The current state of Hollywood could not be more clear this month, with two bright, shining examples of why certain films get made and others get bypassed. JOHN CARTER, a film based on a short story so old and obscure that it’s just about the closest Hollywood comes to “original idea,” opened with disappointing numbers despite a shimmering cast/crew (Andrew Stanton! Michael Chabon! Bryan Cranston! Willem Dafoe!) and the marketing reach of the Walt Disney Company. Meanwhile, THE HUNGER GAMES, based on the mega-best-selling young adult novels proclaimed as the new TWILIGHT or HARRY POTTER, is already selling out screenings nationwide despite a cast of young no-names.
These results are essentially foregone conclusions. CARTER had been tracking poorly for weeks, with journalists and industry veterans writing it off as a legendary flop before it even had its first public screening. THE HUNGER GAMES, on the other hand, was destined for glory, as it has been in the hearts and minds of the all important teen and 18-25 demographics for months now.
What has emerged from the stories of these two films is not simply a battle for box office but a war for the future of Hollywood filmmaking. When people involved with JOHN CARTER took to Twitter to beg people to go see their film, they weren’t asking simply to improve their profit margins or avoid embarrassment. They truly felt that CARTER’s success at the box office could prove to the industry at large that an original (or quasi-original) idea could sell tickets, which would open doors for more original ideas. Instead, CARTER proved to be the disappointment that everyone expected, which communicated to studio execs that working off of already popular brands and franchises is still the way to go.
Does this mean we will see fewer and fewer original films? I’m not that pessimistic. There will always be a place for thoughtful, new ideas. But they will become harder and harder to make, and studios like Walt Disney will be less likely to throw $250 million at them when they can make TWILIGHTs and HUNGER GAMEs for much less.
Which isn’t such a bad thing. Looking back on the history of filmmaking, there have always been ebbs and flows. From the New American Cinema of the 70s to the indie craze of the late 80s/early 90s, filmmakers like Coppola, Scorsese, Cassavetes, Soderbergh, Tarantino, etc. have always found ways to bring original ideas back into the public eye in a big way. So, let’s not be discouraged by JOHN CARTER but instead look forward to what the next wave of new ideas will bring us. In the meantime, let’s also admit that not all unoriginal ideas result in bad movies. See you on Friday for 21 JUMP STREET?