn into a non-profit arts campaign run by donations and tax payers money (like Europe) but if the push toward independent film making continues to gain traction, there will be a huge change in the content Hollywood produces.

    They will always favor the statistics, and the statistics show that audience members want mediocre, “easy” films to digest. For any paradigm shift to happen, the every day “Joe” needs to change how they relate to film, otherwise suffer the same marketing fate that De Beers has used to brainwash every American on the importance of a diamond engagement ring.

  13. big is so not better and spielberg and lucas seem to have forgotten that

  14. Interesting and perfect amount of depth in this post. Nice!

  15. I think audiences are getting tired of being preached at by the same old story tellers year after year! There is no diversity in Hollywood; there should be more female directors and ethnic storys told by ethnic people! Red Tails was ok but the love story was weak!

  16. I think the industry is in the middle of a change, you see a lot more low budget movies coming out now, made by writers and actors who like to work with each other, but sadly business has destroyed the block buster movie

  17. malcolmthinksoutloud

    I can’t argue with their opinions on modern movies. I like the classics as well and feel the “tone” of movies and film making has changed. I’m not against newer movies. I’ve gotten older and a new generation of film makers has emerged. But, I do not believe the film industry is about to crash. With the age of the geek now in full swing and these comic book movies coming out in droves it’s providing a lucrative funds for these companies. What I like is that Marvel has taken some creative control over the films and is stringing them together with some continuity finally. More consistent than their comic book counter parts I can assure you.

  18. A lot of comments here are about how poor movies are now. I wonder if there are any big budget movies people think break that trend? For example, I would say The Dark Knight, Wall-E and Life of Pi are all intelligent, well-made films which still appeal to a wide audience.

  19. Well for movies they gone keep coming n coming keep note Hollywood still big but directors are taking movie productions else where in the world give that still more feel like… Eminem said in a song Goodbye Hollywood… @observealot The Dark Knight does bring a good crowd to bad for the shooting that took place in the mist of release date kinda hinder a lot of fans

  20. You may be interested to see what may be going on in the film industry if not an imminent implosion; Steven Soderbergh has some very compelling thoughts. Good writing by the way, keep it up!

  21. That is what we all want, an implosion and explosion so that new players with new and fresh ideas may get a chance to get in. One man’s poison is another man cake.

  22. I have always been a fan of drama more than action or comedy, and it took me a while to admit it, but television is outperforming film by a large margin since the turn of the century – The West Wing, House, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Dowton Abbey, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Homeland, etc, etc.

    Film won’t implode, but it will evolve into all action franchises and silly comedies. The real artistry, story-telling and acting will increasingly come to us on small screens.

  23. while I would generally agree with your point, I would draw two distinctions.
    One, Speilberg is a master storyteller – yes he gave us fun thrills and big effects, but he did so with a human face and a story we could all be hooked by. This current crop of blockbusters, with one or two notable exceptions, are offering us nothing more than video games but keeping hold of the controller. That is what worries me. perhaps the reason that we are viewing across a wider range of films is that none of them are satisfying us, so like Goldilocks we are trying all the offerings…

    the second point is somewhat of a tangent, but I have to disagree with the statement, ‘easier for young filmmakers to get their films into cinemas’. I think of all the many factors that influence this, range of films has little bearing. As for whether it actually is easier, well I wasn’t around in 75, but it would be interesting to look at.

    good post.

    • The reason I said it was ‘easier for young filmmakers’ is based on the evidence cited in the article. Nothing more, nothing less. So because there are 50% more films in the cinemas than ten years ago, the only logical conclusion is that more filmmakers (young and old) are getting their work into theaters than ever before.

      When one listens to interviews with any director (including Spielberg and Lucas) the one thing they all mention was ‘how difficult it was to get this film made’. Making a film is without doubt a very difficult process. However, it is important we do not only listen to directors, and look at the evidence for what they are saying. Making films will always be difficult, however, the decreased cost of filming, thanks to digital, combined with sites like Kickstarter mean we are going to have the opportunity to see more and more films than ever before.

      • that I have to say excites me. though I fear it may work something like self publishing, which has yet to prove itself as beneficial to the industry.

        At the moment, from what I have seen there are not enough taking advantage of this and producing the goods. Hopefully the younger generation (pre twenties), more at home with technology will step up.

        At the moment I think there is a divide, between your traditional film lovers wanting to be makers and those who have the skills to use the technology to their advantage. One group has the story, the other the ability to bring it to life, without story however it is not a film, simply a collection of cool graphics. When the two meet maybe something interesting will happen..

      • I think I would disagree that there are ‘not enough taking advantage’ of the technology. Instead trying to see these films by new, young, exciting filmmakers can be difficult. I’m attending Edinburgh Film Festival at the moment (as I do every year), and over the past few years I’ve seen lots of great low-budget movies by filmmakers from UK, Palestine, Iran, Philippines and Iceland. Our mistake is to think that just because Hollywood is where the money is, that’s where the best films are coming from.

        I think it’s important that if you do love films, are dissatisfied with the Hollywood’s output (as many people who have commented seem to be) you take the time to seek out films that have not had the benefit of a studio-backed marketing campaign.

        If anyone wants a place to start I’d recommending purchasing Mark Cousin’s “The Story of Film” which is a 15-hour documentary taking you from the beginnings of film to the present day. I’d say around 80% of the films he covers most people will not have seen, or even heard of. So definitely a great place to begin.

      • ah interesting. I was thinking in terms of distribution actually; those who are completely bypassing the more traditional route of film festivals, which most people I know within the independent community see as a way to be seen by the bigger studios.

        I meant releasing directly to the viewers online. I have seen some smaller pieces but nothing that isn’t really just some clever graphics. Not always the most savvy surfer, and am currently more creator than viewer, so I may, I admit, be somewhat out of the loop.

        And yes, I do try and keep up with film festivals. Living in the middle of nowhere I can’t get to them in person, though I would love to. Not sure I have a spare 15 hours but I will look into the Story of film. Thanks for the recommendation.

      • Why would you listen to statistics? They don’t mean anything. If Steven Spielberg says there will be an implosion, then there will be an implosion. He didn’t get to where he was today by not paying attention to what is going on, on his doorstep. And for the record, why shouldn’t studios back any movie of his choice? He’s made 26 films in his career and only 3 failed at the box office, which makes him pretty much hard wired against failure. And there is no money in DVD sales anymore, and Blu Ray is going the same way. If it doesn’t make money in the cinemas then it’s dead.

  24. All Lucas and Spielberg have to do to get a movie made is say “we’re both combining an epic movie called “Jaws Wars”, BAM! instant cash from the studios!” One another note a live-action Indy and Star Wars TV show would be nice… 🙂 Cool info.

  25. Reblogged this on My Side of the Story and commented:
    A good look at the current state of the film industry from two sorta credible sources.

  26. Power to the people, as I say.

  27. It would be nice to see that paradigm shift. I don’t think it would be an implosion. I think there might be something more like what we are seeing with the beer industry. At this point there are a few big breweries and a million scattered niche breweries, so while they are still making huge money on the watered down generic for-everyone type stuff, stores and distributors are looking at the nice beer market because it is made up of a consistent clientele that pays more money for less beer by volume. So while the masses debate Superman or the Avengers/Twilight or whatever the fuck, the same smaller group of people are showing up every weekend for those smaller movies.

    The multiplexes will probably die completely before something like Spielberg is suggesting would happen (he said something like a blockbuster ticket would be more expensive than an Oscar contention ticket)

    • A very good analogy, especially since the niche beers you mention are actually owned by the bigger companies in the same way a lot of “Indy” movies are funded by studios Fox Searchlight, etc.

      I think both markets have existed for a long time. With independent cinemas allowing for the more “discerning” viewer, and multiplexes for everyone else.

      Also, the idea you will pay more for a blockbuster is rubbish. However, what is already happening is you have to pay more to see said blockbuster in IMAX 3-D. An option not available for films like Lincoln.

  28. Hollywood is also making films like The Purge, which had a budget of 3 million. It made its money back and then some the first day. Lucas suggested that pretty soon, if this crash and burn happens, audiences would have to pay $25 to see something like Ironman 3. I can’t agree. I think they would go with a business model like the makers of The Purge, who also made a few another films based on that model.

  29. Also, I think its worth pointing out that if you take away George Lucas’ hair and facial hair and instead add a big ginger moustache you clearly get a striking resemblance to Dr Robotnik.
    Coincidence? I think not.

  30. Excellent post. I have been disgusted with this “event” approach and usually revert to watching documentaries or foreign films.

  31. I think that the the movies in this era will continue to grow for a long time. But with the way the storline in movies are going, it might happen, because as much as I hate to admit it the movies today are adaptations from books, comics and such. Then again, who knows.

  32. thenewsouthus

    The reason for the implosion won’t be because of big budgets movies. Spielberg and Lucas became famous for big franchise movies, but the difference between their work and the stuff nowadays is the stuff nowadays has lost its humanity. It’s been replaced by too much CGI, and not enough heart in the scripts.

  33. During the old studio system, movies were based on plays, books, sometimes an article. You had writers who came to Hollywood from the publishing world or theater. The problem I see in big budget movies is that the script falls apart, and there is a rush the same ending of the good guys winning. How many times do we have to see New York City, Washington D.C blow-up? Hollywood has been sitting on the technology were they can release a new movie for both theater or for home viewing I would like that choice.

  34. georgechusted

    I think part of the problem Hollywood is having, is that they’re running out of new ideas. It seems every other week I see a trailer for a movie that’s being remade, or worse a movie being released in 3-D. Pretty soon, all that will be in theaters will be remakes old movies. I know that visual effects have come an awful long way since the ’70s, but we don’t want to re-see every single old movie just because it has better special effects. I hope that I’ll see some fresh movies in theaters soon because the remakes are getting boring. So a all your film students out there, keep working because sometimes you have better ideas than the big time Hollywood directors.

  35. I do very much believe that several big budget blockbusters will flop, it happens all the time, and eventually audiences will tire of comic book films! But, I can’t see it being an imposion on the industry. What I’d like to see is a mix up, a change of style in filmmaking, something to get people talking again rather than just rebooting old greats and 9 times out of 10 ruining them, or shoving another superhero down our throats.

  36. Reblogged this on WHAT'S UP WITH ME AND STUFF and commented:
    I Hope So ,I Have A Some Screen Plays For You

  37. I’ve been writing down dreams, and Ideas for 30+ years and have napkins and notebooks with call the screenplay story ideas, and I’m working on 2 right now. Just need to pitch the Idea to some producer to get them put on the screen.

  38. It would be nice if this actually did happen, to clean up Hollywood from all the crappy remakes, CGI blockbusters with no story, and 3D shitfests. Let’s start over.

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