Hollywood has a problem with creativity.
When a film studio is a multi-million dollar capitalist enterprise, each film is less a work of art than a business investment. This naturally introduces Hollywood to an environment where return on investment is the paramount concern. Why risk a $100 million investment in an art project without knowing how much you’ll get back when you can just produce another project from an established, proven franchise?
Of the 10 highest-grossing films of all time over the past 20 years, only one, “Avatar,” was an original IP; the rest were sequels or comic book adaptations.
Movies like “Everything Everywhere All at Once” are triumphs of creativity and originality, but are considered hits for grossing $50 million while movies like “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” are expected to reach billions worldwide.
The problem is that these franchise movies are usually forced to follow a set formula. It’s also about maximizing return on investment, now called ROI, because following a formula is more likely to meet expectations based on previous results. This is why blockbusters were born to begin with; movies like “Jaws” and “Star Wars” paved the way for the blockbuster formula to be set in stone.
Naturally, following such a formula will lead to greater return on investment at the expense of artistic freedom.
That’s why there are so many reports of directors falling out with studios over “creative differences.” The director may have a vision for a project they want to bring to life, but if they don’t follow that pre-existing formula, the studio is less likely to have confidence in the final product.
It’s not a matter of quality; producers may recognize that the artistic vision is superb, but they are indebted to the ubiquitous and ever-imminent payback. Take the example of Disney’s “Star Wars” sequel trilogy. Colin Trevorrow was set to direct the final film in the series, later titled ‘The Rise of Skywalker’, but was shelved by Lucas Film executive Kathleen Kennedy due to ‘creative differences’. This ultimately led to the trilogy feeling schizophrenic and incoherent, as each of the three films served a different purpose rather than coalescing into a complete whole.
There are directors lately who have been given the proverbial green light to produce whatever they desire. It also helps when they have their own production company. Take Christopher Nolan, for example. While he got his major breakthrough in Hollywood with a franchise property like “The Dark Knight,” he was then free to move forward with projects like “Inception” and “Interstellar” which saw a resurgence. huge box office success while maintaining the artistic vision that Nolan set out. It’s likely that a distributor would fund a Nolan project based not on their belief in his ideas, but rather on the proven track record that Nolan has established as a director.
Then there’s also the issue of remakes and soft reboots. Remakes are made with an inherent fan base in mind while soft reboots eschew more creative freedom by being both remake and sequel simultaneously. While most are familiar with the concept of a remake, the soft reboot is a more nebulous concept. It’s basically when the sequel to an established story is told in such a way that it mirrors the original in narrative structure and execution. “Jurassic World” and “The Force Awakens” are two examples of this concept.
Naturally, this nostalgia traffic will lead to a more financially stable ROI. Why would you take the story of a franchise in a new direction when you can just repackage what people loved in the originals and call it a continuation?