by Phoebe Renje
In the early days of cinema, filmmakers and actors were incredibly limited in their capabilities. Nearly a century later, we have CGI, intricate makeup, and highly advanced cameras. With the proper writing, cast, and production value, a movie can outperform and dominate the box office. Empty theaters, low box office sales, and mediocre movies put the industry in a rut. Desperate for more money, studios rewrote entire stories for diversity and nostalgia. Many films met with poor reviews, and if studios keep this up, the film industry may be gone. Let’s take a look at greed and story in the entertainment industry.
The Perfect Cast
Recently, studios have leaned for diversity across their media. While it’s a great idea in theory, their approach should be revised, particularly with historical figures. Take Netflix’s recent docu-drama, Queen Cleopatra (2023). Outlash ensued before it was released because mixed actress Adele James portrays the titular queen. Not only did an Egyptian legal team demand $2 billion from Netflix in compensation, but a broadcaster of the Egyptian government announced they would produce their historically accurate representation of the Queen. Yes, Cleopatra was born in Egypt, but she was Macedonian-Greek, not Black. Likewise, in Anne Boleyn (2021), Black actress Jodie Turner-Smith portrays Henry VII’s second wife. Like Queen Cleopatra, the show received abysmal reviews for “blackwashing” Boleyn, an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman. There are plenty of influential non-White historical figures whose stories have never been told onscreen, like Zora Neale Hurston or Sacagawea. Studios want to cater to all audiences, but rewriting historical figures is counterintuitive.
It’s a Rich World, After All
Disney properties have gotten in on the cash prizes, too. Marvel Studios is a great example, releasing Avengers: Endgame in 2019, a year after Avengers: Infinity War. When the first theatrical release wrapped, Endgame nearly tied with Avatar (2009) as the highest-grossing film ever. In late June 2019, Endgame was rereleased with an extra scene. But as of this writing, Avatar (2009) remains the highest-grossing film of all time. Perhaps superhero fatigue is upon us. But Earth’s mightiest heroes aren’t the only iconic characters to suffer. LucasFilms, the studio that produces Star Wars, took a massive hit even before the pandemic. The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is the final film in the sequel trilogy and Skywalker Saga. Although it grossed just over $1 billion, it received an underwhelming critical response. Nearly half a century of cinematic buildup was disregarded. Fans hated it; they argued the film tried to do so much in three hours and focused on fan service rather than satisfyingly concluding the saga. Disney’s movies are flopping, too. Newer Pixar and Walt Disney Animation releases aren’t performing well critically or financially, hardly making back the budget and burying them under financial strain. Unfortunately, Disney is in a very expensive catch-22.
Hat in the Ring
Other Hollywood entities are throwing their hats in this ring. Rings of Power is a spinoff of the Lord of the Rings trilogy produced by Amazon Studios. Set 2,000 years before the events of the original trilogy, it focuses on Galadriel as the main protagonist, portraying her as a warrior when that is not an accurate representation of her character. Instead, she is a diplomat who does not partake in war. Fans criticized Amazon for not being faithful to the material of Tolkien’s legacy; instead, they’re more interested in making money. Rings of Power was meant to be a competitor to HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, which (mostly) kept faithful to its source material. The GOT series is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, who actively wrote for the show until season four. Although J. R. R. Tolkien cannot provide creative input for the Rings of Power (Tolkien died in 1973), a wealthy company like Amazon can pay for Tolkien scholars to do this.
Can good sequels make money? Of course. Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick reached over $1 billion, making them the highest-grossing films of 2022. The filmmakers kept original characters and storylines while adding new ones. There was no focus on identity politics or changing characters for hits. In Top Gun: Maverick, we see a relationship develop between Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, the son of Maverick’s late friend, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw. Similarly, in Avatar: The Way of the Water, Jake and his family discover and befriend a Na’vi colony while defeating the humans once more.
Sequels can work if the predecessor is set up appropriately. Remakes, as well, can draw audiences in. Beauty and The Beast (2017) was released to critical acclaim, grossing over $1 billion. Granted, the CGI for the furniture creeped me out a bit, but it stayed faithful to not only the 1991 animated film but the original fairytale. Speaking of animation, Universal Studios is becoming increasingly popular with moviegoers. Illumination, Universal’s chief animation studio, released not one but two successful sequels during the pandemic: Sing 2 (2021) and Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022). Both performed exceptionally well at the box office and received decent critical reviews.
With the ongoing Writer’s Guild strike and box office numbers still at an all-time low, the movie industry is in a dire position. Releasing poorly made remakes and sequels that stray from source material doesn’t help, and if studios continue down this path, then the film industry as we know it will be gone. Yet, these studios need money to run, so they pump mindless sequels and remakes, knowing audiences pay for nostalgia. Yes, nostalgia can sell, but many studios must approach it correctly and may be deviating from a proper solution. And if studios recognize this, they may save themselves from complete bankruptcy.
What are your thoughts about greed and story in the entertainment industry? Let us know in the comments below!