Five Film Trends in the Last Five Years

While the past decade has boasted higher ticket prices at the theaters, the art of film, or plainly stated, the box office records, have show some major trends in movies over the past five years. While this list can easily exceed five trends, these are ones I have noticed and researched.

5) Dystopian book-to-film adaptations on the rise

Recently, I published a post on a comparison of The Hunger Games (2012) and Divergent (2014) films. Those two movies are part of only two of the major book-turned-film franchises to hit the box office over the past five years. Most film fans are no stranger to the dystopian film genre. The Matrix (1999) series started in the late ’90s. Tom Cruise’s film The Minority Report (2002) was based on Philip K. Dick’s short story. Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), and Twelve Monkeys (1995) are only three offerings of the genre we were offered in the 1980s and ’90s. But in the past five years (2010-2014), I have noticed many dystopian books get a movie deal.

Never-Let-Me-Go-30929_5

The first one in the past five years I thought of was Never Let Me Go (2010), a British sci-fi drama that focused on the lives of three clones who exist for the purpose of donating their organs to others. Another popular, although unsuccessful film, is Atlas Shrugged Part 1 (2010), a dystopian film based on the controversial novel by Ayn Rand. One book that, while may not be considered dystopian in nature, nevertheless has its film adaptation fit well enough into the dystopian genre is World War Z (2013), starring Brad Pitt. Two other noteworthy films to include in this category are Dredd (2012) and Oblivion (2013), each based off graphic novels, the latter inspired by Joseph Kosinski’s unpublished manuscript of the same name.

Of course, the most well-known dystopian book-to-film adaptations include the box-smashing The Hunger Games series, with the final two movies getting released this year and 2015; Divergent, the movie based on the popular YA series written by Veronica Roth; The Giver, an unsuccessful film adaptation that didn’t sit well with critics, yet was inspired by a prominent book written in the early ’90s (you can see my review of the movie here); and The Maze Runner, the the first of three popular James Dashner novels that will be released next month in theaters.

4) Female protagonist films lead the box office

In the 1950s and ’60s, there were women-centered films and female protagonists. They were marketed in a much more sexist way then, but the times have changed, and more films have starred women. But in the last five years, films with female-protagonists have led the box office. According to Time‘s article “5 Things We’ve Learned in 5 Years of Box Office Reports,” published just this past April, the year 2012 included three movies in the top eight that starred women: The Hunger Games, starring Jennifer Lawrence; Breaking Dawn Part 2, starring Kristen Stewart; and Brave, starring the talented voice work of Kelly Macdonald. The same article notes that last year, three of the top six films had female protagonists (Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Indina Menzel in Frozen).

Perhaps the most notable fact that supports the idea that female protagonist films are leading the box office is that 2013’s highest-grossing film was the Jennifer Lawrence-starring film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the first movie since 1965’s The Sound of Music (starring Julie Andrews) to fill that top spot.

Of course, The Hunger Games franchise are not the only female-starring movies to make a splash at the box office over the past five years. Salt (2010), Hanna (2011), and Haywire (2012) were all female-led movies that obtained positive scores with both critics and viewers alike, with Angelina Jolie’s action film leading the box office with over $100 million.

3) Comic book movies no longer niche genre

When Sam Raimi’s first Spiderman (2002), I thought it was a special case. Personally, I loved that movie. My family regularly rented it from Blockbuster. It was the first superhero movie I had seen that wasn’t about Batman or Superman. The first Batman movie was released in theaters in 1966. I was amazed how odd it was that in 2002, it wasn’t considered a usual thing for a movie to be based on a comic book character, unless it was Superman or Batman. Blade 2 (2002), Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003),  Hellboy (2004), and Catwoman (2004) were all released in the next three years following Raimi’s first Spiderman, just a few of the comic-based movies to get released in the early 2000s. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the first X-Men film, directed by Bryan Singer, was released in theaters in 2000.

In the early 2000s, there’s a sense that many film critics didn’t take the comic book based film as seriously as other film genres, such as dramas, biopics, and comedies. But times have changed, and there has been a new acceptance of comic-based films as Marvel has mapped out its future in movies for at least the next six years. (This is a fun article worth checking out, Marvel fans.) DC seems to take note of Marvel, now working on its own agenda for a Batman vs. Superman movie along with a Justice League film franchise in the works.

While it isn’t perfect, I found a list that compiles every superhero movie released, both on TV and in theaters, including both animated and live-action films. A quick view of the list would prove that comic book movies are no longer niche, but far more commonplace as they have found a place at the movies, considerably expanding its audience. I would personally credit Christopher Nolans’s The Dark Knight trilogy for giving audiences and critics a darker, more serious adaptation of comic based films, proving that just because the movie is based off a comic book character, doesn’t mean it can’t be a stylistic, entertaining, and bold film worthy of praise.

2) Sequels and remakes lead the way

Perhaps this trend has existed more than just in the past five years, but I imagine most anyone can agree that few original screenplays make it to the big screen today, and if they do, they usually do not sell the most tickets or perform as successfully. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, such as 2010’s Inception, the original screenplay penned by Christopher Nolan, but let’s get back to the point.

Fan art that just makes you laugh 🙂

Here is a non-exclusive, incomplete list over the past five years of major sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots that premiered each year:

2010: Clash of the Titans (sequel), Why Did I Get Married Too? (sequel), A Nightmare on Elm Street (remake), Iron Man 2 (sequel), Shrek Forever After (sequel), Sex and the City 2 (sequel), The A-Team (remake), The Karate Kid (remake), Toy Story 3 (sequel), The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (sequel), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (sequel), True Grit (remake)

2011: Scream 4 (sequel), Paranormal Activity 3 (sequel), Fright Night (remake), The Hangover Part 2 (sequel), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (reboot), Kung Fu Panda 2 (sequel), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (sequel), Fast Five (sequel), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (sequel), Cars 2 (sequel), Happy Feet 2 (sequel), Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (sequel)

2012: The Dark Knight Rises (reboot, sequel), The Amazing Spider-Man (reboot), The Expendables 2 (sequel), The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (sequel), Men in Black 3 (sequel), Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (sequel), Prometheus (prequel), Wrath of the Titans (sequel), Total Recall (remake), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (sequel), The Bourne Legacy (sequel)

2013: Iron Man 3 (sequel), Carrie (remake), Despicable Me 2 (sequel), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (sequel), The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (sequel), Kick-Ass 2 (sequel), Man of Steel (reboot), Monsters University (sequel), Red 2 (sequel), Evil Dead (remake), Scary Movie 5 (sequel), The Great Gatsby (remake), Star Trek Into Darkness (reboot, sequel), The Hangover 3 (sequel)

2014: Annie (remake), 300: Rise of an Empire (sequel), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (sequel), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (reboot, sequel), Godzilla (remake), X-Men: Days of Future Past (prequel, sequel), How to Train Your Dragon 2 (sequel), Transformers: Age of Extinction (sequel), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (reboot, sequel), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (sequel)

What’s even funnier about it is that if you google “remakes and sequels for the year [fill in year],” every year for the past five years contains articles similarly titled to “[insert year]” is the year of remakes and sequels!

1) A billion dollars isn’t a billion dollars anymore

A quick check at recent box office records, or the same Time‘s article I’ve been citing throughout this post shows that the billion dollar list, James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) becoming its first entry, has now grown to a whopping 19 movies, including both last year’s Iron Man 3 and Frozen.

List of Highest Grossing Films

Image taken from Wikipedia’s page “List of Highest Grossing Films.” Green indicates the film is still playing in theaters around the world.

Looking at that list, you’ll notice that only three of those movies were released in the 1990s. Twelve of those films entered the list during the 2010s. But what’s most interesting about the list is that it isn’t adjusted for inflation, which changes everything, especially the list of highest-grossing films:

Highest Grossing Films Adjusted for Inflation

Image taken from Wikipedia’s page “List of Highest Grossing Films.”

Now it’s your turn, folks. What trends have you noticed in film in the past five years? Which trends do you find to be most dominant? Have some trends lasted longer than others? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts! 

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The Comic Book Movie Debate: the Serious, and the Not So Serious

I credit Christopher Nolan for sparking the ever-growing debate circling comic book films: colorful, or dark? campy, or serious? true to form, or realistically-based?

It must have been the release of Batman Begins in 2005, when the world was introduced to a comic book character–Bruce Wayne/Batman–and it wasn’t a pretty look. It was dark. It was a crime film. It was a serious take on a fictional character that had previously been rooted in a show that used “Bam!” and “Pow!” as the sound effects for Batman’s left and right swings.

Few, if any, could not at least admire the beauty and purposefulness of Nolan’s Batman films. Nolan is a student of Kubrick, using intent and style to craft his films. But let’s get down to the debate.

When Avengers was released this past May, it was a smash. Creative and geeky writer-director Joss Whedon was finally put forward to make something mainstream. The Avengers was a huge success at the box office. But the debate isn’t about whether Avengers was financially and critically successful or not. The question is, which comic book films are better–the Nolan approach (as I like to think of it) which uses a more realistic take, bringing a critical eye to a story that is written with far more intent than desire to entertain; or the truer-to-form, source-material based comic book films that honor the comics more so in their character traits and settings, such as Thor and Captain America?

I know people on both sides of the debate. But maybe it’s people’s perspectives, rather than opinions, that ought to be altered today. On one end, as a person who appreciates a good film, you lower the importance of “source material” (which happens to be comic books in this case) because you prioritize the art of the film. It ought to be stylized. It should have all the marks of a good film, from following a good storyline, to reaching beyond mere entertainment. It should influence and inspire while bringing more to the table than just explosions and snarky one-liners. This kind of movie should treat the audience like more than just a bunch of superhero-wannabees; it should reach out to an intelligent audience, one that is capable of drawing its own conclusions. More critics respond to this more “realistic” approach.

From the other side, you have the readers, the comic book geeks, the writers, the superhero nerds (have I stereotyped people in this post enough yet?) who expect these films to live up to the comics they love. The actors should reflect the characters they’re playing. The mood shouldn’t be so stiff and serious as to detract from the true tone of the comic. They should include that lightness and fluff, because that’s how the comics were written! Yes, a good villain is necessary, and plot points should closely reflect that of the comics. The film should reach out to a more universal audience, because that’s what the stories of most comic books are all about–everyone either needs a hero or wants to be a hero at some point, right? It should entertain, because after all, you’re attending a comic book film, not a war film or something “based off a true story.” Comic books serve as a form of escape; shouldn’t you be allowed to turn your mind off for a couple hours, sit back, and relax?

In every attempt to not sound politically correct, I personally try to go by a single rule: the film ought to fit the format. Unfortunately, that rule can be applied multiple ways to comic book films, as we have seen various takes, from the more family-friendly popcorn flick, The Avengers, to Nolan’s darker shades, The Dark Knight Trilogy.

When it comes down to it, I can’t call one style or one method, better or worse than another. They’re all different visions for these fictional characters. While some comic book films exceed and others fall flat, while some are entertaining as hell and others force me to sit and think, I have enjoyed and appreciated films that fly on both sides of the fence.

Perhaps it has been the explosion of superhero films taking over summer theater seasons these past 2-3 years (X-MenGreen LanternGreen HornetThorCaptain America, Iron ManBatman to name a few) that have caused people to question whether comic book movies ought to take a more serious approach, or be what the comic books always intended the characters and stories to be.

Or, one has to ask, did the comic books ever propose a specific tone to be applied? I mean, after all, serious events do take place in comics. Serious crimes committed, serious truths implied, serious moral questions asked. Is it all within the way a person (read: reader or viewer, not director or writer)  approaches said comic book or film? Do we need to go back to the original comic book writers and ask them what their intent was when writing? Most likely there were multiple purposes: both to entertain, and to influence.

Both light-hearted and more serious comic book films do both of those actions, do they not? The Avengers offered food for thought–what about working together as a team? how much do people need to be stripped down before they can rally together? should your special abilities allow you to have a big ego? what about self-sacrifice, giving of yourself?

And doesn’t The Dark Knight Rises offer up a bit of entertainment as well? “Oh, so that‘s how that feels.” Catwoman screaming. “And yes, Mr. Wayne, it comes in black.”

At the end of the day, a good film is a good film. But isn’t determining what a “good film” is mostly subjective? Maybe I should just stop asking questions, grab a bowl of popcorn, and watch a movie that isn’t about a superhero. 🙂

It’s your turn now. What say you? Should comic book films be serious, or not so serious? Does it even matter? What makes a comic book film good, and what makes it not so good?