Movie studies continue to produce within familiar canons, avoid risk

It has been said that if you love something you should let it go. But a more Hollywood course of action might be taking something you love and then reimagining it in as many different ways as you can until it is so twisted that the original good things about it are completely lost. Then, you only let it go once you have maximized your profits.

Recently the resurrections of many mainstream and cult classics have been announced. Fox has recruited Laverne Cox to star as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in a remake of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” CBS will be streaming a new “Star Trek” series online starting in early 2017. And, of course, who could forget about J.J. Abrams, who directed two out of the three new “Star Trek” films and the newest installment of the “Star Wars” franchise.

There is a reason there are so many franchises in the entertainment industry. Reboots, remakes and adaptations are, for the moment, economically sound films for studios and networks to make. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, total box office sales declined 5 percent from 2013 to 2014. And, the average number of tickets purchased declined by 6 percent in the same period of time. In the face of shrinking audiences, production companies have begun to rely heavily on pre-existing fan bases to fill seats. The franchise movies become “tentpoles” that support the other smaller projects of the production companies. Although it is expensive to produce and market these films (think in the neighborhood of $35 million per film), these movies are almost guaranteed to generate massive revenue.

At the Independent Film and Television Conference film producer Cassian Elwes spoke on the topic of producing economically safe movies.

“Studios don’t want to make a movie for $10 million and see it fail. Rather, they’re looking to make films that generate $100 million to $200 million profit,” Elwes said.

There is nothing technically wrong with the content of each individual film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is stacked with notable actors and actresses, and Star Wars, Episode VII is looking to be the same. But, the homogeneity of these films is a serious issue.

Film critic Matt Zoller Seitz of captured this sentiment best on his blog.

“Despite their fleeting moments of specialness,” he wrote, “‘The Avengers,’ the ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Thor’ and ‘Captain America’ films, the new ‘Spider-Man’ series and ‘Man of Steel’ treat viewers not just to variations of the same situations (which is fine and dandy; every zombie film has zombies, and ninety percent of all westerns end in gunfights) but to variations of the same situations that feel as though they were designed, choreographed, shot, edited and composited by the same second units and special effects houses, using the same software, under the same conditions.”

The franchises are essential to the survival of the production company, and therefore to the survival of some original quality films. But at what point will the films of substance cease to exist in favor of movies like “Iron Man 6?”

It would be impossible to eliminate sequels, franchises and remakes entirely from the film industry, but, for the sake of film as an art form, we should give it a try. We are lucky enough to live in a golden age of cinema. If you want proof of this just look at the list of nominees for Best Picture from the last few years. Films like “Birdman” and “12 Years a Slave” will not be possible in a world where there is only room in the budget for things with name recognition.