With its release set for the end of November, Frozen 2 will be Walt Disney’s 747th motion picture. The production company, nearing its centennial, also owns more than 100 Disney-labeled cable networks, including 20th Century Fox, ABC, and A&E.
Streaming services, including Netflix and Amazon Prime, have created a whole empire on their own, targeting groups of individuals who would much rather stay at home and watch their favorite stars. According to critics and filmmakers, these changes to who makes movies and how and where we watch them is transforming the industry and what’s available to the mass public.
“The industry has been largely dominated by the corporations that run them and a number of consolidations,” said Ty Burr, Boston Globe film critic and cultural columnist. This rising consolidation has bolstered franchises, including the Star Wars series and the Marvel Comics films, but “It has driven out original dramas, comedies – all of those mid-range movies.”
Such “mid-range movies”, including the top-grossing film of the 1990’s Titanic, distinguished the last decade of the 20th century, with independent films booming and an overall rise in movie theater attendance, according to ScreenRant. However, the 2000s brought along a much different film audience, with an increase in sci-fi/fantasy and superhero movies. This growth in supernatural films and genres has continued on with Disney’s purchasing of Marvel and its heightening popularity.
Since the March 2019 Disney/Fox merger, critics have expressed worry towards Hollywood’s monopolization and the limiting of film genres. The most blatant critique has come from renowned American-Italian filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
In an interview with Empire Magazine in October, Scorsese remarked that Marvel movies were not cinema. Infuriating Marvel fans and franchise followers, Scorsese went on to clarify his statements in a New York Times op-ed piece: “In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever.”
As of 2018, Marvel has released more than 25 superhero films since its start in 2008. Since then, superhero films have set box-office records, with Avengers: Endgame being the highest grossing film of 2019, according to Business Insider.
Along with the narrowing of movie genres, the monopolization of Hollywood and rise of streaming services have bolstered the slow decline of movie theatres themselves. According to Bloomberg.com, 2017 theatre admissions were the lowest since 1992, with only 1.24 billion movie-goers that year.
With the rise of streaming services, movie theatre culture is currently taking the brunt of this change in film releases. Movie and television accessibility have become the easiest it has ever been. Catering specifically to younger generations, Netflix and Amazon have made it possible to watch the latest blockbuster from the comfort of home, with movie theater audiences skewing older.
“The older audience is an audience that really likes to go to movies and continues to go to movies on a regular basis,” said Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, in a 2016 interview with The Guardian. Older audiences have remained consistent movie-goers, despite the top film genres at the moment.
“It's interesting because all of the "regular" customers we have are all on the older side. I do not think this is because movies nowadays are catering to older audiences - in fact, I think the opposite. However, I think movie theater culture caters to older generations,” said Boston University COM Alum Emily Paige, who currently works at Showcase Cinemas Worcester North.
Along with easy accessibility through streaming services, the distribution of original films has declined over the past years. Streaming services have now begun to release their own original films solely on their streaming platforms, limiting the number of films shown at movie theatres.
As a result, Scorsese and fellow director Steven Spielberg asked for a policy change – movies had to be screened for a limited time at movie theatres and then uploaded to streaming platforms. This policy would force streaming films to undergo the same theater release procedure other traditional films generally follow.
The most obvious practice of this new rule is the premiere of Scorsese’s The Irishman, a new Netflix film that is set to play at national movie theatres for 3 months before moving exclusively to Netflix.
“I think you’re seeing people like Scorsese and Spielberg trying to save cinema as they know it… Netflix wants to win Best Picture, Amazon wants to win Best Picture. So, if Hollywood comes in and says, ‘You have to show it for a month and you got to show it in at least 12 cities’, that saves cinema to me,” said Boston University Film and Television Professor Maura Smith.
With the impending Oscar season at the start of 2020, Academy Award winners are predicted to set Hollywood’s agenda for the next several years. Focusing solely on 2019’s big-name releases, Hollywood’s monopolization and streaming services have drastically limited film genres. Filmmakers and critics are left worried for Hollywood’s inevitable bend to multiplex corporations. Per Smith’s professional opinion: “There’s something about sitting in a theatre, having a shared, communal experience that’s just unique to filmmaking…Losing that would be a shame.”