With the bevy of big-budget blockbusters marked on the calendar for the next few years, one would think that the film industry is only headed for new financial heights. However, according to one media research analyst, Hollywood’s embarrassment of blockbuster riches could ultimately become harmful to the long term stability of the industry.
According to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, Doug Creutz, a media analyst for The Cowen Group, presents evidence that Hollywood’s current state, dominated by giant franchise tentpole movies, has detrimentally altered the playing field for the kind of smaller, mid-budget films that previously stood a chance at finding audiences. Creutz points out that superhero films, in particular, which will double by 2016, have created a zero sum vacuum that has sucked the life out of other films. According to Creutz,
History suggests — and we have ample evidence of this in the animation genre — that as the number of films in a given genre increases, the average per-film performance decreases, and that even the top-tier films in a genre are not immune to the phenomenon.
The most startling statistic Creutz presents reveals that of the aggregate number of films released in 2014, 56% of them were wide releases, which is qualified by films playing in more than 2,500 theaters. Seeing as the vast majority of business done by theaters is now geared towards accommodating the increasing technological demands of wide-release blockbusters by the installation of ultra-wide screens for IMAX and 3D, it leave smaller releases with extremely limited options for exhibition. Couple this with the dying concept of the "Art House" movie theater, and these stats show a problematic scenario for anything not related to superheroes, wizards, and sexy monsters.
The trend seems to indicate that not only are the blockbusters dominating the film industry from a financial standpoint, but the studios have essentially reshaped their entire infrastructure to accommodate them and ONLY them. As Creutz states of this paradoxical strategy,
The prevailing narrative at the studios continues to be one of box-office fluctuations being driven primarily by release slate appeal. Last summer was by some measures the worst summer the industry has had since the original Star Wars came out in 1977, despite the fact that the summer saw launches in the Spider-Man, X-Men, Planet of the Apes, How to Train Your Dragon and Transformers franchises, several of which were very well-reviewed.
If we are to believe Creutz’s analysis, then it appears that Hollywood executives are stubbornly attempting to quench the thirst of plateauing and declining ticket sales with the sea water of big-budget blockbusters as well as wanton franchise sequels/prequels/spinoffs/reboots. (Although, business has never been better at the concession stands.) It’s a dire analysis, but it nevertheless seems reflective of consumer demand, and studios may not want to put their necks out to be the one to fail with a more diversified release strategy.
However, we’ve seen the proliferation of digital technology transform the filmmaking process into a far more affordable, egalitarian field. It may simply be the case that smaller films are destined to abandon the old idea of theatrical business and carve out their own identities through the streaming medium. It’s a scenario that could end up being fortuitously beneficial for a lot of independent filmmakers in the long run.