Appearing at Comic-Con, Joss Whedon had a lot to say about successful filmmaking and the current climate of the movie industry. Whedon, best known for his TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for the two Avengers movies, pointed out that movie studios are stuck in a safe-zone where they prefer to mass-produce bankable products rather than experiment with anything new. He says they are overly dependent on sequels, reboots, rip-offs and adaptations. However, he didn’t limit the blame to the studios alone He suggested that film fans are partly to blame because fans usually turn out in larger numbers for familiar material, like popular franchises, rather than something outside the norm.
Whedon said, “It’s gotten to a state where movie studios are pretty relentless about trying to have an ‘In’ before they start production. That’s not the case for all films, but it is the case for a ton of them, especially the big-budget ones. Part of the problem is there’s a dialogue going on between audiences and studios that is devolving, because they keep finding a lower common denominator. This doesn’t mean the films are bad — it just means that the ways in which they’re approaching what they’re going to make have become kind of ossified. At the same time, audiences are more likely to turn out for something that they already know or like. The problem is that there isn’t really a willingness by a lot of people to go into something that they don’t already know.”
As Whedon points out, not all reboots and franchises are bad. Some are very entertaining, but what they all have in common is an unwillingness to be different. Studios think they know what fans want, churn it out on an assembly line and the fans dutifully rush to see it, inspiring the studios to make more of the same, which the fans will go see. It’s a vicious circle that keeps the industry lucrative but not imaginative.
For every out-of-the-box movie like Inception or Interstellar, we get a dozen super hero projects. In 2016 alone, we have no less than six super hero movie projects. (Deadpool, Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad and Doctor Strange) Since fans will line up for hours to buy tickets to these films, Hollywood will continue to inundate us with as many as they can produce, rather than risking a bankroll on something unique or unusual.
Considering how much films cost to make these days, you can’t really blame the studios for wanting to play it safe by putting out only what they think is a guaranteed property. And what about the fans? Should they be more discerning about what they see, or does the fact that 90% of what’s being put into theaters is ‘safe material’ mean that fans can’t be blamed for not searching high and low for alternatives? It’s a difficult problem, but as Whedon adds, “It’s something that needs to be addressed.”