Hollywood, specifically the film industry, is going through a legitimate, serious, and potentially fatal phase.
No one likes the movies anymore.
The key to a healthy industry—audience goodwill—is evaporating quickly.
Sure, there have been some recent hits. Avatar: The Way of Water just became the second-highest worldwide grosser (not counting for inflation) in history. The last three or four Marvel movies have made money. But let’s not kid ourselves. Avatar 2, just like Avatar 1, has had no cultural impact whatsoever. I know of one person who saw it, and when asked his opinion, he replied with a shrug. My guess, and this is just a guess, is that The Way of Water’s box office was driven by a small pool of fans who swallowed marijuana edibles and went to see it again and again and again… Hey, whatever works.
As far as Marvel, those films are making less money than ever before, are widely disliked, and leaking goodwill like a bucket with no bottom.
Don’t get me started on “prestige” films. For the last ten or so years (Shape of Water, Moonlight, Birdman), the Oscars have been a joke, a bat signal to avoid that title at all costs. This year’s winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once, was a 140-minute Tik Tok video.
The biggest problem is what many call woke or what I call “rhetoric.” Star Wars, Terminator, Charlie’s Angels, Men in Black, Toy Story, Shaft, X-Men, Space Jam, Magic Mike, Shazam, Disney animation, Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn… All of these franchises were murdered by insulting, spell-breaking, ham-handed rhetoric.
The movie industry’s addiction to pedantic, predictable rhetoric, to try to shape and alter society rather than reflect, inspire, entertain, and surprise us, has landed the movie business in its first existential crisis in more than 50 years.
Hollywood has faced do-or-die moments before, but in the past, Hollywood has always met the moment. That’s not happening this time. Despite years of proof that moviegoers have no interest in rhetoric, the rhetoric keeps coming. Despite years of proof that the public is so hungry for movies without rhetoric (Spider-Man: No Way Home, Top Gun: Maverick, this weekend’s John Wick 4) that we will make those movies monster hits, the self-destructive Woke Train keeps right on chugging towards the abyss…
If I had told you ten years ago that Disney would use its children’s movies to sexualize and groom your kids, to introduce them to homosexuality and drag queens… Had I told you that superhero movies would contain man-on-man necking, that there would be no sex or sexiness (unless it was gay) anymore, that men would be emasculated, that beauty would be replaced with ugliness, that the majority of the population would be attacked over their skin color, that we’d be scolded and lectured and shamed rather than inspired, that comedy and drama would be dead… You would have thought I was nuts. But here we are. And a long look into the future says it will keep on keeping on.
History is Hollywood’s guide out of this mess. Hollywood has faced disaster in the past. But that was a different Hollywood… A very different Hollywood.
Almost a hundred years ago, Hollywood was hit with its first existential crisis: the arrival of sound. You can’t imagine what an epoch that was. Everything would have to change. Moving from silent to sound was like asking a trumpet player to play the drums. What’s the problem? You’re still making music. Talkies required new actors, an entirely new acting style, new writers, new equipment and technicians, soundstages, and money… Lots and lots of money… So much money that what had been a local business was suddenly owned by large corporations in New York.
But the industry not only survived, it entered what we now remember as the Golden Era. The art coming out of Hollywood became the envy of the world.
And what was Hollywood’s solution to the sound crisis? Give the customers what they want.
Depression-era audiences wanted glamour, laughs, escapism, and Jimmy Cagney not taking anyone’s guff.
Twenty or so years later, Hollywood was hit with its second existential crisis. Television could deliver laughs and drama right in the comfort of your home. Why go out to see Abbott and Costello when Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, and Jackie Gleason appear in your living room? Why go out to see the latest drama with Playhouse 90 right there in your living room?
So what did Hollywood do? Well, the industry asked itself what the customers couldn’t get at home. And what they couldn’t get was Technicolor and VistaVision and stereo sound and 3D… But most of all, they couldn’t get widescreen epics—Westerns, war, Roman, biblical, etc.— that thundered across the screen. They couldn’t get Marilyn Monroe or Brando, either.
Simply put, Hollywood’s solution to TV was… Give the customers what they want.
The next existential crisis hit during the 1960s. Hollywood was tired, out of ideas, and out of step with a rapidly changing culture. One expensive flop after another had more than one studio considering bankruptcy. MGM had already been sold for parts. Cleopatra (1963) had 20th Century-Fox on the ropes…
And then along came Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Graduate (1967), Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Wild Bunch (1969), and Easy Rider (1969).
And once again, Hollywood saved itself by… Giving the customers what they wanted.
The old guard stepped aside, and New Hollywood blossomed with Hopper, Cimino, Scorsese, Friedkin, Polanski, Romero, Hiller, Ashby, Nichols, Milius, Woody Allen, Lumet, Peckinpah, Chayefsky, Altman, Bogdanovich, Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, Cassavetes, DePalma…
And then, almost without anyone noticing, the Easy Rider/Raging Bulls era moved into the blockbuster 80s, the indie-friendly 90s, the franchise-CGI-heavy 2000s, and the Marvel 2010s…
All of it profitable. Why? Because Hollywood… Gave the customers what they wanted.
The solution to the movie industry’s crisis is not rocket science. But the industry is now so warped, bubbled, narcissistic, and eager to normalize their icky sexual fetishes that instead of giving the customers what they want, Hollywood is trying to rewire human nature.
Something’s gonna give… and it ain’t gonna be human nature.
In the past, Hollywood could count on one basic truth: people love movies. Above all, the industry understood we want to love the movies.
Well, those days are about over. The movies have so alienated, insulted, bored, and repulsed us we no longer want to love the movies. We’re moving on.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.