As Avengers: Endgame passes Avatar to become the highest-grossing movie of all time, it's worth remembering that only 4 of the 40 movies to pass the $1 billion mark are original stories. Prior to its long-awaited release earlier this year, many speculated that Avengers: Endgame could topple the box office dominance of James Cameron's Avatar but, despite attaining gargantuan success, Marvel's finest fell just short of that goal. In what some saw as a slightly gratuitous move considering Disney owns both franchises anyway, Marvel Studios re-released Avengers: Endgame and Kevin Feige announced at San Diego Comic Con 2019 that the movie had overtaken its blue rivals. With Spider-Man: Far From Home also now passing the $1 billion mark, 40 movies have hit that coveted milestone.
The lack of original movies in modern cinema is not just a current phenomenon. For several decades, the increasing reliance on sequels, remakes, spinoffs and adaptations has been lampooned and criticized both by spectators and within the movie business itself. Despite the backlash, however, studios seem compelled to continue the trend, and with the recent advent of studio-specific streaming services and shared cinematic universes, the future looks even more bleak for lovers of original movies.
Of the 40 films to have grossed over a $1 billion at the worldwide box office (via BoxOfficeMojo), only Avatar, Titanic, Frozen and Zootopia offer original stories. The remaining 90% are either adaptations of comic books or novels, sequels, remakes of old movies, franchise spinoffs or reboots of a dormant property. It's important to note that these figures are not adjusted for inflation which, along with rising ticket prices and more theaters being opened, has a significant impact on rankings. There is, however, still a noticeable dearth of original stories in either case.
It's clear that movie studios intentionally lean away from fresh material and the motivations for this are fairly clear. Essentially, it's more financially viable. Sequels, remakes and spinoffs come with ready-made fan bases and therefore represent far less financial risk. If a property has already proved itself lucrative, a follow-up is a far safer bet and a much easier sell than a new idea nobody's heard of. Depending on the specific franchise, sequels and remakes can also be simpler to produce, as a foundation for the story and characters is already in place.
Some may argue whether this is necessarily a negative. After all, if people are spending more money on sequels and remakes, surely that means they're popular?
The main problem lies within the quality of those releases. While some franchises can release one great movie after another (Toy Story, the MCU, Back To The Future, High School Musical), the majority embark on a journey of slowly diminishing returns until the studio deems the property no longer financially attractive. Sequels are rarely better than their predecessors, and threequels often downright bad. Movie-goers buy tickets to these films hoping for the same experience they enjoyed the first time around, and are generally let down, but it's often that hope shifting the tickets, rather than the quality of the movie itself.
Creative diversity is also a major issue. Those 40 $1 billion releases all fall within only a small handful of genres and while all blockbusters, original or otherwise, will always be somewhat formulaic, an increase in original stories would help shake-up cinematic output at a time when the industry is under serious threat from the rise of streaming services.
Perhaps the most depressing thing about this lack of original movies is what fans could be missing out on. Each of the four original releases listed above achieved great things, despite not being an established franchise. Avatar and Titanic may have had their detractors, but both became historic, landmark movies that required a leap of faith to put into production. Similarly, Frozen went on to become one of Disney's biggest ever animated features, exceeding every expectation placed upon it, while Zootopia was released to rave reviews. The question must be asked, how many other potential Avatars or Frozens have been tossed aside to make room for another Fast & Furious, now edging towards double digits, or another remade 80s horror movie?
Movie fans watch sequels and remakes chasing the feelings they experienced when first witnessing the original, but without that initial leap of faith on a brand new story, those franchises would never have grown and blossomed. Even Avengers: Endgame had to start with Marvel taking a punt on a brand new comic idea. A more even balance is needed if fresh franchises are to replace those coming to the end of their lifespan.
Source: Box Office Mojo