When going through a list of some of the big-name films so far this year, or even those to come — “Battleship,” “The Three Stooges,” “John Carter” and the remake of “Total Recall” — it becomes fairly obvious that something has gone wrong with the state of American cinema. The odds of a cinematic watershed moment are not exactly in our favor.
But looking back over the last decade or so, perhaps the central problem is not that films have gotten worse — although they have been terrible — but that, as a culture, we have become more literate, more savvy in examining our films or even our television shows.
In 1998, for example, the list of the top 10 highest-grossing films of the year consisted of “Armageddon,” “Godzilla” (yes, the one with Matthew Broderick), “Deep Impact” and “Lethal Weapon 4.” If we put those movies into the context of today, they wouldn’t make nearly as much money. This may perhaps sound unfounded, but try to recall all the times, either in our popular culture or in our private conversations, that we have mocked any one of those four films.
“Whenever I go online, there are literally thousands of memes, videos and parodies,” said Saul Weinstein, a junior majoring in English. “Yesterday I saw a 10-minute video of the cheesiest lines in movie history.”
We have entered an age of far-reaching media. And with websites such as Reddit and TV Tropes, we are surrounded by an awareness of the clichés, tropes and absurdities of the modern motion picture, from Andy Samberg’s “Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions” sketch to everything written and generally felt about Nicolas Cage. People are aware of what “bad” films are, and they’re not going to pay for them anymore.
“I don’t go to movies that often,” said Marisa Monte, a sophomore majoring in English. “They’re too expensive and I have other things to spend money on.”
This train of thought pertains most heavily to the demographic of young people — the ones spending their time online and the ones spending the money to see the summer’s latest action blockbuster. So while the average cinema-goer in 1998 was all too eager to see Matthew Broderick and Jean Reno battling a giant monster or Mel Gibson do just about anything, they now sit at their computer laughing at the ridiculousness of those things. Few people are paying to see them. Just like very few people saw “John Carter,” and probably fewer will see “Battleship.”
All of this leaves the movie studios in a precarious position. In order to make money, they have to actually start making better films — blockbusters with more than simply brawn or Mel Gibson.
And slowly, we’ve begun to see the attempts at doing so. Perhaps the best example is writer and director Christopher Nolan and his soon-to-be-completed Batman trilogy, along with his film “Inception.” Or maybe even the upcoming “Avengers” movie, of which the studio handed over directorial duties to Joss Whedon, the long-beloved cult creator of the television shows “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly.”
More and more studios are beginning to give the creative reigns to those individuals with actual artistic merit because they’re beginning to see, after all of the flops, that the higher-quality films are the ones that rake in the cash. The clichés no longer function as they used to. Now, they simply get eviscerated by the online film critic within each of us.
So while looking out over the vast ocean of terrible films to come this year, try to enjoy those few bright little buoys there too, and feel safe knowing that there will be more to come. We helped create this potential for a brighter film future. It’s our reward for hating Michael Bay.