A trip to the cinema can feel like Groundhog Day; The Lion King, The Lego Movie 2, John Wick 3, Dumbo. And, the list of remakes or sequels hitting the big screen this year is set to continue with Frozen 2 and Charlie’s Angels among those in the making. Matrix 4 was even announced recently. This has led to the accusation that originality is dead, but is it really?
The first thing to note is that this is nothing new. The first Hollywood sequel, The Fall of a Nation, was released in 1916. The first movie remake was even earlier. Originally released in 1903, The Great Train Robbery was such a success a near identical version was shot and released the following year. Although, much like modern remakes, the violence and production were pumped up the second time round to help overcome audience’s familiarity (1).
However, whilst nothing new, the proportion of movie releases that are remakes or sequels is on the rise. One Reddit user created a chart that splits the top grossing Hollywood films for each year from 1980 to now into three categories; original work, existing fictional work, and films based on non-fictional characters or events. It comprehensively shows a general decline in original movies (2). In 1984, original movies made up 75% of the top 25 films that year. In 2018 it was less than 5%. The decrease in original movies is reinforced in the fact that originals have struggled to account for anymore than 25% since 2010. Pretty resounding then.
So, who’s driving this; movie-makers or movie-goers? The answer is somewhere in the middle. For makers, it appears money truly rules over creativity with sequels offering much needed security. As production budgets have increased, they’ve looked to minimise the risk of a flop and what better way than to utilise existing fandom of a particular franchise or movie (3). And, with huge fanbases baying for more, film-goers are actively encouraging filmmakers to make the most of it.
Nostalgia furthers viewer demand for unoriginal content on the big screen too. Watching a new version of a classic is good for the soul (probably) and audiences can’t get enough. Recent CGI remakes of a number of Disney classics have simultaneously satisfied those of us that grew up watching them and brought the storylines to a whole new generation. Win – win for all involved. Further to this, changing attitudes toward equality among film fans has made modernising old favourites a real opportunity for film-makers. Even, behemoth TV series Friends has come under fire (4) despite still being one of the most streamed series on Netflix this year (5).
Whether the decline in originality matters or not is up for debate, but it does appear that not only is originality struggling to cut through in today’s cinema, it’s also not going to change anytime soon. Fast and Furious 28 anyone?