Unfortunately the truth is evidence shows that within the US film industry production companies are not focusing around originality and that audiences are wanting more and more remakes. Time and time again we see sequels and remakes, with the occasional original film. There are different ideas about why this trend is occurring within the media and film industry.
In the last decade there has been a huge amount of adaptations, sequels and remakes shown in cinemas around the world. Although this topic is being discussed more in current media, it has been a developing trend. There has been only small amount of original films produced in Hollywood as far back as the late 80’s (Mojo 2015; p. 1)
So going back, in 1991 we saw only one original film make the top ten box office chart which was Ron Underwood’s City Slickers (Ron Underwood, 1991, USA), in 2001 two original films were lucky to make the top ten that being Monsters Inc. (Pete Docter, David Silverman & Lee Unkrich, 2001, USA) and Pearl Harbour (Michael Bay, 2001, USA) and IN 2011 there were unfortunately zero original films in the box office top ten.
Some believe this is due to the fact box office numbers are declining. That because the industry isn’t making as much on the box office, they need to stick to safer investments that will ensure good box office returns. Whilst this seems to make sense, after researching further it seems as though the box office has be continually growing in the recent years with box office profits increasing. Even Forecasts predict that the entertainment industry will grow to over 679 billion US dollars in value over the next four years. (Statista 2013; para. 2)
While the decline in box office revenue may be proven wrong, the idea that remakes are a safer investment proves right. Original films aren’t nearly as successful financially for production companies and therefore they are being made much less.
The box office profits can give many thanks to international markets watching and wanting US films (Statista 2013; para. 1), perhaps something that is familiar and more universal such as Batman will reach the globe unlike an original flick. Perhaps these remakes have a more universal context, because they are already known internationally, such as Transformers (Michael Bay, 2007, USA), Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 2014, USA & Japan) and The Avengers (Josh Whedon, 2012, USA). These are all stories that will be known to people all over the world already.
Take the year 2014 for example, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014, USA & UK) was the only film in the top ten worldwide box offices of 2014 to be wholly original. That means not a reboot, a remake, a sequel or part of a franchise. Although some mention from time to time that they think the film was in fact based off a book, this is untrue. Kip Thorne an American theoretical physicist, helped develop the story along with the Nolan brothers and was credited as a consultant. Then Thorne actually went to write a tie-in book called ‘The Science of Interstellar.’
Nolan’s film was an original with the script being written by himself and his brother Jonathan. Interstellar grossed $621.8M worldwide, making it the eighth highest grossing movie of 2014. That is a really great box office success for a film, but the issue lies with it being the only original film there. It was behind such films as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb, 2014, USA), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, 2014, USA), X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer, 2014, USA & UK) and Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014, USA & UK), which all gained far less critical acclaim (Mojo 2014; p. 1.)
This is where we wonder why do these films not reach the success financially in terms of remakes, adaptations and sequels. Some speculate that people are lazy in their film choices, that they just want to see what they already know is good. Or possibly they go for a safe option, because perhaps the fare for the cinema ticket is too high? (Zurko 2015; para. 1) Again all speculation. As many critic’s delve in, they discuss is the film as an art form dying, some believe the industry has a responsibility beyond giving audiences what they expect to see, but in reality the productions companies are business and they give customers what they want.
With Interstellar ‘unique’ is the operative word because the most prevalent point about Nolan’s box office success was that it happened despite the film being a wholly original story, i.e. not based on a pre-existing film, TV show, comic-book superhero or toy. Unlike many other films, this is the first we have heard of the title. The film has a new take on sci-fi films, drawing in environmental issues from today’s society along with the exploration of wormholes and modern science. On top of that, there’s the beautiful relationships developing between father and daughter and many more. At a time where every cinema release seems to be a sequel, prequel, reboot or adaptation, Interstellar could allow more studios see that original scripts can really pay off.
“I think audiences get too comfortable and familiar in today’s movies. They believe everything they’re hearing and seeing. I like to shake that up.”
– Christopher Nolan
Nolan acknowledges that Hollywood needs sequels and franchises saying, “to provide a certain amount of stability in the industry,” but insists that innovation is more important (Geoffrey Macnab 2014; para. 2). Here Nolan refers to such stability that we discussed before, how remakes prove to be a safer investment. Does the ratio between original and adapted films need to be so off though? If Nolan is setting an example, will this possibly lead to more original films in the future? Well as the box office shows, these original-block busters aren’t influencing the box office much at all.
When we hear of a new film being released, one of the first questions can ask ourselves is, “What does this plot, narrative or story remind me of that has already been done?” Even when choosing Interstellar as an example of a successful original film into today’s modern context we can still think about how original it really is. Some say Nolan’s vision of space travel is both familiar (the film borrows heavily from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 2001, USA & UK) and impressively original, particularly in the crew’s monolithic robot companions TARS and CASE, who provide much of the film’s best dialogue.
Through our research we found that most ideas are inspired from others especially in this modern day, filmmakers are inspired by other films and even if they are in the same genre that it still can be classified as wholly original, When Nolan discusses influences he says, “I have always been a huge fan of Ridley Scott and certainly when I was a kid. Alien, Blade Runner just blew me away because they created these extraordinary worlds that were just completely immersive. I was also an enormous Stanley Kubrick fan for similar reasons” (Dado 2015; para. 1). Nolan whilst staying original has developed his own style, with his work tending to be dark, offbeat and to attack our intellects as well as our emotions.This is seen in Interstellar with a fairly morbid context of a world that’s ruined itself and a multilayered character rust that has pain. On the contrary, Nolan’s smash hit Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005, USA & UK) is an example of Nolan doing a remake, with Batman being a series that’s been done time and time again. Nolan’s The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008, USA & UK) came in at number fourteen in the international box office record of all time, which is an astounding result. Furthermore, unlike most remakes the film was highly critically acclaimed, scoring 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and Heath Ledger’s performance of the Joker winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2009.
Nolan seems to master the art of both original and remake and perhaps it’s his love for creating original films that has given him a skill that can thrive in remakes, which is genuine style on an old story. Thus as we discuss his style and type of films he creates, it’s important to remember the idea of authorship. According to the book ‘Film: a Critical Introduction,’ “the term implies [when] the director is the primary creative source and his films express his distinctive vision of the world” (Pramaggiore & Wallis 2011; p. 408). Nolan asserts his originally through style. His vision is original, that’s why it’s his, it’s a style he’s created and is recognisable in each of his films. Nolan’s films, although many concern fantasy, are always realistically grounded. This one aspect is definitely prominent in both the mentioned movies The Dark Night and Interstellar, as while the themes venture out of the realms of the reality we know that the nitty gritty relationships and hard truths faced in the character’s relationships or their societies is real. For example, when Nolan discusses Batman he says, “for me, Batman is the one that can most clearly be taken seriously. He’s not from another planet, or filled with radioactive gunk. I mean, Superman is essentially a god, but Batman is more like Hercules: he’s a human being, very flawed, and bridges the divide” (Pulver 2005; p. 1). Therefore, Nolan discuss how he tries to bring Batman down to reality. ANother one of Nolan’s signature stylistic qualities, is his love for leaving an ending open. He states, “the truth is, in leaving it open-ended… it’s much more about sending the audience away with all these characters living on in their minds and spreading outwards and upwards” (Mottram 2005; p. XXIII). All these elements of Nolan’s films build his directorial status as an auteur. The idea of authorship lets the director create their stamp, as it’s their original style that they have developed. Consequently, though Nolan adapted Batman, the way he creates a unique category on remake through his original authorship in fact overrides the fact it’s an adaptation.
Imaginably its this style that keep audiences coming back, a Nolan film is something that people will pay to see, that they want to see. In this sense people are taking a leap to see an original film because they are familiar with what it will entail from a directorial standpoint and they know what they are in for to a certain extent. Even producers will know to invest in Nolan’s film because they know audiences love the original style that he has developed.
Nolan’s authorship status can also be warranted through his technical choices, for example a love of the 35mm camera which is something that he will always use as he likes to create a 3D aesthetic without the use of D digital computerisation. He discusses the need for large cinematic qualities saying, “I have conversations with studio heads and at some point when I’m passionately advocating using film they’ll say: ‘At the end of the day doesn’t storytelling trump everything?’ I say ‘no it doesn’t, otherwise we’d be making radio plays, it would be a lot cheaper'” (Billington 2015; para. 3). This passion for theatrical delights is arguably what makes Nolan’s movies so magnificent and able to achieve that original-blockbuster status.
The box office is ruled by franchises and it’s slowly squeezing out original filmmaking. But you cannot overlook how much originality wins and triumphs in awards. Whilst awards are highly subjective and many critics have varied opinions, it is in Hollywood which is the hub of the industry we are looking at, that films can receive the most prestigious award. The winners for the last five Academy Awards for Best Picture were Birdman (2014) (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014, USA), 12 Years a Slave (2013) (Steve McQueen, 2013, USA & UK), Argo (2012) (Ben Affleck, 2012, USA), The Artist (2011) (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011, France), The King’s Speech (2010) (Tom Hooper, 2010, UK, USA & Australia) (Academy Award for Best Picture 2015; p. 210). None of these films are remakes or sequels. These awards praise originality and creativity, but this isn’t enough for more and more original films to be produced in the US film industry. This is probably due to the financial success of these films; whilst they were more than successful financially the films do not quite make the figures of the favoured superhero film genre in the international box office.
Seeing as Nolan is truly a big budget filmmaker, you have to think Interstellar may be our last real chance at an original blockbuster. The last chance to see someone trying as hard as the can to appeal to a large audience, use dark story lines, deep relationship and quirky off beat protagonists, all the while simultaneously ensuring entertainment and a spectacular show. It’s Nolan’s balancing act between these two ideals that produces something successful. However, he is given the chance to do this with a big budget and resources, maybe Hollywood needs to give more directors with original ideas a shot. Let other creatives project their authorship onto a wide audience.
Love Nolan or McConaughey? Give your star rating for Interstellar below: