Every year that are hundreds of news stories that somehow impact the entertainment business and what audiences see at home on television or at the local Cineplex. Sometimes these stories cause barely a ripple and sometimes they make a big splash, rocking boats and moving the entire industry onto new courses. Here are the five most important evolving stories that unfolded in this last year and which will continue to impact what we see in cinemas going forward.
Explosion Of African American Cinema
This past year saw an explosion in mainstream films that spoke to African American audiences in ways that hadn’t really been seen since the Blaxploitation boom of the 1970s. Black Panther started the year off with more than just a bang as the superhero film, whose storyline managed to straddle the realism of Oakland, California and the isolated, technologically advanced fictional African nation of Wakanda, yet still managed to ultimately be a story about brothers and respect. And the billion dollars that the film would make was just a herald for what was to come. Spike Lee turned in his strongest film in years with Blackkklansman, while rapper-turned-director Boots Reily’s Sorry To Bother You was one of the most uniquely visual and assuredly-directed films of the year, no matter who was behind the camera. Other films like Blindspotting and The Hate U Bring spoke to the urban black experience while at the same time crossing over to white audiences as well. And we finished off the year with Moonlight director Barry Jenkins premiering his latest, If Beale Street Could Talk. In total, sixteen of the Top 100 grossing films produced by Hollywood came from black directors as high a number has been seen in many years. We’re not sure what that number will be next year, but if it continues to grow, perhaps studios are learning the lesson that despite whatever differences we may have, it is our commonalities that ultimate speak to each other.
Implosion of MoviePass
The year started off with maverick movie ticket subscription service MoviePass boasting over three million users and hemorrhaging money like the Black Knight in Monty Python And The Holy Grail. But when hoped for revenue streams such as monetizing user data or sweetheart deals with theater chains failed to materialize, the company soon found it had to resort to other means to try and reverse and their negative cash flow. Unfortunately, that meant changing the terms of their unlimited one-movie-ticket-a-day-every-day benefit to various combinations of restrictions that caused numerous subscribers to cancel. As 2019 kicks off, MoviePass has transitioned to yet another new set of benefits, this time tiered with price determined by one’s geographical location. But with theater chains like AMC and Cinemark rolling out their own discount ticket programs and non-chain specific rival Sinemia nipping at its heels, MoviePass has a tough year ahead of it. But regardless of whether it survives or not, the company has definitely begun changes in how theaters create incentive programs for audiences.
Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary
It is hard to imagine that on the eve of the release of Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios was readying themselves to take a rather big gamble. Very quietly, they were preparing a handful of solo superhero films to crossover with each other to form a bigger, interconnected universe. It was an idea that applied comic book continuity to film in a way that had never been seen before. It wasn’t until Iron Man was a hit that studio chief Kevin Feige would fully reveal the studio’s plans to have three years of films culminate in a team-up movie called The Avengers. And now, ten years, over twenty films and billions brought in at the box office later, the idea sure seems like a no-brainer. But apparently some brains are required as numerous other studios are trying their hand at building their own shared cinematic universe franchises, and not having the success that Marvel has. While Legendary’s MonsterVerse featuring Godzilla, King Kong and the like and the horror-based Conjuring Universe have had success, Universal’s Dark Universe and Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword crashed and burned on their first entry. Currently, Warners’ DC Comics based DC Extended Universe is crawling from the wreckage of director Zack Snyder’s first installments while there are other cinematic universes being planned right now in boardrooms across Hollywood. Toy manufacturer Hasbro is reportedly rebooting both its GI Joe and Transformer films into one megafranchise that would also feature films starring other of the company’s toy lines and the heroes from comics publisher Valiant are being developed for their own features. Well they succeed? That remains to be seen, but as long as the concept itself keeps earning billions, you’ll be seeing studios trying.
The Increasing Toxicity Of Fandom
From about the second day that fandom has existed, there has been disagreements among fans. In the 1970s, one of the big debates was over which was better – Star Trek or Star Wars? For even longer, comics fans were split along the lines of their love for publishers DC or Marvel. But for the most part these divisions were always good-natured and the debates that the sprung out of these splits helped to sharpen everyone’s critical appreciation of the material under discussion. But that has changed slowly over the last couple of years and it can often seen as if fandom is at war with itself and some of the divisions can be ugly. The misogyny of ComicsGate – a group of man-babies who lash out at virtually any woman or minority who would dare work in the industry – has spilled over into already contentious online discussions of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi to the point where that film’s co-star Kelly Marie Tran quit social media in the face of continual harassment. And she wasn’t the only one – in 2016 Leslie Jones was briefly hounded off twitter and more recently both Millie Booby Brown and Ruby Rose have retired from social media in the wake of harassment. Sure, there are a few exceptions – Twin Peaks fans, for one, have remained civil even in the face of the highly polarizing last episode of Showtime’s 2017 revival of the series. Has online animosity peaked? Hard to say, as its rise could be mapped onto the over rise of rancor in just general public discourse. It would take something fairly big, and not necessarily film related, to appeal to our better natures and swing the needle back towards civility. Oh, and that Star Trek/ Star Wars debate? In the end, the success of one helped to revitalize the other, a case of a rising tide lifting all boats. A lesson to be learned there.
Online streaming services continued to be the big disruptors they have been the last several years. Netflix has continued to be big spenders in terms of not only acquiring content but in generating not just television series and comedy specials but films as well. Armed with intricate knowledge of what its subscribers like to watch and their viewing habits, Netflix has had a number of successes. Even when it delivers a dud like The Cloverfield Paradox on Super Bowl Sunday, it has shown that it knows how to get people’s attention, making their offerings essentially critic proof. Coupled with their new found willingness to to give films like Roma and The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs some room for a theatrical run before being available online may make Netflix a force to be reckoned with at Academy Awards time.