Reboots killed novelty, social media killed the movie star, and streaming platforms killed the movie theater.
The film industry, as it currently stands, is a mess. In the last decade, audiences have been offered five Spidermans, three Batmans and countless Disney animated classics transformed into live-action movies. Instead of trained actors, Hollywood is casting influencers in their films.
To add to the drama, Netflix, other streaming platforms, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have made watching movies at home a global trend. All the while, movie theaters — a former constant in movie watching — are shutting down across the country. As they disappear, audiences are left to ask one question: what is the future of cinema?
Hollywood’s reliance on nostalgia
In 1896, the Lumière Brothers filmed a single-shot movie of a train pulling into a station. Their footage pioneered the phenomenon now referred to as the motion picture. From there, cinema skyrocketed to become one of society’s popular art forms.
The medium was often a vector of spreading America’s cultural dominance in the context of World War II. Hollywood became known as a film factory following the creation of its California centre, and was exporting its films worldwide. Over the course of the following decades, studios such as Pixar, Walt Disney Pictures, and 20th Century Fox contributed to produce films that would touch generations across the globe.
Though faced with competition, Disney eventually became the dominant studio powerhouse. In 2006, the entertainment giant bought Pixar, and it purchased Marvel shortly afterward in 2009.
Disney’s large influence on the film industry is at least partially to blame for the whole industry’s pathological addiction to remakes. In 2017, Disney spent $160 million on a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast — even though the original film had already experienced phenomenal success, grossing $424 million in 1991. This exploitative rather than explorative approach to filmmaking feeds on our nostalgia and our yearning to revisit our childhoods.
However, studios are also modifying their characters to appeal to audiences that are increasingly socially aware. The ‘girlbossification’ of Cruella de Vil in Disney’s Cruella is an example; the character was originally written to be a despicable madwoman in 1991.
Needless to say, the marketing strategies of these big studios are built upon a fear of taking risks. Yet taking risks to produce what has never been made before is a core artistic value. It seems like Hollywood has traded novelty and innovation for good ol’ cash.
The death of the movie star
Cinema has offered us many actors that are now considered all-time greats. From Katharine Hebpurn to Leonardo DiCaprio, movie stars have long been mythical figures of cinema, drawing audiences into movie theaters with only their charisma.
Nowadays, though, cinema doesn’t produce movie stars; it features celebrities.
The factor that killed the role of movie stars, which were figures distanced from the public, is social media. The internet has made the personal lives of celebrities more accessible than ever. The mystique surrounding movie stars has been erased. Instead, fans are offered daily paparazzi pictures of them, can locate their whereabouts, and can argue about their plastic surgeries in the comment sections of their profiles.
Additionally, celebrity actors are now being forced to act alongside influencers. Addison Rae’s casting in the Netflix remake, He’s All That sparked a conversation among viewers about privilege and opportunity. Because of her massive social media following, Rae was presented with a leading role — an offer that most trained actresses can only dream of.
The same treatment is sometimes given to ‘nepotism babies’ — a phrase first coined by a Twitter user, which refers to children of prominent entertainers who are easily offered acting roles. Celebrity offspring reel in large amounts of social media followers because of their enviable lifestyle and photogenic profiles. This asset makes them more profitable than the average theatre kid.
The casting of already wealthy, famous, and conventionally beautiful people has destroyed Hollywood’s biggest success story: the rags-to-riches ascension. The larger-than-life movie star who rose to prominence thanks to talent and luck is a concept of the past. Just as video killed the radio star, social media has killed the movie star.
The rise of Netflix and the fall of moviegoing
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario’s movie theaters had to close to comply with public health measures. As a frequent movie-goer, I was disheartened by this abrupt change. I deeply missed the immersive experience of sitting inside a theater — the location which originally sparked my love for cinema.
Still, moviegoing was already terminally ill before the pandemic unplugged its life support. Streaming platforms were gaining momentum, and households were finally offered a substitute to theatres’ overpriced snacks and rooms full of couples playing tonsil tennis.
Let me be clear, though — this is not cinema’s demise.
As a cinema studies minor, I cannot disregard the independent arthouse cinema that is being produced. From decolonial filmmaking to experimental video activism, there are still a handful of international filmmakers and screenwriters that are making wonderful contributions to the art form.
Of course, these creators aren’t at the forefront of cinema. Critically acclaimed low-budget films could, at best, be offered a screening at a notable film festival and experience a prosperous award season. As a bonus, film Twitter, a community of users interested in discussing and arguing about movies, might praise these movies and proclaim their undying love for their actors.
This reality is fine by me — movies don’t need to break box office records to carry significance. The heart of cinema lies in the beauty of a movie’s storytelling, not in its money-making abilities.