The recent bombing of Lionsgate’s Gods of Egypt came as a bit of a surprise to me. It seemed to have everything a blockbuster requires: a $140 million USD budget, a whitewashed cast featuring some well known action stars, and an abundance of CGI.
Whatever the case for its failure, the news reminded me of a 2013 panel at the University of Southern California, where filmmaking icons George Lucas and Steven Spielberg talked about the future of entertainment.
There, they warned of an impending “implosion” of the Hollywood system, threatening that the only thing that stands between the modern cinema experience and a new order is a few $250 million films that don’t succeed at the box office.
“I think eventually the Lincolns (Spielberg’s 2012 Academy Award nominated biopic) will go away and they’re going to be on television,” George Lucas told the audience. “As mine almost was,” Spielberg interjected. “This close – ask HBO – this close.”
Already, we are seeing signs that a new system is beginning to rear. When I saw Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies last year, I paid $25 to sit in a cramped cinema barely larger than my living room. That’s not the way my parent’s saw a Spielberg film, even before he’d become one of the best known directors of his generation.
So what does the new cinema experience look like?
Spielberg predicts a dynamic pricing system, where audiences pay more to see a blockbuster than a $20 million drama. This actually doesn’t sound too bad for cinephiles who enjoy a diversity of content, but it’s hardly in Hollywood’s – or the cinema’s, for that matter – interest to devalue films.
Lucas’s vision is far grimmer. He portrays a cinema system akin to Broadway, where movies are made on budgets far more than they are now, and stay in cinemas for longer. In his mind, there will only be two or three screens per complex, and ticket prices will skyrocket.
As of today, there’s never been a larger disparity between indie cinema and major studio projects. The disconnect was clear when actors with established audiences like Zach Braff and Kristen Bell had to turn to crowdfunding to get their films produced and distributed. Yes, this is a result of the declining attendance non-blockbuster films have received over the last decade, but while the studios are quick to blame piracy, audiences are pointing the finger at factors like ticket prices. In contrast, film festivals have seen a rise in interest of late. Why? Because of the sense of community and opportunity such limited, event-based screenings provide. A far cry from the routine that Lucas envisions.
Yet throughout, the blockbuster remains strongest of all. Few $250 million moves are even being made at the moment, and the ones that are, such as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, are part of billion dollar franchises that are a sure success, no matter the quality of the film. Meanwhile, the Disney juggernaut rolls on, stronger than ever after last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens even managed to steamroll Quentin Tarantino‘s latest offering.
So when should we expect the evolution – or devolution – of cinema? It may be soon, or it may not come. After all, Spielberg and Lucas also discussed the future of video gaming as part of their panel, and said that character and plot were two elements that would always make a game’s story ‘less than’ a film’s story. Anyone who has played Mass Effect, The Last of Us, or That Dragon, Cancer would be quick to point out how wrong they were.
What are your thoughts on the topic? Let us know in the comments below.