Is there still blacksploitation in Hollywood?
20th Century Fox, Marvel Studios, Pixar and Lucasfilm have - besides the assembly line production of iconic superhero and adventure films - one more thing in common: They belong to the Walt Disney Company. That has negative effects on the cinema landscape. A feature by Philipp Weinbrecht.
I love disney My youth was dominated by Disney. Without Disney I would never have got THE FORCE AWAKENS, which has become my favorite part of the STAR WARS series. I don't want to spoil anyone's fun here either. In my experience, many fans are not regular moviegoers who storm the halls every week for sometimes more, sometimes less good films. You watch Disney and Marvel films because: childhood, comics, event character.
Disney is more than just Mickey Mouse
Comics fans around the world are regularly talking about one question: What's next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Are we in the middle of overkill? Or should we all squirm in boundless euphoria? The fact that the argument “You don't have to watch it!” Is slowly becoming a problem is mainly due to a mostly completely forgotten actor: Disney.
Many people are probably not aware of how much the Marvel and Disney hype is negatively affecting the cinema landscape. Fact check: Marvel has been a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios since 2015, so it belongs to Disney. Just like Pixar Animation Studios, Lucasfilm Ltd and, more recently, 21st Century Fox. This means that Disney controls four of the largest studios in Hollywood in addition to the output on its own. Mind you: I'm “only” talking about films. But Disney also produces series, operates its own TV channels, maintains music and theater productions and soon also the streaming service Disney +.
Blockbusters were rare
Between the late 80s and the young two-thousanders it was common for there to be a handful of blockbusters each year, most of which were spread over the year: DIE HARD, GHOSTBUSTERS, THE ROCK, CON AIR or INDEPENDENCE DAY, to name just a small one To name a few, they were a surefire way to draw crowds to the cinemas, preferably over the summer. Even today, the term “summer blockbuster” is synonymous with popcorn cinema.
Smaller productions were mostly released around the blockbusters in order to maintain a bit of charisma: For example, CORPSE BRIDE and KISS KISS BANG BANG could exist alongside SIN CITY and STAR WARS: EPISODE III in 2005, while the first THE TRANSPORTER released the post-blockbusters in August -Wave rode and celebrated a success.
Of course there have always been and are surprising successes that break out of these common patterns and of course there have been and are blockbuster flops as well. But especially in times without social media, the main source of information was often a cinema poster, a magazine or traditional television. Most of the biggest films were advertised here. In the end, the studios benefited from the learned behavior of the audience.
The excesses can still be seen today in the horror area: In winter, smaller, cheaper shockers are increasingly brought to the cinemas in order to take advantage of the “dark season”. Blumhouse in particular benefits from this, which means that the studio can also finance more daring productions such as BLACKkKLANSMAN or the celebrated GET OUT through many cheaply produced horror flicks.
Delightful inundation with cinema blockbusters
Since Disney started opening their wallets and opening studios like Marvel and Lucasfilm Ltd. swallowing, the situation has changed: Have you ever wondered why people always talk about “visionary” filmmakers or “epic” films? Well, the differentiation becomes difficult when a new big budget flick hits the cinema every four weeks. Do you think I'm exaggerating? Let's take a look at the 2018 cinema year as an example:
- in February, BLACK PANTHER delighted fans and critics
- A WRINKLE IN TIME was released in March
- INFINITY WAR was already attracting viewers to cinemas worldwide in April - with, as we know, gigantic success.
- in May, SOLO - A STAR WARS STORY told the story of the young Han Solo
- followed by THE INCREDIBLES 2 in June
- during July expanded the MCU with ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
- Finally, WRECK-IT RALPH 2 also caused the tills to ring in November
Smaller productions like MARY POPPINS RETURNS or CHRISTOPHER ROBIN should also be mentioned. Although the latter film in August was much quieter, it was able to make some money despite the young target audience.
What now sounds like a well-filled year in cinema is limited to films with one common denominator: each of these films is a product by Disney or an associated studio.
Disney promotes movie theater operators and competitors
What few film enthusiasts know: cinemas have tough contracts with Disney, and Disney knows about its power and popularity, which is why the contracts sometimes take on absurd dimensions. With the release of STAR WARS - THE LAST JEDI, for example, the company demanded that the film must be shown in the largest hall for at least four weeks without even missing a single performance, as otherwise penalties could be imposed. In addition, 65% of the ticket proceeds had to be surrendered. If you ask yourself why more and more 3D screenings have been shown, you only have to add one and one up: After all, cinema operators want to make money too.
The aftermath was that Disney demanded higher taxes beyond STAR WARS, which was life-threatening for smaller cinemas. In Germany, operators went on the barricades and boycotted the Maus group with high publicity. It should come as no surprise that this didn’t affect Disney’s income, of course.
You can see the extent of these contracts if you take a look at the multiplex cinema chains: If you take one of the largest cinemas in Munich, the Mathäser, you almost hit it: In 14 available halls, on average 20x THE LION KING in 10 halls shown - per day!
In the linked tweet you can see the next problem at CHILD’S PLAY: If almost all cinemas are blocked by Disney every month, where is the space for other, smaller films?
We have all experienced the reaction of Hollywood to this dominance first-hand: every reasonably large studio has tried to copy the formula for success in the past. So far, however, all have failed: The DCEU (DC Extended Universe) was officially declared dead by Warner Bros. and DC because the films were financial and artistic disasters. This was often the case because Warner Bros. meddled so much in ongoing productions through pressure from Marvel that they ended in chaos. I'm not even starting from DARK UNIVERSE.
Even if you don't believe it: Disney is endangering the creativity of Hollywood, which has already suffered a lot: of the 50 most financially successful films since 2010, only ten were "originals". Six of them came from Disney / Pixar. The other 40 films were either comic book adaptations, remakes, reboots or films "based on ...".
The fact that Disney & Co. have been using the same formula for years may be due to its success, but it does not mention how big the problem is on the part of viewers and fans. As soon as Disney dares an experiment, the company gets the receipt: JOHN CARTER in 2012 was a financial debacle and THE LONE RANGER also fell short of expectations - because the audience ignored the films.
But even in successful film productions, a risk was reprimanded with negative reactions: Shane Black, who has always made his own films, broke with conventional conventions in terms of tone and content in IRON MAN 3 and was reprimanded by hardcore fans. The protests went so far that Marvel boss Kevin Feige gave in and assured fans that the "mistake" made with the Mandarin would be corrected. THOR 3, although less critically condemned by viewers than IRON MAN 3, caused numerous discussions within the fan scene. After all, Disney stands by the director and promptly leaves Taika Waititi behind the wheel again for the next Thor. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was of course a success and clearly more creative than most of the films in the universe, but the ugly hiccup around James Gunn still causes a "taste".
Avatar & The Box Office Record
The latest success is the displacement of AVATAR to number 1 of the most financially successful films (without inflation adjustment) by AVENGERS: ENDGAME. However, this was only possible through a re-release of the film, in which he was given additional scenes that were otherwise only planned for the home release. I don't know what makes my brow furrowed: That Disney wanted to get past AVATAR so badly, that they even go through with an action like this, or that the audience played the game and opened their wallet for a few seconds with new material .
At this point I am aware that AVATAR also got a re-release, but Cameron had already replaced the most successful film to date: TITANIC, which was also made by him.
“Yes, but James Cameron is filming AVATAR 2 right now and more sequels are also planned. He's also milking the cow until she doesn't give any more milk! " I hear you calling in front of the screen. That may be true, but AVATAR was important at the top of the list. Why? Like almost all Cameron films, AVATAR has revolutionized moving images. No matter how you find the film: Technically, it was a huge step forward, from which today's productions also benefit.
It was similar with TERMINATOR 2 or TITANIC, by the way. For AVATAR 2, Cameron has announced further revolutions and is experimenting with new technologies. So AVATAR 2 should offer a never seen 3D, without 3D glasses. That is also the reason why his sequel takes over ten years to realize. For him, it's not (only) about quick money, but about artistic standards. Why Cameron is one of the last great pioneers in Hollywood is impressively conveyed in this English-language essay. Again: It's not about the quality of the films, it's a question of taste, but about the fact that Cameron occupies number 1 and 2 on the list with films that have revolutionized cinema and what we experience with unprecedented experiences.
In addition, AVENGERS: ENDGAME promotes another painful fact in first place for the most successful films: If you look at the list, there are six (!) Disney films in the TOP 10; one of them now in first place.
Incidentally, both TITANIC and AVATAR were productions of the 21st Century Fox, which was dissolved after the takeover of Disney in March 2019. Both are now part of Disney. Well ... diversity looks different.
The illusion of diversity and gender roles
A somewhat more complex aspect is the subject of "Political Correctness". Yes, BLACK PANTHER and CAPTAIN MARVEL are socially important films in times when empowerment is a high and important good. But do you really have to infect Disney with a medal here? Tricky. In fact, the highly acclaimed MCU films in particular didn't really do much that wasn't there before: Blacksploitation promoted diversity in Hollywood 50+ years ago. Not with the quality it would have needed, but much more drastic than was common at the time. The influence is still noticeable: directors like Spike Lee or Quentin Tarantino still use this genre today.
And it was James Cameron who, with Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, established strong, iconic female characters who were not only far ahead of their time, but also shape today's cinema. With John McClane in DIE HARD, directors like John McTiernan established a new type of (anti) hero who managed without considerable muscle mountains and excess testosterone and who changed the then prevailing ideal of a man lastingly.
Unfortunately, these genres and films do not seem to exist for many (younger) Disney fans and the media: BLACK PANTHER is often seen on social media as the first “PoC” hero in the cinema. BLADE, SHAFT or HANCOCK are apparently completely forgotten. And what does CAPTAIN MARVEL do differently from Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor or Furiosa? At the same time as Captain Marvel stoically stoically through dark CGI worlds, ALITA was showing a film in theaters at the same time with a much more exciting heroine, fantastic visual effects (James Cameron, of course) and a main character who has significantly more complexity and depth as CAPTAIN MARVEL. The promised feminist paving the way did not materialize or was completely ignored elsewhere by the audience.
I am fully aware that every generation has its heroes, but Disney's offensive flirting with these topics has a bland aftertaste. Most recently, the New York Times took Disney to court, as the mega-corporation is trying to use this newly discovered diversity more and more often as a marketing tool and is aggressively promoting LGBT when making film announcements.
Again: I am not denying the importance of finally getting rid of prejudices, stereotypes and gender roles in mainstream cinema. However, I denounce how unreflective Disney likes to position itself as a pioneer and in the course of this tries to upgrade mediocre films (including BLACK PANTHER and CAPTAIN MARVEL) under this guise. The importance of films like BLACK PANTHER to the black community is undeniable; However, it does not meet this requirement in terms of craftsmanship.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
Many critics, including myself, don't want to badmouth Disney or the MCU. Nevertheless, as a fan you should (or especially) be aware of the power Disney now has and how the cinema landscape could and has been damaged. You can watch the films, but you should always question Disney. That the THE LION KING remake is now suffering a setback (at least as far as the critics are concerned) gives me a little hope. If you then see the box office numbers, however, my hope is immediately broken again.
Enjoy the movies. Celebrate your heroes and heroines. Experience the animation classics in a new guise. But please be aware that the criticism against Disney is important and sorely needed, because otherwise more creative films will soon only have a chance on Netflix & Co., but no longer on the screens of the world.
About the author
Philipp Weinbrecht is a streamer, blogger and podcaster at pressakey.com. According to his own statements, he is addicted to Twitter and moving images and enjoys writing about films, games and lifestyle.
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