What’s The Next Great Blockbuster Gonna Be?

What’s The Next Great Blockbuster Gonna Be?

So much for concepts, ideas and original voices… today’s “event movie” landscape is all about brands. Where does that leave the creativity that once upon a time ruled at the multiplexes?

“There are more movies nowadays, so the cultural decay of ideas is much, much faster.”

Those words stuck with me right after I heard them from a branding expert in Morgan Spurlock’s documentary ‘The greatest movie ever sold’. Sure, it’s nothing new. It’s a given: causing an impact nowadays is much harder than it used to. Back in 1977, works like ‘Star Wars’ were like an oasis in the desert. Under that analogy, today’s movie landscape would be like a desert filled with oases.

It’s a good thing, in principle. 2014 alone is already shaping up as quite the geek fest. Spidey, X-Men, Cap, Robocop, Godzilla (my personal favorite for the year)… And I won’t even get into 2015. That’s some insane amount of geekery that’s coming, y’all.

But still, the expert’s words haunt me… because of how sad they are. It’s sad to think that that unique cultural joy that people experienced back in 1977 is now endlessly more difficult to attain. The words “derivative”, “bland” and “forgettable” have become commonplace in reviews during every single summer movie season. Films come along, are featured in some EW cover, enjoy some presence in movie blogs for a period, then – if they’re lucky – cause a splash on opening weekend, but it’s not long before their cultural influence is reduced to unsold toys on retailer shelves.

It’s become something of a ritual to partake in the colossal hype machine behind whichever superhero movie comes out that year – and I’ll be the first to acknowledge how fun that can be. The groupal countdown for a trailer? The discussion of rumors? Debates on the portrayals of character X, Y or Z? That right there is a double whammy of pleasures if you’re into both movies and superheroes. But while roaming around the discussions behind ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’, I just can’t shake off the awareness that… this is the FIFTH Spider-Man movie, people. It’s the FOURTH Spider-Man sequel. The movie might be cool, it might hit all the right buttons and maybe we’ll walk out of it with a pleasant sense of joy this time. But at the end of the day, it’ll just be a variation of stuff we’ve already seen. No more, no less. Because at this point, it’s all it can ever be. And the same can be said about most other superhero films in the pipeline (if not all of them).

It would be easy to blame the problem on the “death of originality”. But I remember a cool story comics writer Ed Brubaker (Captain America) once told in Wizard Magazine. As a teen, while visiting a convention, he got asked by some DC editor what it was that he liked so much about Alan Moore. Brubaker said it was his originality. The editor replied that it wasn’t “originality” that made Watchmen such a powerful book – it was the way Moore had written it. Originality, he said, was overrated. Fair enough. I mean, ‘Star Wars’ was just a rehash of some of the old Flash Gordon tropes, wasn’t it?

The problem I see with superhero movies – the reigning genre in the current blockbuster seasons – is that, quite simply, they’re not all they can be. They just can’t afford to. There’s sequels at stake. Merchandising deals. Spin-offs. Team-ups. First example that comes to mind: how empty Tony Stark’s dramatic final decision in 'Iron Man 3' seems when you take into account that Iron Man's presence is a given for ‘Avengers 2’. Then, that little thing called “artistic freedom”? Absent. Could Spidey die in ‘TASM 2’? Could Superman hang up the cape? Could James Bond turn evil? No, no and no. Not even if creativity dictates it. It’s not that those are things I’d like to see; but the option itself isn’t there. There are things that you just know can't happen, and therefore won't. That, friends, is a problem. Lack of options and creativity just don’t go hand in hand.

Which is why ‘Avatar’ was so important, and something of a godsend, if you think about it. I love what ‘Avatar’, as an original creative endeavor, represents… even if the film itself was a little heartbreaking for me. I championed and pimped that movie like there was no tomorrow, and when I finally got around to watching it, all I could think was “Didn’t ‘Ferngully’ tell this story already?” And this coming from someone whose favorite movie of all time is Jim Cameron’s ‘Titanic’.

Ah, ‘Titanic’. This whole rant comes down to being able to use ‘Titanic’ as an example. I may live to be 100 years old, but I honestly doubt any movie will ever have such an impact on me like ‘Titanic’ did when I was 11. It’s merely my personal example, obviously, and I can see now that it’s far from perfect (Jack’s character – my idol at one time, fuck you, don’t mock me – is actually a tad boring, isn’t he? No wonder DiCaprio argued with Cameron about spicing the dude up with some flaws). But that’s a movie that does what ‘TASM’, ‘Thor’ or ‘Iron Man 2’ never had the chance to: be all it can be. There’s no saving shit for the sequel. There’s no pulling punches (i.e., purposefully subduing a story’s emotional power for the sake of enabling a continuation). And there’s no fucking ridiculous excuse that it’s just “a set up”. Left and right, you hear from silly fanboys how it’s cool that the Superman in ‘Man of Steel’ wasn’t the traditional life-saver, because MOS “is just a set-up” for the character. TASM didn’t have to follow through on its subplots, you see, because "it’s just a set-up”. And even ‘The Avengers’ – the holy grail of modern superhero movies, along with ‘The Dark Knight’ – couldn’t be bothered to develop Steve Rogers’ plight in adjusting to the modern world, because, in Joss Whedon’s words, that’s a task for Cap’s solo sequel. And I understand. I mean, it makes sense. But it’s the reason 99,9% of superhero movies – burdened how they are by shoddy screenwriting, as most are invariably bound to be – are doomed to lack the impact of a true, generation-bending blockbuster. This sequelized form of conceiving movies is the death of the Great Blockbuster.

You want a rare (and, I’m sure, much disagreed upon) example of how to do it right? ‘The Dark Knight’. Nolan refused to buy into the whole “larger universe” nonsense – for better or worse, depending on who you ask. For me, a non-synergized DC movieverse made for better Batman solo movies, and I will always admire him for that. But you’ll also notice that the best sequels almost always come from whence the idea of a sequel was uncertain. ‘The Godfather’. ‘Toy Story’. ‘Star Wars’. ‘Back to the future’.
Forget the term “sequel”… the best MOVIES spring from the intention of delivering a single punch. Another one after that is a nice option, but it should not be a necessity. Anyone remember a little hit in 1982 called ‘E.T.’? And let me ask you this: just how often over the last, say, 20 years has an original idea with a maximum of two creative minds behind it landed top spot in the year’s Highest Grossing list?

That brings me to 1996’s ‘Independence Day’.

I love ‘ID4’. I think it’s one of those movies that have managed to be vindicated by history, in spite of its original critical reception. When people mention it, it’s not in the same breath as 90s hackfests such as ‘Godzilla’ or ‘Speed 2’. Most seem to remember it with affection, because it was, oh joy, a FUN film. Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith chomping at cigars during their victory strut at the end? That’s GOLD, of the extra cheesy kind. Just talking about it makes me want to watch it again. Go see if half the CBMs of the last 10 years enjoy that rewatchability factor 10 years from now. And just the thought that it all came from two dudes’ original idea makes me want to sit down and write an original genre screenplay like right friggin’ now. Can you imagine something YOU created - and own - stirring so much imagination, so much emotion… so much money? And so much influence, too, on fellow artists and the medium?

It’s still common to see fans’ takes on comic book movies. Pitches, fan fiction scripts, “Here’s my idea for a Superduperman movie”-type editorials. Nothing wrong with that… but judging from how limited – that’s the key word here – the superhero movie genre has proven to be in the last couple of years, I sincerely hope those writers see it as worthwhile to spend time in their own stuff. Because the next Great Blockbuster - a truly generational one - won’t come from ‘The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Sinister Six’ or ‘Batman vs. Superman’… it’ll come from someone chasing that ‘E.T.’, ‘Back to the future’ and ‘Avatar’ spirit.

BONUS: Also… music videos don’t hurt. How cool was it to love movie X and then unexpectedly run into stuff like this on MTV? Ah, glorious 90s. Those guys knew how to have fun.


(BTW, I know I have a Superman avatar, which gives away my love for superheroes. This is not a diss on CBMs, no matter how it comes across.)
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Filed Under "Other" 1/10/2014 Source: ComicBookMovie.com
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Ignition - 1/10/2014, 9:02 PM
You make some good points that I suspect won't go over well here. As much as I look forward to what Marvel does next (and I suppose now the other studios), the universe-building seems to lessen the stakes/impact with every subsequent movie.

I'm curious, what else do you consider as "Great Blockbusters"? Gravity, Inception?
ArkAngel - 1/10/2014, 9:46 PM
I applaud you good sir for airing it all out. This was one of the best articles I have read on this site in a long time.
Pedrito - 1/10/2014, 9:56 PM
Not being able to kill off the main character because he's got a sequel or crossover coming is a compromise I'm willing to accept.
There are limitations in all movies that are made to turn in a large profit. The limitations that a shared universe brings are more than outweighed by the storytelling opportunities it brings. Lamenting a shared universe as an "embarrassment of the riches" is a bit of a luxury for a comic book fan.

Originality in the CBM genre is tough to find because superheroes are archetypes. They appeal to ideas we all share as humans in a subconscious level. Then indeed, presentation is what distinguishes the Dark Knights from the Green Lanterns.

And there's no need to be cynical about things like IM3's ending. Even if you know the future of the character beyond the current status quo, it's all about how it gets presented. Hopefully it's done in an original way.
Nemeres - 1/10/2014, 10:04 PM
Thanks a million, dudes. I'd call "great blockbusters" those movies that manage to stay on the public consciousness, whether flatteringly or not... and show it. Gravity and Inception for damn sure. Shrek. Braveheart. The 1st two Spidey movies. Most things Spielberg and Lucas throughout the 80s. The LOTR trilogy... movies that please by offering stuff the audience didn't even know they wanted. It's hard to put a finger on it, evidently.
Nemeres - 1/10/2014, 11:00 PM

About IM3, sure, I guess it comes down to what works for you and what you expect from these movies in the long run. But I'd say it's not ONLY about how it gets presented. You have to take into account what the audience knows and what it doesn't before presenting them with an illusion that may or may not be able to hold itself up. It's an inherent problem in Marvel's experiment, one that I fear could also exist in what DC and Sony are attempting to do with their larger universes -- that's my take on it. I'm sure many disagree.
VISIONaryNPa - 1/11/2014, 12:04 AM
It's obvious, isn't it?

Batman vs. Superman AND Avengers: Age of Ultron

Both are gonna make BIG $$$$
VISIONaryNPa - 1/11/2014, 12:08 AM
@Pedrito where'd you come from, sir. Very intellectual, we need some hard-hitting, fact riddled articles from you my friend. You know what the truth is. For real.

I applaud you my good sir

DEVLIN712 - 1/11/2014, 3:32 AM
Great article
Klone - 1/11/2014, 4:30 AM
Well written article. I still like build up in the films, but yes, not at the expense of emotion and character driven material, like Rogers' story arc in Avengers.
AlexanderLykins - 1/11/2014, 6:50 AM
To much thinking going on here. Just watch the movie and enjoy it. When did watching and enjoying movies become so damn hard? This is entertainment people!
AlexanderLykins - 1/11/2014, 6:57 AM
Regarding the creativity and ideas stuff I agree with this article. However, you can't judge Marvel on this because this is the first time around for them and they are doing a darn good job.
AlexanderLykins - 1/11/2014, 6:58 AM
Also what would the sequel to Titanic have been about? You couldn't do a sequel to that movie. It wouldn't make any sense!
AlexanderLykins - 1/11/2014, 7:03 AM
I will finish by saying that the laziness in Hollywood is at an all time high. Hollywood is all about money now.
AlexanderLykins - 1/11/2014, 7:10 AM
Oh and to answer the question the article asks, probably Guardians of the Galaxy.
Ignition - 1/11/2014, 8:13 AM
In that case, I think Godzilla, Tomorrowland, Interstellar and MAYBE Jurassic World are good candidates. Everything I've heard and seen about Godzilla shows Gareth Edwards' distinct vision for how to approach a familiar franchise. I think Jurassic can be the same for Universal, if they give Trevorrow the same kind of space Edwards was given. But it might not have much of a cultural impact if it gets lost in the shuffle of all of the other 2015 movies.
Lhornbk - 1/11/2014, 8:46 AM
Ummmm.....while he may have not known if he would have the chance to make it, George Lucas always had a sequel planned for Star Wars. That's why Darth Vader survived, and why he kept the rights himself instead of giving them to Fox. So no, he was not really intending to deliver a single punch. The same goes for Back to the Future. A sequel was always planned, assuming the first made enough money. And they filmed the sequels basically at the same time. (And the second movie was "meh" at best. It was clearly just a bridge to the third film, so to me that is a terrible example of what you were trying to say.) And if there is a plan in advance, sequels can be a great thing. I have always viewed the Star Wars movies as one big movie. The same goes for the LotR trilogy, which clearly had a plan since it was based on a trilogy of books. Part of my disappointment with the TDK trilogy is that to me, the 3rd movie just didn't quite match with the other 2. I don't think there was as good a plan for those as there should have been. And I think Nolan was short-sighted, and honestly somewhat selfish, for refusing to make it part of a larger universe. It was like he was too good to share his movies with others. Just think what it might have been like if it had been connected, and had ended with TDK. Instead of the halfway disappointing TDKR, we could have just had that version of Batman, retired for 8 years, coming out of retirement because of what happened in MoS. They could have put Anne Hathaway's Catwoman in the MoS sequel (to me, she was one of the best parts of TDKR) as well. (Don't get me wrong, I think Affleck will be fine as Batman. But this would have been a good way to go into a wider, connected universe.)

So, I don't really agree with you that much. I loved the old Bond movies (have not really liked Craig as Bond that much), and no, he should not turn evil. You criticize movies for saving stuff for sequels. I view all the movies in a series as one big movie, so to me as long as the emotional impact is there eventually, it doesn't matter if it's in a later movie.
AlexanderLykins - 1/11/2014, 9:28 AM
I concur!
Nemeres - 1/11/2014, 9:58 AM
@ Lhornbk

Whether those directors planned sequels or not, the first outings don’t show an imperative need for one. Both could have easily been stand alone movies, and both proved they packed the punch necessary to be unforgettable entirely by themselves, no sequels needed. The sequels were bonuses, not requirements to better understand or appreciate the 1st movies.

And maybe Nolan was being selfish, but that’s a good kind of selfish. He should only have his own story to worry about, as should any other director, or artist, for that matter. The emotional punch of the closure he achieved with TDKR worked wonderfully for me. Had it not been a TRUE ending, it would have been less powerful, as simple as that. I couldn’t possibly wish for that to happen.

Thanks for reading, guys.
EarOne - 1/11/2014, 3:11 PM
if it's the movie PROMISED to everyone and that it truly DELIVERS..Superman vs. Batman will win the day, OTHERWISE...Avengers: Age of Ultron is hands down the clear winner.

Godzilla..if it's REALLY a kick ass monster flick for EVERYONE (not just the geeks)..it's possible it'll beat Avengers and/or SvB.
Jobin - 1/11/2014, 5:51 PM
RIght here!
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HubisKhan - 1/11/2014, 6:09 PM
Great article!

However, there is an aspect that you didn't consider in your analysis. The general audience. We can claim that we want more "originality" in what we want to see on the big screen, but at the end of the day, the numbers don't lie. Its just not that Hollywood has gotten too "lazy", its just that more time than not, they are not rewarded enough by us, the general audience when they do try to do something different. Plus like you stated in your article

"Originality is nothing more than judicious plagiarism"
MercwithMouth - 1/11/2014, 7:51 PM
Wonderfully written article. Well thought out, and expertly written.

I do agree that there is a noted lack of originality in movies in the last few years. But I also believe that a lot of that can be blamed on the audience. Nowadays, movies that are truly original, they simply don't get the chance to achieve the greatness that they did 10-15 years ago.

Now, by original, it doesn't mean a story that's never been told before, or even a film outside of a franchise. Franchise movies can be original, whether it be story, characterization, visual style, etc.

Take, for example, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes...
Not by any means a standalone film, and written with every intention of having a sequel. But look at what they did with it. They took a franchise milked completely to death, and reinvigorated it by creative storytelling, and very good performances. The ability of Andy Serkis to make a CGI, motion capture role into a heart wrenching, tragic character, transcends the shortcomings of being stuck in a setup film, awaiting a sequel.

How about the Wolverine?

Here's a film that, to me, turns the entire superhero genre on it's head. They managed to take a beloved character, and write a wonderfully crafted, introspective look into the effects and consequences of immortality. The Wolverine didn't pander to the masses wanting a SFX filled, shallow, plot devoid superhero movie. Regardless of it being an adaptation(a very loose one), it managed to be creative, and in my opinion, unforgettable.

That's one thing I love about the CBM genre. The ability to take an existing idea, and make it completely your own. That's why I never argue for source accuracy. I want writers and directors to take my beloved characters, and make them original. Keep me guessing, don't write a panel for panel adaptation. Take inspirations, and the extrapolate them into a brand new story. These are the CBM's we should be praising.

The issue with my thoughts though, is fans. Fans are what stops any form of adaptation from being original. Take Iron Man 3, with the much-maligned twist. I for one, loved it, because it was completely unexpected. But so many people took it as a slap in the face, condemning a writer and director for challenging the status quo. These type of reactions can stifle the creativity in the CBM genre. We, as fans, need to be more open-minded towards changes to existing characters and stories, otherwise we can hamstring the ability of writers and directors to exercise their ability to craft and create art.
TheAbomination - 1/11/2014, 8:19 PM
"There are things that you just know can't happen, and therefore won't."

Preach it, brother. Nothing makes me more frustrated than knowing that a character in a movie isn't in any real danger or peril because they're gonna be in the sequel or next blockbuster film.
Ghostt - 1/11/2014, 8:54 PM
Agreed on your points about the need to go 'All in' on a movie. Most CBMS do not do this therefor they suffer. Kudos
MightyZeus - 1/12/2014, 4:22 AM
Great article. I agree and you make some great points.

Your article is well written and comes off as insightful.
vivamarooon - 1/12/2014, 5:55 AM
great article dude, it's a revelation
HulkOnion - 1/12/2014, 6:40 AM
great article
Pharaoh - 1/12/2014, 7:48 AM
Pacific Rim would be a prime example of a great blockbuster that was not intended to be a part of a greater universe or franchise but that may ultimately end up being one.

Dredd while not a huge blockbuster in terms of budget or profit was arguably worthy of the blockbuster title.

It really depends on what we define as blockbuster, would Expendables be considered one? Does "The Great and powerful OZ" class as a standalone blockbuster I'd argue yes. What about Inception?

The next one will probably be something like Nolans Interstellar. Guardians I'm certain they already have sequel plans.

Todays best blockbuster for me is probably "The Hobbit" and in large part because Peter Jackson has not only made a stunning set of movies but he has created new characters for it, awesome characters whose fate we ultimately do not know and though he has his tendency to draw things out a little he does arguable craft the best blockbusters in the last 2 consecutive years...

THEDARKKNIGHT1939 - 1/12/2014, 10:15 AM
Nothing can really be considered a classic in todays age
THEDARKKNIGHT1939 - 1/12/2014, 10:19 AM
And by today, I mean the 2010's. No film has come out that will go down in history like Star Wars or E.T.
Nemeres - 1/12/2014, 11:07 AM
@ Mercwithamouth

I agree 100% about the Mandarin thing. People complaining about having our expectations curved for once? About a little thing called a "surprise"? If Mandarin had been the villain everyone had been expecting, he would have hardly been any different from any Bond villain.
Nemeres - 1/12/2014, 11:09 AM

It's possible, but I still have my fingers crossed. I'll let the cyclical thing do its job.
Hemogoblin - 1/13/2014, 1:54 PM
A conversation worth having, theres an alternate titel for this article. Complements on a very fine piece of writing sir. Is it lack of creativity or the political hollywood landscape to falt here? Since movies cost so much to make no one wants to take a chance on an original production that may not succeed. So indapendant film production is the other way to break out a movie in opposition to the formatale hollywood system. But, budgets are much smaller, talent harder to seduce, and funding harder yet to acquire. So the bigger system of production has inadvertently roadblocked originality in the industry. Now aspiring screenwriters have to write with an indapendant genera movie nitch inmind. Subsequently again stifling originality and creativity and writing in a manner that will not salisit to fx production in an effort to keep to a small budget. So one would have to write... say the next.. little miss sunshine, to hopfully break out onto the indapendant seen and then now on the radar write the next starwars and sell it to the major studios. The catch 22 here is most little miss sunshine, writers dont have a starwars in them. So all this all though hypertheticle lends to the fierwall in existance that has surrounded and imprisoned creativity and originality in Hollywood today. But i have hope that there is some new comer out there smart enough to break threw and create change in the system. But as long as we keep buying what they are selling it will make that all the more harder for that person yet to come. Lol now i feel like morphious in serch of neo. Looking for that next person to become "the one." Lololol
Hemogoblin - 1/13/2014, 2:08 PM
In addition to my previous statment i would like to add for any aspiring screen writers out there that story's. Of american oppression seem to be the new break out genera as of late. Weather it be a period piece or not. What remains to be seen is this solely an opportunity for aspiering african american screen writers,directors like steve mcqueens twelve years a slave, or will the door be open to all writers of all perswaytions to create art in this nitch.
Hemogoblin - 1/13/2014, 2:36 PM
The Hollywood forgien press did not exactly shower down this emerging genera with golden globes but i feel the American Oscar's definitely will. Again political climate being what it is in america, there exist emence media pressur to recognize and bally huuu or cow toe to any african american creation. Example jamie foxes "ray" oscar winning preformance, all be it good, an impersonation or portrail of a living historical figure was historicaly considered cheep or a comedians preformance in the acting world. I can name Manny memorial performances as such that were indeed excellent yet not acknowledged by the academy. Example val kilmers take on jim morisan and manny others. But it took a black mans preformance to lower the hollywood standard of excellence in the best actor category. And it hapens over and over again in the modern era. Example the best actress and suporting actress gifts to those in the movie precious. The list goes on but i dont want to get off topic. Lets just say that if the oscars are swept by african american artist in this upcoming awards my therory then shall stand vindicated.
Hemogoblin - 1/13/2014, 2:47 PM
The hemo goblin only speeks the truth.
Hemogoblin - 1/13/2014, 5:06 PM
Modern classic...... the wolf of wall street. Took 13 yrs and big holywood playaz to get this film made even tho it was based off of real people. It took an economic collapse it equate this story to relevence and vilinizing excess to creat a sighn of the times cause and effect type movie. All this going for it and yet what an effort to sell it into production by people in the game. Good for them.... the preseaved risk brought forth reward. Is it a game changer, i dont know but it showes us what an effort it takez to bring a fresh take of story telling on an existing formula to a type movie. So i would consider our comic book movies to have there gambles in place. Ant man. Unproven character yet in production. Fantastic four a previous flop, now inproduction with a new biracial face to it. A desperate effort to........ lets see how this works, gamble. So there you have it.... as good as it gets for gamblin on originality, unproven works, or creativeity in the comicbookmovieverce. Consider our selves lucky. Lol
TheWallcrawler - 1/13/2014, 9:33 PM
Jim Carrey also in the Man on the Moon was an excellant mimic of Andy Kaufman that was snubbed at Oscar. The Golden Globes have become a better assessment of artistic achievement than the Oscars today. The Oscars have always had an agenda and rarely reward the most deserving candidate in any of the big 5 categories. Too much political moving and shaking behind the scenes and too many lifetime achievement Oscars given out to performances that are not Oscar worthy.
Back to the topic. Excellant article. Hollywood is turning out so much money right now they are printing their own currency. You will not see originality until they see a dip in their returns. Nolan has best chance because after successfully re booting a franchise in Batman, many felt unsalvageable, he has the keys to make what he wants. If The Spider man trilogy turns out to be successful, hopefully Webb gets to do the same, 500 days of summer showed flair and creativity.
Hemogoblin - 1/14/2014, 6:27 AM
Yes wallcrawler, mimic......... exactly what those "acting" jobs were considered untill fox lowerex the bar in essence dumbing down the art form. Shame, too the acadamy falling to outside social presures to just give these awards out to subpar performances instead of waiting for the next great preformance. Didnt the eedie ameen impersonation get an oscar too. Shame too cause ghost dog is a prity good actor too.
Nemeres - 1/16/2014, 11:59 AM

Thank you very much, sir. You bring up some interesting points.

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