This week, an interesting graph hit the internet. This graph “shows” that Hollywood is losing its creativity because (gasp!) out of the top 10 highest grossing movies in 2011, eight were sequels/prequels, and two were adaptations (Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger). Alongside those numbers, the graph “shows” how Hollywood is getting less creative because fewer and fewer of the top ten films moneywise are originals. And that my friends, is what we call poppycock.
There are a couple HUGE problems with this graph. First of all, although measuring years that are decades apart can show trends, ultimately, those years are STILL a decade apart and thus, can also just be small snapshots of the bigger picture. So there were no originals in the top ten highest grossing films of 2011. Well, in 2010 there were three: Inception, Tangled, and Despicable Me. And, as the graph shows, in 1991 there was only ONE original film in the top 10: City Slickers. So if we only take 1991 and 2010 into consideration, then obviously Hollywood must be getting more creative! Just kidding. I won’t make that assumption, because I’m not into shoddy journalism.
Here’s the second, and biggest problem with this graph. WHEN IN THE WORLD DID WE START EVALUATING THE QUALITY OF FILMS BASED ON HOW MUCH MONEY THEY MADE?!? I mean, seriously, most of the time that’s pretty much all the studios care about, but, we as movie fans are supposed to know better! Not once have I heard anyone say they liked Titanic, Avatar, or The Avengers because they made a lot of money. Similarly, I’ve never heard anyone complain about not liking a film because it didn’t make a lot of money. Sure, better movies tend to attract more viewers but there’s a reason that summer blockbusters don’t get a ton of Best Picture nominations. They aren’t the best films of the year based on what matters: quality.
So here’s the deal. If we’re going to say Hollywood is getting less creative, we have to look at not just the blockbusters, not just the Oscar-winners, not just a handful, we need to look at the whole picture. Which is where this graph comes into play. Let’s look at the breakdown of movies throughout the years, going five years at a time. It is blatantly obvious that Hollywood is, more or less, just as creative as it was in 1985. And that’s assuming that we’re only counting original screenplays (and maybe adapted screenplays) as ‘original.’ (Side note: I tried my best to include only wide release films, as limited release films are even more skewed toward original, and its hard to get accurate lists of years 10-15 years ago. So yes, if I included limited release films, original and adapted would have even higher percentages of the total).
One interesting thing to look at: 2005 had more original screenplays than any other year and 1990 had more sequels than any other year. Again, this hardly proves anything because we’re just taking two almost random years and comparing them. But it does show something. Something so obvious that I shouldn’t have to be telling you. Hollywood makes movies based on what is popular and based on what people want to see. And in order to do that, they hire people to produce these films. There will always be someone who wants to turn a TV show into a movie. There was 21 Jump Street this year, there was The Flintstones in 1994, and Masters of the Universe in 1987.
The number of sequels, prequels, and remakes will fluctuate up and down. But we have to realize something. The more movies that are made, the more sequels we are going to get. When I saw Iron Man, I didn’t leave thinking: “I hope they never make another movie about him.” No, I want to see more. And we got The Avengers eventually. If movies based on Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Twilight are popular, people want to see more. Does anyone who liked The Hunger Games really not want Catching Fire to be made? So we can’t really scream bloody murder when there are more sequels being made, because most of them are deserving, either because the interest is there, or because there are more books in the series and people want to see them made.
Now we get to remakes. I certainly will be among the first to say that there are some movies that shouldn’t be remade. Footloose for example. But for every one of those films being remade, there are remakes being made because someone has a vision that a movie could be made better, or different, if they had a shot. The Ring was a remake of the Japanese Ringu. The Departed, A Fistful of Dollars, and The Magnificent Seven are all remakes of foreign films. I’d say there are just one to four poorly chosen remakes made a year, if that. That’s less than 5% of all movies. Fine with me.
And here’s what it comes down to. At the top of the ladder are rich studio bigwigs, but the only way they make that money is by taking suggestions and projects from directors, producers, writers, and actors. And these are all human beings who got into filmmaking because they are artists or because they want to share something they love with the world. If I got a phone call today asking me to write the next Sherlock Holmes or Daredevil film I would jump at the chance. If someone told me I could adapt a book I loved for the big screen, I would do it in a heartbeat. So what if someone has done it before?
Hollywood is just as creative as it has ever been, as if just because you’re adapting something or making a sequel, it doesn’t take creativity. If you don’t want to see something, don’t go see it. If you’re complaining about too many remakes (which are the least common type of movie anyway) or sequels, then think outside the box and go find originals. They are there if you look. And considering that for every year for the past thirty years (and likely more or less every year in history) there have been many more original films made than sequels and remakes, it shouldn’t be that hard.