Film Critic Joel Bishton makes the case that original filmmaking is still very much alive and well within the Hollywood studio system

Written by Joel Bishton
2nd Year History student. Interested in nerdy film, tv and musicals
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What do Bottoms, Saltburn, Rye Lane and Asteroid City all have in common? They are all original films (in that none of them are based on any existing IP – or intellectual property, the movie term for existing material) and they are also some of my favourite films from last year. There is often an argument made that Hollywood is creatively dead, without any new ideas and without any new voices. I don’t think that’s true.

There is often an argument made that Hollywood is creatively dead, without any new ideas and without any new voices. I don’t think that’s true

I wrote an article for Redbrick earlier this year, picking out eight films to look out for in 2024. It was a hard decision to make, but I deliberately picked out two films entirely without IP connections to try and promote them (Challengers and Drive-Away Dolls, for those interested). These films are lower budget than the traditional studio tentpole blockbusters and  will therefore get less promotion and marketing. Some, like Saltburn or Anyone But You (both 2023), will get picked up by the zeitgeist and become word of mouth hits. Many others, however, will simply spend their couple of weeks in a cinema, be potentially dumped on a streamer and then effectively disappear. Essentially, my point is that, if you complain about the lack of originality in film, there is plenty to be found outside the traditional channels.

Hollywood

Ah, I hear you cry, what about Hollywood’s current love of sequels, reboots and requels (a sequel that acts as a remake). The essence of this is: “it’s the economy, stupid.” Hollywood studios need to make a certain amount of money in order to continue and make a profit. They do this by spending a lot of money on a film that then needs to make a much larger amount back to make money. For example, Madame Web (2024) cost $80 million to make (comparatively little for a superhero movie). If you’re spending this much money, you need to ensure that as many people as possible see the film in order to make money from it. Therefore, studio movies are often bland, three-star affairs, which aim to offend no-one. Studios have gone bust in the past, partly because of letting ‘auteurs’ go and spend huge amounts of money in order to make a film that won’t sell. Studio films are also often based on IP, operating off the (often correct) assumption that people will go and see a film based off something they already like.

The fact that something is based on an existing property doesn’t mean it’s not original

The fact that something is based on an existing property doesn’t mean it’s not original though. Poor Things (2023) is based on an Alasdair Gray novel and, no matter what you think of it, it is certainly one of the most original films I’ve ever seen. No-one who saw Oppenheimer (2023), a three-hour biopic about the father of the nuclear bomb, could say it wasn’t original. There are also the example of people making art out of what have been straight-forward IP cash-grabs. Spider-Man: Across and Into the Spider-Verse (2018 and 2023) took the Spider-Man mythology and made something new and ground-breaking out of it. Similarly, 2014’s The Lego Movie took what could have been an unwatchable advert for Lego (which, underneath it all, it still is) and created an excellent film about creativity and compliance. Similarly, Barbie (2023), another potential unwatchable advert for Mattel, was elevated by director Greta Gerwig into art (whatever you think about it).

Hollywood

Gerwig brings us to another argument made about the lack of creativity in Hollywood: that there are no new voices coming through. Whilst there is some evidence for this, with old names like Nolan, Anderson (Wes) and Scorsese all bringing out new films last year, it’s not the full picture. Those directors are still innovating and creating new and interesting work and there is also an influx of new talent coming up. From Gerwig (who broke through as a director only seven years ago and continues to move on to better and better things), to directors who have recently released their sophomore films (Emma Seligman with Bottoms and Emerald Fennell with Saltburn) and even those with outstanding recent debuts (Raine Allen-Miller with Rye Lane) and those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head.

In conclusion, then, of course there are still unoriginal Hollywood films but the only way to stop them is to stop watching them. I wouldn’t tell anyone to stop watching anything they like, but if you think studio cinema is unoriginal, there’s a whole word outside out of it to discover.


Enjoyed this feature? Check out these other features from Redbrick Film:

The Death of Originality in Cinema and the Surplus of Sequels | Redbrick Film

Redbrick Rewind: 10 Things I Hate About You | Redbrick Film

Redbrick Attends: Wicked Little Letters Premiere | Redbrick Film

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