“Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies… Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”
Simon Pegg’s comments in a 2015 Radio Times interview may have temporarily vilified him in the eyes of internet geekdom but, whether you’re a regular cinema-goer or not, his statement has essentially proved true in recent years with it being practically impossible to visit a cinema without seeing at least one new Marvel/DC flick.
Films that were once touted as Hollywood’s golden examples of box-office and critical success have been at best demoted to the indie scene or at worst vanished completely. In 1982, E.T. coolly established itself as one of the most profitable and beloved films of the century.
In 2016 financial disaster Midnight Special (a Spielberg-inspired sci-fi if ever there was one) went virtually unseen by most of the public. We’ve all heard of great old-fashioned epics such as Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge on the River Kwai but how many people were running out to see this year’s The Lost City of Z? Put simply, audiences just don’t have the patience for the sort of films that were being made a couple of decades back.
However, despite the persistence of Transformers’ dead-weight action and some disappointing box office flops for impressive films, 2017’s blockbusters might just have been the crop that returned to the days of not just making money, but giving an audience something to mull over on their way home. A good starting point might be the biggest money-maker of them all: comic-book movies.
In March, Logan was able to deliver, of all things, a beautifully made, unexpectedly moving paean to ageing and legacy; albeit in the guise of a film where Hugh Jackman sprouts adamantium claws from his knuckles. A hard ‘R’ rating attached to the film also potentially indicated that the studio had quite possibly prioritised making something with genuine heft and emotional impact instead of a more family and box office friendly film. Despite this brave gamble, Logan proved one of the most profitable and critically acclaimed films of the year.
Fast forward a few months and both Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 both proved immensely entertaining, and an incredibly profitable successes. Though not quite achieving the emotional gut-punch of Logan, both films had a clear and unmistakable director’s vision behind them, flying in the face of committee-made decisions.
Despite [a] brave gamble, Logan proved one of the most profitable and critically acclaimed films of the year.
Looking to smaller budget successes, Edgar Wright scored his biggest financial success with the brilliant summer hit Baby Driver, charting the trials of an enigmatic but troubled young getaway driver. Meanwhile, Jordan Peele’s micro-budget and little-marketed Get Out proved a box office smash and La La Land’s charm won over audiences across the world. Beyond the numbers, it is notable that all of these films were original properties without a massive studio attached.
Their success can be attributed very simply to the fact that they remain three of the best-reviewed movies of the year so far and, no matter how loudly critics may whinge otherwise, people seem to be genuinely concerned with the quality of a film as opposed to whatever A-lister happens to be on the poster for it. Transformers: The Last Knight and The Mummy have proved relative financial disappointments, despite having huge studio backing and major stars attached; a quick google of reviews for both films provides a possible reason for this.
2017 has obviously been far-from-perfect with the likes of Baywatch and The Emoji Movie getting a good kicking from critics and the imminent Justice League movie seeming like a bleak prospect given the seemingly endless amount of franchise building director Zack Snyder has been saddled with in the past.
For now, however, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, remains a great box-office success and possibly one of the greatest war-epics ever made; no mean feat considering the critical grumbles at the attachment of former One Direction member Harry Styles as one of its stars. In 1979, the film classics of the future were being made by directors who’d made their name through Godfather films. In 2017, they’re being made by directors who just happen to have a Batman trilogy under their belt as well.