Movies are bad now. Here’s how I’d fix it.
Mic’s Rafi Schwartz has a few ideas for how to make Tinseltown glitter again.
So much about the world is broken right now. The planet is boiling, inequality is skyrocketing, and government gridlock is more darkly comic than ever. The Hollywood industrial complex regurgitates old stories and makes them worse, while music execs play to the whims of the algorithms more than any sense of craft. It’s all just so depressing. How I’d Fix It is Mic’s series of solutions to society’s ills. Got a fix of your own in mind? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your pitch, and be sure to include “How I’d Fix It” in the subject line.
I think it was Road House that broke me. Not director Rowdy Herrington’s 1989 magnum opus, starring Patrick Swayze as a cooler-than-cool bouncer who dishes out philosophical bon mots and bone-splintering sidekicks in equal measure. No, that movie is, and will always be, a masterpiece of the highest order — an untouchable microcosm of a certain time and place in filmmaking that has transcended its ignominious beginnings to become a modern classic.
But, like all good and pure and fun things these days, Hollywood has apparently begun circling its iterative vultures around Road House as its next reboot project, with A-lister Jake Gyllenhaal currently in the lead to star.
I couldn’t tell you why this one bothers me as much as it does. The past decade of big-budget filmmaking has been so riddled with reboots, reimaginings, and expanded cinematic universes that remaking a nearly quarter-century old movie about a rural honky-tonk bar is objectively a drop in a much larger ocean of stunted creativity. Still, for some reason, this is the one that finally made me snap. Road House? Really? This is what we’re doing now?
It’s hardly novel at this point to note that Hollywood has been fully submerged in the seductive morass of reboot-mania. The overwhelming trend in mainstream filmmaking is that movies that aren’t reboots, “reimaginings,” sequels, or franchise expansions are at risk of being relegated to second-tier status. Many more languish in relative obscurity until they’re forgotten entirely, or — if they’re lucky — live on as niche exceptions to the rule. Consider that the top 10 grossing movies of 2021, nine of the ten from 2020 (the exception being a piece of historical fiction, which is kind of a “reimagining” if you think about it), and all 10 from 2019 are all either sequels, reboots, or shamelessly mine existing IP.
The mega-conglomeration of Disney/Marvel/Star Wars is the most obvious example of Hollywood’s commitment to mining thinner and thinner iterations of the same stories with the same roster of actors and directors, with little regard to the flattening effect it has created across cinema as a whole. But if anything, that juggernaut is both source and symptom of the larger problem that’s been gaining steam for years. In my lifetime, I’ve seen:
- Six different cinematic iterations of Batman
- Three separate Supermen
- Four James Bonds (Jameses Bond?)
- Four Spider-Men
- Two different versions of the X-Men (they eventually combined)
- Two different versions of the entire USS Enterprise bridge crew (they eventually had a nice little crossover nod)
... You get the point.
While this doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for original, non-reboot, non-intellectual property mining films (A24, you’re doin’ great sweetie!), it does mean that most of Hollywood’s money, hype, and time are spent making and selling movies that are, in some way, just another version of a thing that’s come before. And if that’s where the bulk of resources are going, then it’s easy to see how more creative, riskier, original efforts can get squeezed out of the top tier.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas I have to help level the playing field. I’m not saying they’re perfect by any means, but I think they’re a start. Blockbuster films are broken, and I’m ready to fix ‘em.
First off: All major studios commit to a 50-year moratorium on reboots, adaptations, and other forms of IP mining.
This is a biggie, and I think it could go down one of two ways:
- Studios can’t make a movie that is either a reboot, adaptation, or some other IP-mined work for the next 50 years.
- Studios can only make reboots, adaptations, and IP-mined works after 50 years have passed since the most recent iteration of the source material.
Either way, I think this solves one of the major problems with our modern, iterative blockbusters — which is not so much that they exist, but that they seem to be everywhere all at once. They say that when it rains, it pours, and right now we are positively drowning in movies that were simply tweaked and twisted and manipulated from something that already existed. At the very least, if this rule doesn’t slow the firehose of unoriginal films to a more manageable drip, it’ll ensure a whole generation can act as a buffer between versions, so we don’t get the Matrix glitching fatigue (oh, right, the Matrix sequel/reboot comes out next month too) of watching three actors play the same role in three different versions of the same story in just 14 years.
Basically: You wanna make a big-budget blockbuster? You’re gonna have to come up with your own idea, no shortcuts allowed. And if a story absolutely needs a sequel, it should be an immediate release, or at least filmed simultaneously, not years later. When’s the last time a pure nostalgia porn sequel was sincerely worth watching? I rest my case.
Next up: Directors are banned from genre-squatting.
It’s great when filmmakers craft their own visual and storytelling cadence. Part of the joy in following an auteur’s career is seeing how they apply their unique set of skills with each subsequent project. What’s disappointing is when directors — even the most creative ones out there! — feel content (or perhaps pressured) to simply squat in the same genre over and over again. When enough auteurs carve enough familiar niches for themselves, the result can be a broadly stultifying atmosphere in which genres become carefully guarded territories treated as unbreachable by outsiders.
When’s the last time Tim Burton made a movie that could even remotely be described as veering even slightly from his main lane? Maybe Ed Wood, from 1994? The overwhelming majority of the Russo brothers’ filmography has been focused on action movies and crime capers. The past two decades of Clint Eastwood films all blur together in a sort of dusty brown mush. Ari Aster, your horror movies scare the shit out of me, but why not give slapstick comedy a try? And what if the next Phil Lord and Chris Miller collab was a slow, introspective drama?
Since nailing down genre work is about as easy as nailing jello to a wall, implementing this one might be a little tricky. Maybe the big studios could whip up some cross-company boilerplate in their director contracts, stipulating that the director won’t make 12 action movies in a row. Or maybe, before we get the lawyers involved, we simply hope the directors do the right thing of their own volition after we lay down the law. Because Hollywood is full of upstanding characters, right?
Either way: Let’s shake things up. Maybe it’ll work, maybe not. But if Hollywood is going to insist on going to the same directors for every project, let’s at least make them play some musical chairs while they do.
Here’s an idea: One A-list star per film. That’s it.
I know it’s fun to see how Celebrity X interacts with Celebrity Y in Situation Z, but at a certain point, all the biggest new releases have the same people in them. And with rare exceptions, the more overexposed an actor is, the harder it is to imagine them as anything other than “actor” each time they appear on screen. It’s not like Tom Cruise shows up in the latest Mission Impossible installment and you think, “Wow, he really embodies the role of Ethan Hunt.” He’s just Tom Cruise, doing his Tom Cruise thing like he always does. Familiarity breeds contempt, and while I don’t want to say the top tier of Hollywood talent should be barred from films entirely, there’s definitely some merit to thinning the herd from film to film.
How about this: If your movie costs more than, I’dunno, $20 million to make, you’re only allowed to hire one actor whom your great aunt would recognize. That’s it. If you want to hire more A-listers, you’ve gotta pay a sin tax of, god, let’s say ... 50% total filming cost? If we’re going to be bombarded with the same people over and over and over again, the studios are going to have to pay.
In the same vein: No more resurrecting dead actors with CGI.
Just stop it.
And another thing: Mel Gibson.
Studios, if unapologetic racist piece of shit Mel Gibson comes within 50 yards of your lot, you should be legally obligated to Tase him into unconsciousness, load him into one of those occasionally functional Space X rockets, and blast him into the space. No exceptions. The world has simply developed past a need for Mel Gibson in any capacity.
Bear with me here: Maybe audiences should have a say?
For as much as Hollywood can feel like a total deluge of content, blasting us in the collective face from a firehose of promotion and hype, the truth is that for however many big-budget blockbusters make it onscreen, countless others never have a chance. Enter The Hollywood Black List, an annual collection of the best scripts that weren’t optioned into actual films, as chosen by several hundred film executives. It’s admittedly something of a mixed bag — there’s a reason some of these ideas were never optioned — but the overall effect is the unmistakable sense that there’s a lot of good stuff out there, just waiting to be made into an actual film.
So here’s my thought: What if the studios incentivized the viewing public to vote for the movies they want to see, based on the most recent Black List, and give priority access for anyone who participates? I’m picturing an American Idol call-in system, where people look at what’s available to be made, cast a ballot for their favorite option, and the studios are contractually obligated to make that script happen. In exchange, those same studios give everyone who participated in voting premier access (early tickets? pre-release streaming codes?) in some capacity. Turning the greenlight process into a participatory one will hopefully not only bring a little populist diversity to what gets prioritized, but also give audiences a sense of ownership over what they watch.
Ultimately, the film industry in the United States — and really, around the whole world — is a sincerely expansive, creative enterprise which, year after year, manages to stun audiences with films of beauty, horror, and imagination beyond anything they’ve seen before. Unfortunately, all too often those films are lost in the chaotic onslaught of what the major studios have calculated deserve the widest release with the most money behind it.
My ideas wouldn’t change that fundamental reality. But I think, once I convince Bob Iger and his cronies to get onboard, they’ll go a long way toward adding just enough variety and unpredictability to make going to the movie theater feel like an adventure again.