Where have the non-franchise blockbusters gone? To Netflix and Amazon, of course

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Recently it has become fashionable for acclaimed A-list directors to express their dislike for superhero movies. The highest profile was Ridley Scott, who said, among other things, “his scripts aren’t any f*****g good”. Others who have targeted the most lucrative genre of cinema include The Piano’s Jane Campion (“I really hate them”) and Martin Scorsese (“It’s about trying to convey an emotional, psychological experience to another human being). Humans don’t have cinema”)

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All three filmmakers have catalogs and reputations strong enough to make people sit up and take notice, but criticizing an entire genre feels a little underwhelming. Sure, there are some downright terrifying superhero movies out there, but plenty of Marvel and DC movies have also received widespread acclaim — Black Panther even took home a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

So the problem with superhero movies isn’t their quality, as much as they — as with other major franchises like Star Wars and Fast & Furious — tend to starve box office oxygen of everything.


Or, as Dunne and MCU star Stellan Skarsgard put it bluntly in an interview with the Guardian: “There’s no distribution channel for all mid-budget movies that have the best actors, the best writing because they don’t throw away $3 million.” Maybe a marketing campaign. When theaters let them in, they do it for a week and if it doesn’t pay off in a week, they leave.”

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Skarsgard was referring to the kind of quality dramas that are traditionally referred to in conversations about awards, but the rise of superheroes has resulted in another casualty, which can be seen by those discussing cinema as an art form. You don’t actually see many non-franchise action movies on the big screen anymore.

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Endangered Species

Charlize Theron leads The Old Guard, a film that might have been titled by Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger in the ’90s.

Back in the ’90s and early ’00s, when theater lobbies were littered with posters and standees of movies about people – and then it was always people – with a propensity for firing lots of weapons and/or Perform impossible stunts. And a lot of times, these characters were doing the impossible. Without A superpower in his locker.

In that era of star power and extraordinarily high concepts, a lack of brand recognition was rarely a problem. Want to see Sylvester as a rock climber in the Rocky Mountains? Here is the cliffhanger. Like him as a crazy modern cop who’s cryogenically frozen and resurfaced in a utopian future that needs his unique skills to take down Wesley Snipes’ violent criminal? Then Demolition Man has you covered. Harrison Ford plays a remarkable all-action U.S. president in Air Force One, Keanu Reeves finds a bomb on a bus in Speed, and even the surprisingly silly Nicolas Cage becomes an actual action hero. Got a chance In fact, there are few stars who have had The Rock (disgruntled soldiers take over Alcatraz), Con Air (disgruntled prisoners capture a plane) and Face/Off (disgruntled criminal swaps face with his FBI agent Nemesis). ) were influential. ,

While these movies were undeniably blockbusters, they couldn’t compete with effects-driven tentpoles like Jurassic Park, Independence Day or Pirates of the Caribbean. They were rarely adaptations or continuations of existing franchises, and were based on teenagers and adults rather than family audiences. Of course, they were more likely to upset the Golden Raspberry than the Oscars, but they were also incredibly popular and successful. Looking back, it’s odd that they’re now an endangered species at the box office, to be filed with a rom-com.

Streaming saves the day

Chris Hemsworth swaps his magic hammer for a machine gun in Extraction on Netflix.

But it turns out that the mid-level action never really went away – it just got migrated somewhere new. Take a tour through the menu screens of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and you’ll see streaming services taking a punt on original films that, at the turn of the 21st century, would have been top of the bill at multiplexes. And they’re not skimping on A-list talent, either, most of them headlined by Hollywood stars and directors—when Michael Bay, a director who’s spent his entire career in widescreen slow motion conditions, can make Go streaming (ie the Ryan Reynolds-starring 6 Underground), it’s clear that the rules of engagement have changed drastically.

These days we see Charlize Theron as a cynical immortal warrior in The Old Guard—a role that, 20 years ago, would certainly have been played on the big screen by Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger—or Will Smith in his suicide The squad reunites with director, David Ayer, for human/orc cop drama Bright. Ironically, the stars of superhero movies are also in high-demand with streamers, taking non-franchise muscles away from the big screen — Netflix’s Red Notice, the streamer’s most popular original film of all time, follows Wonder Woman. Beach managed to instigate a team-up. (Gal Gadot), Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and Dwayne Johnson (soon to be Black Adam). Meanwhile, MCU vets Anthony Mackie, Michael B. Jordan and Chris Hemsworth headlined Outside the Wire, Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse and Extraction, respectively.

While Chris ‘Star-Lord’ Pratt’s alien-invasion vehicle The Tomorrow War was originally scheduled for a theatrical release, it was eventually sealed in a big money deal by Amazon Prime Video. In these circumstances, it is logical to ask whether streamers are hogging films that might otherwise thrive on the big screen. But, even outside of a pandemic, it’s hard to see how even a film of the epic scale of The Tomorrow War can compete in a market dominated by familiar blockbuster brands. Indeed, unless it’s directed by Christopher Nolan—which is essentially a franchise in its own right—the chances of an original blockbuster troubling the upper reaches of the box office are slim.

So it becomes a question, had Netflix and Amazon not entered the market, would movies be made in the first place? Chances are they will be, but nowhere near the level of star power or production budget that we see now.

This is a gap in the market that streamers make sense to fill. He has done prestige, award-friendly work: with the likes of Netflix’s Roma, Mank, Marriage Story, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Scorsese’s own The Irishman; Amazon with One Night in Miami, Sound of Metal and Manchester by the Sea. But a large number of viewers are looking for something that goes a little better with popcorn, not necessarily involving superheroes or lightsabers.

This new generation of direct-to-streaming blockbusters probably won’t challenge your brain or exaggerate the human condition—let’s face it, there’s a high chance that many are going to go bad, which is always part of the equation when You gamble on humans doing unimaginable things while fending off a succession of one-liners.

But if you’ve been searching Netflix or Amazon late on a Friday night, it’s comforting to know they’re out there, waiting to be found. If there’s any chance you might stumble upon another movie as thoroughly entertaining as The Rock, we’re all going to be better.

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