We’ve come to the end of 2009, so we thought we’d weigh in with a look back at the first 10 years of the 21st century in the movie world and discuss the various different “events” which shaped the decade. Obviously we can’t cover absolutely everything, but sticking true to our core movie genres on the site, we’re just going to concentrate on the comic-book, sci-fi, action (and so forth) types of movies and take a look at what films had the maximum impact over this decade.
It’s amazing to think that it’s been 10 years since movies like The Matrix, American Beauty and Fight Club (to name but a few) came out in 1999 (check out our 1999 decade highlight, if you haven’t already). A LOT of movies – somewhere in the vicinity of 5,000-6,000 – have been released since then. We’ve had the good, the bad and ugly in that time (much like every other decade, to be fair) – some we’ll look back on as classics in decades to come, and others we’ll probably look back on and wish we could forget about them (most video game adaptations, I’m looking at you).
Behind the scenes we fervently debated which areas we should discuss in this article, and eventually we came up with 10 big ones that will hopefully bring out strong thoughts and opinions from you, our loyal readers.
So without any further ado, here are the 10 events (trends, franchises – call it what you will) that we believe have shaped the decade for the types of movies we all like to revel in around here:
10. The Rise of “The Apatow Comedy”
Judd Apatow is a producer who’s actually been working since the 90s (did you know he produced the Jim Carrey dark comedy, The Cable Guy, for instance?) but it was in 2005 that we started to see the emergence of “the Apatow comedy,” thanks in large part to The 40 Year Old Virgin. It was a truly hilarious film (I can’t remember ever laughing that much in a theater) but also one with a lot of heart and relatability. Sure, you had your crude sex jokes, but you also had a sweet story at the center, brought to life particularly well by stars Steve Carell and Catherine Keener.
The 40 Year Old Virgin was a smash hit, and it led to a slew of comedies from the Apatow camp, even if (as some people often forget) Apatow himself didn’t direct most of them. Superbad, Knocked Up, Funny People, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story – all big hits with audiences. I don’t personally find all of his movies as hilarious as most people do, but there’s no denying the impact his style has had on the comedy genre. For instance, you’ll often hear people say, “It wasn’t as funny as [insert Apatow comedy here].” And I don’t see any sign of the Apatow comedy train slowing down anytime soon.
9. “Torture-Porn” Horror Takes Over
In 2004 a fresh horror movie appeared on the scene called: Saw. It was a small, very low budget film that would shape the horror genre from thereafter. It effectively started a genre that we now know as “Torture-Porn.” That is horror films that consist of people being tortured, and we, the audience, get to see it in all its bloody, gory, detail. It’s just ironic that the original Saw has very little actual on-screen gore in it, and is actually a very smart, well-made film for what it is (it’s one I still revisit from time to time).
Unfortunately, it was the torture element that was latched onto by other filmmakers, and all of a sudden we were plagued with torture films; from Eli Roth’s Hostel and Hostel: Part II to the Elisha Cuthbert film Captivity (which was changed half-way through, with entirely new scenes shot in order to heighten the gore factor, out of fear it wouldn’t sell well to audiences otherwise – a weak box office of under $2 million opening weekend showed how bad that idea was). Saw has spawned a franchise consisting of 5 sequels already (with more coming – in 3D no less!) and is really the only torture property (with a heart of gold?) that still makes decent money. How much longer can this trend that we’ve seen grow wildly go on? Will it still be as prolific – if around at all – in a decade’s time?
8. The Plague of Remakes
I’ve already written a lot about my problems with remakes here on the site, including in an article dedicated to explaining how it might have gotten to the point of “remake overload.” It seems you can’t go a day without news of some sort of remake of a classic movie (there are too many to list here – just type “remake” into our search bar at the right and watch how many films come up…). It’s something we movie fans have had to deal with for a long time, but particularly over the last 10 years it’s plagued us all. I don’t think I need to say anymore about it at this point except that I know I’m not alone in having a big problem with them in general (as always, there are exceptions).
Much like horror reboots, these remakes (particularly of horror films) will most likely lead younger audiences to taking them as canon. Most will know of Halloween from Rob Zombie’s horrible version and not the classic John Carpenter original. See what I’m getting at?
7. Pixar Takes Over As THE Animation Studio
It used to be that whenever the words “animated movie” were uttered, people would think of Disney. Specifically the 2D cartoons like The Lion King, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and The Jungle Book. And generally speaking, these were looked at as movies for the kids. Even if adults could still watch them without complaints (and don’t get me wrong, they’re great movies, aimed at kids or not), they weren’t really looked at as legitimate movies for every age.
All that changed in the early ’90s when a little studio called Pixar came along, and blew everyone (kids AND adults) away with their Toy Story (the first animated movie done completely with computers, FYI), which is still my personal favorite from the studio to this day. Up until the ’00s Pixar was looked at as “the Toy Story studio,” even though they’d made A Bug’s Life in between the Toy Story movies.
Then in 2001, things started to really get going for Pixar, starting in 2001 with Monster’s Inc. Then we had Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E and finally their latest, Up, was released earlier this year. Only 10 films on their theatrical release resume in 15 years and yet they’re looked at as THE animation studio by audiences, and their films are beloved by kids and adults alike. Disney made a smart move in 2006 by purchasing Pixar, so I guess now when you think of Pixar, you’re ultimately thinking of Disney. But still, the Pixar brand is one of the most successful in the world of movies – all they have to do for their latest movie is name the movies they’ve produced before in the trailer and they’ve instantly banked themselves some serious big bucks.
Pixar doesn’t just make fun kids movies, they make great movies period. Fun characters, well written dialogue, touching stories, stunning animation and craftsmanship that’s hard to beat (I could go on and on). I’ve no doubt they will shape the world of animation just as much in the upcoming decade as they did in the last.
6. The Matrix Sequels Disappoint
It may seem strange that this one franchise gets its own header, but let me explain why we have it in here highlighted as such: Remember in 1999 when a little movie called The Matrix came along? It was mind-blowing stuff, with its extremely ambitious ideas and revolutionary special visual (camera) effects (the “bullet-time” dodge will forever remain legend). Keanu “Whoah!” Reeves may have been heading up the proceedings, but I think we could all forgive that in lieu of everything else. :P
With the great mythology the Wachowskis established in the initial film, you’d think they would be able to make one heck of a franchise out of it. Well… they tried, but sadly didn’t succeed. We, the poor, unknowing audience got saddled with the sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, and another sequel after that, The Matrix Revolutions. I’m not going to lie – both have moments that stand out as being awesome (the fight with all the Agent Smiths in Reloaded, the machine gun battle with the machines in Revolutions) but not enough to cover up the mess that was the story, and how much they’d screwed up all the potential the series had. Not even a further (animated) movie, The Animatrix, which tried to explain things in more detail, could help matters.
5. Lord of the Rings Translated To the Big-Screen
Easily some of the most beloved books in the fantasy genre’s history are J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. What a massive undertaking that must have been for director Peter Jackson and Co., to get the live-action adaptation right (there was an animated movie in the ’70s), and not only that but to make it successful. You can tick the boxes on both accounts. Not only did the three LOTR movies – The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King – prove a gargantuan hit with audiences ($3 billion at the box office!) but also a massive critical success. The series garnered a total of 30 Oscar nominations, 17 of which it won, and is generally considered a landmark in modern filmmaking.
Perfect casting, exquisite set/costume design, expert direction, memorable set pieces, revolutionary CGI (with Smeagol/Gollum in particular) – the list goes on and on. I’m sure you’ll agree LOTR is a force to be reckoned with within the land of movies, and one of the things the “oughties” will be remembered for in terms of movies.
4. Major Franchises Rebooted
The 2000’s saw the rise of the franchise reboot – that is taking an established franchise and giving it a do-over after it’s been dormant for a few years. One of the biggest (and most recent) examples of this is J.J. Abrams new take on a 40-plus year old franchise, something which has given birth to everything from TV shows and movies, to whole conventions dedicated to it: Star Trek.
An easy job it was NOT for director Abrams and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman to take all that mythos and put a modern spin on it. But they did so fantastically, finding the all-important balance of respecting the original Trek material (read: don’t incur the wrath of the Trekkies! :P ) but making it accessible to everyone else who were not fans of the series to begin with. It definitely worked, with Trekkies and non-Trekkies both agreeing it’s one of the most fun and all-round best films of 2009.
Other reboots of famous franchises mainly are in the horror camp: Friday the 13th, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street… the list goes on and on. Although unlike Star Trek, a reboot of these franchises (it could be argued) were warranted since the current ones had long ago run out of steam. But where they differ from Star Trek is that the result wasn’t worthy of the franchise name (with the possible exception of A Nightmare on Elm Street, which is still to be released). Inevitably, they’ve shaped the horror genre of the modern age by being the only exposure to these franchises that younger audiences will have, thus leading them to think they’re THE versions of each.
How wrong they are…
3. Superhero Movies Go Mainstream
In the very late ’80s and throughout the ’90s there was one superhero who dominated the movies: Batman. Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns were good, but Batman Forever showed signs of trouble and then came the travesty that was Batman & Robin, which in 1997 effectively killed the comic book movie for some time.
Then, in the year 2000 came Bryan Singer’s X-Men, which officially revitalized the troubled comic book movie genre (some argue it was Blade in 1998). It can’t be underestimated how much of a big task that was for Singer, to take that comic book/set of characters and make it work on the big-screen, keeping it true to the source material but still making it truly it’s own separate entity that non comic-book purists could enjoy.
X-Men paved the way for the mainstream success of the comic-book movie. The movie made almost $300 million worldwide, signs of more successful things to come: X2: X-Men United, Spider-Man 1-3, Blade 2 and 3, Fantastic Four on and on – comic book movies had suddenly become plentiful and successful in the world of movies. Whether good (X-Men) or bad (Spider-Man 3), they became a forced to be reckoned with and are now the dominant money makers and audience pleasers around.
2. The Long Wait Is Over
The first decade of the 21st century brought us a couple of major returns (there are more than that, but we’re only going to look at a couple): First, we finally, after almost 20 years, checked back in on our old pal Indiana Jones for a fourth adventure in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the return to greatness that we were all hoping it would be (maybe it was to SOME, but for most folks it was a huge letdown) with its silly action (not in the fun Indy way we’re used to) and often lame dialogue (amongst other things).
The second big return was of the legendary filmmaker James Cameron, with his 3D motion-capture sci-fi epic Avatar. It’s the man’s first film since the multi-Oscar winning, all-time box office juggernaut success that was Titanic. Cameron had the idea for the film over 14 years ago and he tried to make it then but was told the technology just didn’t exist. So he waited. And finally, around about the time he noticed the revolutionary work done with Gollum in LOTR, the special effects technology had caught up with him, and he could bring his other-worldly vision to vibrant, skillfully crafted life.
The hype for Avatar has been monumental – it being hailed as the next big step forward in filmmaking. And if you’ve listened to Cameron and those closest to him and the project, it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Fortunately, the film lived up the hype (see our review).
1. Superhero Movies Get Serious
When comic book movies went mainstream and became successful, one thing was on the agenda for them to begin with (for the most part, anyway) – they were pure fun. They were looked at completely as their own category of movie, and you’d hear opinions such as, “It was good… for a comic book movie.” However, in summer of 2005 came the movie that changed all that: Batman Begins.
The Batman franchise before that (which was almost destroyed by Batman & Robin) was fun and light-hearted in many ways, but no one thought it could be anymore than that. That was until Christopher Nolan came along and breathed fresh life into not only the Batman series but comic book movies in general by getting serious… Deadly serious. Batman Begins was not just ‘a good movie for a comic book movie,’ but a quality movie in its own right that’s still very much respected to this day.
Then came its sequel in the summer of 2008, the juggernaut (in every sense of the word) that was The Dark Knight. The debate continues as to whether a lot of the buzz around the film was due to the untimely death of Heath Ledger before the film’s release. But there’s no doubting the impact the film had, as fanboys and critics alike hailed it as (what seemed at the time) the greatest thing to come out of the movie world since the invention of celluloid. The film went even further with the darkness that Begins introduced, by exploring such themes as chaos, mass murder (not in the campy way seen in previous comic book movies) and, if you look past the theatrics, statements about homegrown terrorism.
Other such serious comic book movies include 300, 30 Days of Night and Sin City, but one I want to highlight is one from earlier this year, the adaptation of the much-loved and much-lauded graphic novel, Watchmen. Extremely violent and strictly for adults only (I doubt parents who took a risk bringing their 8-year old to see TDK would allow them to watch the Watchmen come out and play), Watchmen no doubt made an impact on those who saw it, not only as one of the most slavishly faithful adaptations from one medium to another, but as a truly “proper” film its own right.
So there you have it, Screen Rant‘s list of 10 movie events that shaped the first decade of the 21st century. As I said at the beginning, it’s impossible for us to cover everything (that’s why we didn’t call it THE 10 movie events :) ). I’m sure you’ve got a few to share that we didn’t cover – and we’d love to know what they are! But what did you think of the points we DID raise? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.
Here’s to another 10 years of eventful and influential goings-on in the world of movies… What would we all do without them?
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