Audiences are afraid to take risks

Andrew Little | The Chronicle

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “Hollywood has run out of creative ideas,” while watching television and seeing an advertisement for the latest blockbuster. The trend of sequels, reboots, and adaptations of existing Intellectual Property (IP) has dominated the film industry for the majority of my lifetime. 

The phenomenon seems to reach its peak every October with the latest horror releases. In the past five years there have been two “Scream” films, two “Saw” films, four films in “The Conjuring” universes, an entire new trilogy in the “Halloween” franchise, and a 52-years late sequel to “The Exorcist.” With every release comes eye rolls and “why can’t they come up with something original” comments from my dad. Many of the films are critically panned, but every year another set of unnecessary sequels rolls around. 

Why do studios continue cranking out these sequels? Because audiences will continue to buy tickets for them. There is a consistent audience for familiar franchises like these, and the movies are cheap and very profitable for studios. The problem does not lie in the existence of these properties, but the lack of support for the original stories that people clamor for, yet rarely go out and see.

Similar sentiments are echoed in the music industry. Audiences gravitate towards the same few artists and blindly support whatever they release, then complain about the lack of originality and quality. There is no better example than Drake’s last three solo studio albums. His most recent release, “For All The Dogs,” was one of the most anticipated albums of the decade. The album’s marketing campaign promised a return to the “old Drake” style of his early 2010’s classic projects like “Take Care,” “Nothing Was The Same,” and “Views.” The album has polarized fans, with many criticizing it as uninspired and disappointing. Still, “For All The Dogs” sold 409,000 album equivalents in its first week sales, the second biggest debut of 2023.

Disney’s 20th Century Studios released “The Creator,” an $80 million Science Fiction epic based on an original story from director Gareth Edwards (“Rogue One,” “Godzilla”). Edwards spent seven years crafting the passion project to his distinct vision. The film was generally well received by critics, with wide acclaim for its visuals and special effects. In its first three weeks, the movie made $79 million globally, not enough to recoup its production budget. After adjusting for marketing costs and theater shares, the film is a financial flop for the studio. I saw the film during its opening weekend in a largely empty theater. It’s an ambitious film that won’t work for everyone, but I really enjoyed it and it is worthy of being seen on the big screen. General audiences did not even give the film a chance, and are sending studios the message that mid-budget original blockbusters are not worth producing.

Original films like “The Creator” from major studios are becoming more and more rare nowadays. Instead, studios are focusing their financial resources towards IP projects. Disney films have struggled at the box office, with sequels and reboots like “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “Haunted Mansion,” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantamania” all underperforming at the box office despite their large budgets. These results signal that the trend of reboots, legacy sequels and superhero films is wearing down on audiences, and the films are no longer guaranteed success. If “The Creator” had been a massive success for Disney, it would have further emphasized that there is an audience for original tentpole movies. Instead, creatives are having to turn to television and streaming platforms like Netflix, or smaller studios like A24 to tell their original stories with much smaller budgets and more niche audiences.

Consumers are getting what they asked for, and yet still are unhappy. The public speaks through its wallet, and studios follow the dollar signs. Why would a studio take a risk on an expensive, original project over a safe, easy to produce sequel with a built in audience? Why should artists like Drake make changes when every album has record-breaking sales regardless of its reception? Our risk-averse consuming habits have created an environment where creatives are rewarded for taking the easy route, and innovative ideas are being pushed out of the mainstream.