Is Originality Overrated?

Originality is the pinnacle of artistry

In any art form, the trailblazers are the most celebrated. The creators of new, exciting, or groundbreaking ideas are seen as a breath of fresh air, revitalizing an art form that has gone stale. Whether we are opening a book, or cranking up iTunes, the discovery of something new and original is exciting. We will rush out and tell all our friends, both because we enjoy this original thing so much and because we can take credit for finding it. Being first is coded into our genes.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Movie making is an art form which prides itself on originality and yet, like music and books, once something new comes along, and is popular and successful, a whole spate of copycats comes along to try and catch some of that original wave.

It wasn’t always a given that a successful movie would be immediately followed by a sequel. Soon though, Hollywood saw a way to cash in on these original successes. Sadly, they put as little effort (and money) into the sequels and they were rarely, if ever, as successful or well liked.

As the competition for the box office spoils increased, movies looked to the summer “tentpole” movies to bring in the bulk of their profits for the year. Oftentimes this meant reusing the tried and true formulas, spending big money, and bringing in big returns. Originality became a bigger risk and now imitation is coveted.

Movies as comfort food

We, as an audience, discovered that once we enjoy something we just want more of it. We’re not as keen to try something new. Money is a big deciding factor – why spend $15 of something that might be terrible when you can spend it seeing something you know contains things you like. We like what we like and more of it is usually perfectly acceptable.

Movie studios covet franchises with big, in-built fan-bases, like Star Wars, or large international audiences, like the Fast & Furious movies. Movie stars have become secondary to the concept driving the movie and there are now only a few actors who can command the ginormous paychecks usually associated with movie stars. These actors are only making the big money because they are part of a large franchise, since most of their non-franchise movies they star in make little profit.

…to be continued…

Movies have always taken stories from real life or borrowed from other art forms to create some of their ideas, but this seems to be the model now more than ever. Right now comic books are a huge source for movie-makers. With more than twenty-five movies slated for release in the next five years based on Marvel and DC comic books alone, it’s no surprise that there is already some superhero fatigue. Until the box office dwindles though, there’s no sign of it slowing.

With each new hit, you are almost guaranteed a pair of sequels. Trilogies are the new set up for summer movies. And since the success of The Avengers and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, super-franchises are now a thing.

Of the fifty biggest movies of all-time, in terms of worldwide box office, thirty-five of them (70%) are sequels. And that’s not including The Hobbit (prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy) or The Avengers (Superhero superjam of Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor franchises).

Bad News?

It’s clear, despite some complaints, that we are being given the movies we want to see. With the rise of Netflix and Amazon, amongst others, we can still see the smaller movies in the comfort of our own home, leaving the cinemas bursting at the seams with summer blockbuster muscle.

I welcome the superhero movie trend because I’m a comic book nerd, but I don’t want this to mean I can’t see other good movies at the theater. Movie studios have been slow to catch up with the pace of technological changes and, much like the music business, is finding it has to learn new tricks and figure out new ways to make money.

In the meantime, you can expect to see more sequels to popular franchises like Spectre (James Bond), Alien 5, Allegiant (Divergent series), Avatar 2, 3 and maybe even 4, and a new Bourne movie featuring the return of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon).

What’s your favorite franchise? Anything you’re looking forward to in the next few years?

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Gareth S. Young was born and raised in Scotland, but has now lived for more than 15 years in the American Midwest. This has played havoc with his accent.

A 5th Dan black-belt in Nerd-Fu, Gareth writes books, collects comics, and watches movies like he’s getting paid to. (He’s not. A 25-year association with railroads is what keeps the electricity on in his house.)

In 2010, he published his first full length story, a mystery/suspense novel called Monsters, and in the summer of 2015 will releaseDynamo City: The Wolves of Dynamo, part one of an audacious YA urban fantasy series.

A tweeter of stuff and things, he can be found lurking under the guise of SpartaGus or demonstrating his nerd moves over on his blog http://1000trillionsuns.blogspot.com/.

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2 thoughts on “Is Originality Overrated?”

  1. Hi Spartan! :)
    Franchises and sequels are usually great fun. To bring back characters we fell in love with and see how they’re progressing feels good, makes me happy: (Star Wars, all Marvel movies, Hunger Games, Divergent, Spider Man, X-Men, Harry Potter, Dark Knight, How to Train Your Dragon). I guess most of those are borrowed from other art forms, heh.

    Remakes are pretty good usually as well: Like the recent Mad Max I thought was fabulous.

    Sequels and Franchises that tanked for me: Never liked any of the Superman movies. Loved the first Mummy movie but not any of the following, and while Fast and Furious was fun the first time, I never got into any of the others. And I definitely don’t think Avatar needs a sequel. That movie was amazing and original and I think they should leave it at that.

    But you’re right, I do love watching the smaller, original, indie type films in the comfort of my home. Movie studios should definitely catch up on that front.

    Movies I’m looking forward to: Female Ghostbusters!, More Marvels movies and probably a whole bunch I’m not remembering or haven’t heard of.

    Like

    1. Marlene, I don’t disagree in general, but I’m not a fan of just trying to create a franchise. I get why they do it…money…but a lot of the time they serve up the same thing again and again only they spend more money on it. Transformers was a decent, fun movie but the sequels have been increasingly bad until the last one was just unbearable. Spider-man suffered from this too…although i won’t complain too much since it ended up back in Marvel’s hands.

      Sequels aren’t bad…I’m just not sure why we need some of them.

      As for a new Ghostbusters…I’m not convinced. We shall see though. :)

      Like

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