Robert Kahne: The Politics of Film & The Decline of Originality

Originality: Dead.

A sad fact: the politics of film will always eventually mesh with the politics of money.  While original films do eventually make it big in the mainstream, this is often a function of someone’s star power, the insistence of a bankable director, or just plain luck.  It’s too bad that original film very rarely makes big money.  I think this is a problem, and I think it is a problem with a very clear source–us.  Yes, I don’t blame money grubbing film producers, nor do I blame the industry for its “lack of originality”.  The culprit of this scandal is the movie-going public.

In 2010, fully 5 of the top 10 highest grossing films were sequels.  One of the top 10 was a remake (Alice in Wonderland), and three others were original animated films.  One, just ONE, of the top ten highest grossing films made in 2010 was a live-action movie made for adults.  This film, Inception, was made by bankable director Chris Nolan, who had previous made The Dark Knight.  Other high grossing films intended for adults include The King’s Speech (13), Black Swan (21), and Shutter Island (23).  How did these films become popular?  Mostly for the same reason as Inception, in my opinion.  Both Black Swan and Shutter Island were directed by name-brand guys–Darren Aranofsky and Martin ScorseseThe King’s Speech starred high profile British actors Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter.  The highest grossing film which meets my criteria of not being a sequel or remake, and lacking “real” star power was The Social Network, which finished at number 33, grossing $224m.  I realize “real” star power is a metric that is totally based on my own opinion and is not at all quantifiable.  I invite you to check the numbers yourself and see if I am right in my estimations.

To me, this is a big issue.  I think Hollywood misuses a lot of its talent by rehashing old films we have already seen before and making sequels of films which already have a good enough ending.  Ethan Hawke is a pretty good actor–but I probably won’t go see him in a remake of Total Recall. I adore many comic book films, and as much as I am looking forward to the new Spider-Man flick, I would be lying to myself if I thought that was the best use of great new actor’s Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  The same logic can be applied to the new X-Men movie.  And I love Johnny Depp, but how many times can he reprise Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean?  Isn’t that franchise stale enough?  Thank goodness some actor’s see the writing on the wall, as Matt Damon has bowed out of the next Bourne flick.  Unfortunately, some actors just can’t see failure coming–Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith have started filming Men In Black III without a completed script–there is no way that film ends well.

Some are quick to say that “There just aren’t good original films made anymore.”  I take great umbridge at that statement.  I would point to films such as Never Let Me Go, The Ghost Writer, The Kids Are Alright, Get Low, Mother and Child and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There really are lots of great, original films of all genres being made right now–but people aren’t showing up to see them!  What is Hollywood to do, except give the people what they want.  And what we are saying–loudly–is that we want more of the rehashed sequels and remakes being made today.  So, if you agree that this is a problem, and agree that the solution can be found with us–go see a movie this weekend.  And make it an original.

I do a film show on the radio in Lexington, KY every week (WRFL 88.1 FM at 10 AM on Mondays), and also via podcast everywhere.  It’s called Surreelfilm.  I promise, you’ll enjoy it if you listen to it.


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