There have been so many bloody superhero movies in recent years (the last official count put the number somewhere in the tens of thousands), that pundits have been making cynical jokes about the future of cinematic entertainment. There will come a time, they predict, that every single film released in movie theaters will cost over $400 million, will be owned by Disney, and will feature no less than 100 recognizable superhero characters, all of which were introduced in their own individual feature films the year before which also featured 100 recognizable superhero characters.
And while the superhero trend is indeed currently riding the crest of its wave – I predict that The Avengers: Age of Ultron will make over $150 million its opening weekend in May – the trend must inevitably come to an end. I mean it has to, right? This can’t possibly last for another whole decade, can it? Well, ask any superhero fan, and they’re in it for the long game. But I imagine most audiences will eventually tire of the tropes.
The future of blockbuster entertainments is a difficult and dodgy thing to predict. Trend arise that no one could have possibly imagined, and genres come to the forefront that hadn’t been seen before. What’s more, the technology of film is constantly changing in ways we can’t predict, making for aesthetic and financial mutations to the film industry one could never see coming. Nevertheless, it is a valuable (not to mention entertaining) cognitive exercise to contemplate what the future of movies may hold. I will boldly slip into my Criswell jacket, and make the following predictions about the future of blockbuster entertainments.
They Will Be Longer
There have been multiple studies over the years about the average length of feature films, none of which have been wholly conclusive; one would need to gauge the length of every single feature film to come up with good numbers, and that’s a near-impossible task. But there is a vague consensus that sounds correct: The average length of movies has been steadily rising since the 1930s, when average movie length was closer to 100 minutes. The biggest blockbusters of the last decade run an average of about 130 minutes.
No would-be blockbuster these days would dare run under 120 minutes or so, and many are happy to run over 150. The need for spectacle now has studios meeting a greater audience demand for more and more content. Given that the last Transformers film and the latest Avengers film will be about 165 minutes each, it seems that future blockbusters will only bloat.
What’s more, films need to constantly complete with the changing state of home entertainment consumption. If the average citizen can marathon through an entire season of television in the course of a day, then movies need to match that length and incident. And that simply cannot be done in an hour and a half.
The Blockbuster of the Future will run at least 190 minutes.
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They Will Be More Expensive
Cheapies are a thing of the past. Oh sure, there will always be the occasional sleeper hit that didn’t cost much to make, but ends up making huge amounts of money anyway, but those films, by definition, won’t be the planned blockbusters. I predict that blockbusters will continue on the current trend of high-risk, high-return for at least another 15 years.
Studios, as has been said by many pundits in the past, are no longer making numerous small risks. The days of mid-budget studio films is on the wane, and doesn’t look to be picking up traction. The best marketplace is for very expensive movies that are intended to make even more money. One $300 million film that will make a billion, rather than 10 $20 million films that will make $40 million apiece. The only thing that can hinder this current model is a string of bombs for multiple studios in a short span of time.
Smaller films – at least the ones that are theatrically released – will continue to wane, and well-moneyed supra-movies will be all that is available. Indie films will move online, art houses will be smaller and smaller businesses, and the notion of obscurity will become all the more sharply contrasted with the mainstream.
Tickets Will Cost More
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg recently made this prediction, and it sounds true to me. In the future, they say, movie theaters will begin offering tiered ticket prices very much the same way tickets are sold on Broadway. The bigger, higher-profile blockbuster entertainments – i.e. the special-effects-driven event bonanzas – will cost more to make and will, hence, cost more to get into. We’re already seeing this with inflated ticket prices for 3-D movies and IMAX screens. Eventually, the big, 3-hour opulent blockbusters will only be available in gigantic formats, will feature 3-D photography (or some other gimmick not available in homes), and will cost fat wads of cash to go see. Some Broadway tickets can cost upwards of $200 apiece. Movie tickets may eventually also take the lead.
Smaller films, meanwhile, will cost about the same. And by “smaller films,” Lucas and Spielberg were referring not just to smaller-budgeted films, but to films that feature good stories, good acting, and slower paces. Spielberg said that his film Lincoln would be on a lower tier, while the effects-heavy genre films would be on the higher tier.
So if you want to see 2031’s Splode ‘Em Up 9: The Death Reckoning on the big screen, save up your yuan. If you want to see the soulful biography of Galileo, you can go any day of the week.
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They Will Be More Chinese
Domestic grosses are less and less meaningful in an increasingly global marketplace. You can see the shift already occurring in movies like Iron Man Three and Transformers: Age of Extinction. Filmmakers are adding more and more Chinese characters and setting to exploit the enormous Chinese market. White American males still seem to be at the center of most blockbusters, but they are more and more being surrounded by supporting Asians. It won’t be long before Chinese characters begin working their way into leading roles.
All American box office reports now come with asterisks. It made X-million here, but globally, it made triple that. The highest-grossing film of 2014 was The Hunger Games. Globally, it was Transformers. And that film had a climax that took place in China, and featured several Chinese characters. China’s economy is on the rise, and American movies know that. The international dollar will only grow in the future.
They Will Feature Less and Less Reality
As film technology continues to grow, so too will the special effects. We live in an age where live-action human characters can be reasonably replicated with CGI counterparts. We may still hang onto motion capture for a while, and human voice actors may still be needed, but I suspect that any sort of image will eventually be able to be fabricated using a computer. The notion of using a camera at all will become old-fashioned, and all those old arguments about cinema offering up “ecstatic truth” will vanish.
If a blockbuster can be made entirely digitally, then it will be. We’ve already had hundreds of CGI-animated hits, and most blockbusters are blurring the line between live-action an animated as it is. Watch your favorite blockbuster from the last two or three years, and ponder how much of the film was animated. Matte paintings, interior sets, effects makeup, skin colors, even entire characters are achieved with CGI. It will not take long before all characters and sets and even spoken words are replaced with CGI.
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There Will Be No More Movie Stars or Directors
And if blockbusters are moving into all-CGI, then the notion of having a star actor open your movie will fall by the wayside. As it is, people aren’t going to see Captain America because they really love actor Chris Evans. They’re going because they love Captain America. It doesn’t really matter who plays him (my apologies to Chris Evans). And if the characters are the draw, why bother getting a “name” or even an appropriate performer? Just create the character from whole cloth.
It’ll be like that movie Simone. Have you seen Simone? It’s not bad.
Also, since a lot of blockbusters are created by studio committees and financial mandates, the notion of an “auteur director” will also fall by the wayside. Directors will no longer be the driving creative force behind a feature film. It will be a team of animators for hire. The studio and a nickname for the team. That’s all you’ll know about the creativity of blockbusters. The notion of one person controlling a movie will be as quaint as the notion of one person building a house.
What Will They Look Like, Visually?
Speed Racer. They’ll look like the movie Speed Racer.
Are There Any Modern-Day Analogues to the Future of Blockbusters?
The closest I can think of is the Bollywood model. Bollywood films tend to be extra long, feature romance, action, music, adventure, and every form of melodrama available. Bollywood films are a heightened version of American movies.
The blockbuster of the future will be an epically long animated Bollywood action musical, available on all sized screens. It will cost $200 to get in.