August is now in its second week as this year's Summer blockbuster season is winding down. 2014, even with last week's record-breaking debut of Guardians of the Galaxy, saw the lowest box office returns in 10 years, fueling the conversation that is seemingly inevitable about this time each year: where are the original films?
Though 2014's low box office returns has made this a little more prevalent, the conversation is far from a new one. Since 2005, the first time box office figures couldn't match the numbers from the year prior, box office analysts and moviegoers wonder why the films movie companies can't be stronger – “stronger” often be a veiled attempt at saying “more original”. Of course, I'm not talking about “original” the way that Guardians is original, but rather “original” in the way that it's not a sequel, prequel, reboot, retelling/reimagining, or otherwise based on an existing piece of literature or true story.
The truth is simple. Original films are out there, but they're just not selling the way they used to. Thanks to big blockbuster event films like The Avengers and excessive multi-installment franchises like Fast and the Furious, original films just don't pull in the weight or numbers that a comic book movie or big-budget sequel will. Even sadder, box office analysts look at the paltry numbers brought in by original movies often as victories the same numbers for any other film are looked upon in disappointment. For instance, 2013's Now You See Me, a movie about a group of magicians who pull off a bank heist, was one of the few truly original films to bow that year, and is considered a hit with a domestic gross of $117.7 million. However, this year's Amazing Spider-Man 2 is considered a disappointment because it didn't gross over $250 million domestically. It seems like a double standard, doesn't it?
What many moviegoers fail to consider when complaining about the dearth of originality in Hollywood is that movies are a business just like any other. If one product sells better than another, the company will inevitably make more of the higher-selling product. This concept can be seen in play when looking at top-grossing films of the last two years. In 2012, moviegoers criticized movie companies for the fact that only four original films made the Top 15: Brave (#8), Ted (#9), Wreck-It Ralph (#12), and Django Unchained (#15). Ironically, in 2013, that number dropped to three films: Gravity (#6), The Croods (#14), and The Heat (#15). This year, with only four months remaining, there are only two films in the Top 15, and they're staggeringly low on the list: Neighbors (#12) and Ride Along (#14).
Many moviegoers only believe the original films exist in arthouse theaters these days, and they're not wrong. With critically acclaimed films out there this Summer like Snowpiercer, Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight and Richard Linklater's Boyhood (which has a rare 100/100 rating on Metacritic) playing in specialized venues, it's considered a success when films like these make an average of $3 million domestically – mostly because these films rarely expand to mainstream theaters. How does an independent arthouse film expand? By enough people buying tickets that the studio decides an expansion is worth it.
What does this mean? The fate of original film is up to you, the audience member. While this is not something that will get better overnight, especially since next year sees the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Fast and Furious 7, you, and you alone, are the ones who can start demanding originality at the multiplex. If you start buying more tickets to original films, the movie execs will be forced to take notice. It happened with comic book movies. It's happening right now with female-driven movies. And it can happen with truly original movies as well. Remember: movie companies will make the movies they feel will do well in the current market, and, unless the habits of the moviegoers change, then we will continue to see more sequels, prequels, and reboots. So, before bemoaning the fate of originality at the box office, think about the movies you've seen this year, and if you're part of the solution, or part of the problem.
It's definitely something to think about before buying that ticket to Ride Along 2.