Hello friends, I’m back again, decrying the slow decay of the cinema, as another weekend has passed and the only movies that were seen by human eyes had the artificial glare of nostalgia attached. As if the only films worth paying for these days are one’s that allow you to talk about the original show or film in the car ride home, without having to think about the film they just watched. That being Ghostbusters or Clifford: The Big Red Dog or Scream or Halloween or blah blah blah…you get the point.
Consumers want their nostalgia, maybe because of the unevenness of the world or the political landscape right now. People want to feel safe, nestled up to their favorite Superhero or a science experiment gone wrong with a giant red dog, or even an un-killable monster in a mask; consumers want to be held by Michael Meyers, like a child and rocked on his shoulder, as the same basic plot gets vomited all over audiences to raucous applause.
Furthermore, it’s a consumer base that no longer goes to the theater for prestige, but turns on any number of streaming services with high budget, loaded casts for TV shows. The meta is shifting for studios, as many are likely to switch the approach to the release window and faze out the one group of film fans that love it the most. The cinephiles. The art-house moviegoers.
The Adult Specialty Audience
The industry is flooded with money at the moment, but it’s dumb money from deep pocketed investors, hedge funds, and many other faceless entities that have overwhelmed the marketplace. Quality is a complete afterthought to getting a picture greenlit. Netflix alone has 6-10 new films and TV releases in a given week. And with Warner Bros sticking with the theater-and-home model for HBO GO, casual moviegoers have essentially no incentive to flock to a theater. The only reasons would be availability and word-of-mouth, but the average moviegoer has lost interest in prestige pictures. Solid reviews aren’t enough to entice people to see something they’ve never heard of and there’s a general apathy around the specialty films being released.
The news of King Richard flopping hard at the box office with a lousy $5.7m weekend is yet another wake-up call. A film with that much of a media push from Warner Bros, starring a bankable, beloved actor in Will Smith, portraying the lives of two of the most inspirational figures in sports history can’t even sell to general audiences. The film with Oscar buzz and crossover appeal gets slapped down by the giant paws of Clifford and the nostalgic twitch of a new Ghsotbusters.
It’s disheartening to see. Ridley Scott went on a tirade as to reasons why The Last Duel failed, blaming primarily millennials, but failing to consider the larger issues with the specific audiences these prestige directors are targeting. It’s a dying breed of moviegoer who sees a famous director like Ridley Scott and makes the decision to see a film based solely on that. Directors don’t sell. Actors don’t sell any longer. Only genre, brand, or familiarity with the film can pass into their active subconscious and get them to see the film. Otherwise, new, original ideas are filtered out into spam as not worthy of a look.
Even worse, it’s a problem Hollywood has been aware of since the early 2000s and has made no conscious effort to change direction. The money keeps coming in from angel investors, so why change course and get audiences off the obsession of franchises. AMPAS and the Oscars are quickly disappearing, so art-house fans are losing that element as well, making the outlook for cinephiles extremely bleak.
Thinking practically, the foreseeable future likely holds straight to streaming or PVODs for art-house films with no theater release dates. The higher budget art-house and prestige directors will still get theatrical runs for the time being, but even those will likely be phased out in the next 5-10 years. The only films that will play in theaters will be out of the monopoly of streaming studios (Netflix, Amazon, Apple, etc.) that will make seeing a film at the cinema a much more rare and larger event. Ticket prices will soar with less showtimes in general, so not only will the specialty audiences be completely relegated to streaming, but even mid-tier films will skip a theatrical run.
In the next five years, the Oscars will be forced to change submission rules in regards to theatrical runs as a small push back from COVID restrictions that have already started to change in that area. Box office won’t matter to awards success and the last remaining vestige of popularity these awards shows once had will fade – similarly to how the antiquated Golden Globes are being ostracized currently.
Doom and Gloom
Truthfully, I want people similar to myself, in the “adult specialty audience,” to be aware of this trend. Cinema is dying and the first to go will be the loyal patrons. It’s at the point now where it’s barely hanging onto life support as is, when films like King Richard can barely be expected to make a dent in the box office. It’s been an alarming trend for 20+ years and it feels like general audiences are too far gone to bring them back.
It ultimately comes down to a few areas. One being the content of these art-house films that usually offer a unique perspective and don’t give people what they necessarily expect. Most audiences want something relevant to them more than anything else and watching something more alienating, complex and intellectual can stimulate a brain in a way general audiences just don’t want. Films should never be disconnected from reality, but that escapism is what people want with their media in the 2020’s. The art-house films will be the ones that will last with emphasis on challenging a person’s core beliefs, sense of self and of the world – where the superhero films will fade and the corporate monopoly on art will cease to exist.
In closing, it’s unclear what the future holds for directors wanting to make less marketable stories. There will be venturous investors always wanting to help out the independent crowd, but it’s declining in numbers. Netflix will still dole out plenty of cash to help smaller filmmakers, but the problem will be finding these films an audience. The worst aspect and main takeaway I want people to consider is the more corporate the medium of film becomes, the more lifeless the art becomes. It’s important to preserve this part of our existence and need to find people willing to support these projects without any promise of profit.