Fade to Black: Why Hollywood Is Dying And How We Can Fix It


Lakhsmi Chatterjee

Skylar Kleinman ’18 wants to see a better future for the film industry.

Storytelling has been a major means of creative expression for humans for centuries, and in the Digital Age, different narratives are easily accessible at our literal fingertips. Entertainment is a currency but, as of late, Hollywood is paying the price.

Even though many recent releases have been among the highest grossing films of all time, the film industry is actually losing money. American movie theaters sold fewer tickets in 2017 than any other year since 1992. As people are buying fewer movie tickets, industry executives are relying more and more on intellectual property with built-in fan bases to ensure that money is made.

Intellectual property, also known as IP, is any franchise that encompass existing books, comics, video games, etc. In 2017, twenty-one of the top twenty-five highest grossing movies domestically were intellectual property movies like sequels, remakes/reboots, or adaptations.

Companies like Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and Hulu are partly to blame for the over-reliance on IP due to their massive output of content. When quality entertainment is available at home, many people do not want to leave and shell out $9 a ticket whenever they want to see a movie. Moviegoers are often more invested in characters that they have seen before, not to mention more likely to be repeat ticket-buyers, so Hollywood has responded by pumping out more franchise films.

Digital piracy is also a serious issue as films can be watched practically anywhere for free and are available almost immediately upon release. In recent years, many companies like Nicholas Sparks Productions, multiple locations of movie theater chains like AMC Theatres, and independent theaters like Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Plaza Cinema have closed down. This is a serious reflection of the financial uncertainty in the entertainment industry today.

To avoid online hate, bad reviews, and low ticket sales, the industry panders to the fans, which results in more IP films. The combination of IP films and declining movie ticket sales can result in something even worse, whitewashing. When movies stop making money, popular actors are often cast instead of race-appropriate ones because they are seen as being more bankable. Out of the top thirty highest-paid (and needless to say, most popular) actors of 2017, twenty four are white. Consequently, popular white actors frequently get cast as characters that were people of color in the source material. One notable example is Scarlett Johansson playing a Japanese character in ‘Ghost in the Shell.’

The entertainment industry favors demonstrable success over risk, and with so many men already at the top, there is very little room for women to break new ground or disrupt the status quo.

For similar reasons, most movies are directed by men instead of women. Of the top 100 highest grossing films from 2007 through 2016, only forty-four films had female directors. This difference is also seen in career length: Male directors tend to work from their 20s to their 80s while women work from their 20s to their 60s. These disparities are further impact by race and movie genre. Predictably, people of color are far less represented than white directors, and women are far more likely to direct dramas than sci-fi or action films, which are usually more lucrative. The entertainment industry favors demonstrable success over risk, and with so many men already at the top, there is very little room for women to break new ground or disrupt the status quo.

It is important to remember that people who work in film are not only trying to make art; it is a business that is all about money. However, it does not need to be like this. Spec scripts (or speculative screenplays) are original screenplays not commissioned by a studio. Spec scripts are far less likely to be produced than IP films in the current climate, but from 1990 to 2008, there was the spec script boom. Films like ‘Good Will Hunting’ and ‘Inception’ were highly successful during this period. There is no reason why that trend cannot reemerge. If audiences spend more money to support indie films, foreign films, or really anything that is not a franchise film, the industry will take notice and take chances on smaller, fresher, more unique movies.

The same applies to diversity in Hollywood in general. The more support for films driven by women, LGBT+ people, and people of color, the more films with diverse casts and crews there will be. In this way, perhaps this sinking ship can be saved rather than deserted by the audience.