Have Studio Blockbusters Become More of an Obligation than Anything Else?


2014 Blockbusters, Most Anticipated

There was a comment on Thor: The Dark World last year that’s had me thinking ever since. It read, “I’m excited, but only because I feel obligated to be.” It’s a comment that seems to appropriately sum up today’s studio blockbusters rather well and as I sit here, trying to put together a list of my most anticipated films of 2014, I can’t help but notice the majority of blockbusters aren’t making the cut. Many I’m skipping over without a second thought.

Sure, a couple will find their way in there, but at this point is anyone really anticipating one of Marvel’s movies more than simply planning on seeing it? This isn’t to say Marvel movies are inherently bad, they’re simply an inevitability. A new Marvel movie (or four) is just as inevitable each year as some sort of new, watered down disaster film (Pompeii), or a gritty retelling of a public domain classic (I, Frankenstein, Dracula Untold) or a new film featuring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (X-Men: Days of Future Past).

You can also expect a handful of young adult adaptations — Divergent, The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 — as well as another continuing trend in blockbuster cinema, giant robots (Transformers: Age of Extinction). Just as with the Marvel movies, I’m not saying any of these will be bad, though I do have my expectations for a few of them, but they are simply inevitable. You don’t need to anticipate them because they are sure to arrive, just as you can count on The Hobbit: There and Back Again next December, but at least with that one it may appear our travels to Middle Earth will finally be coming to an end.

This brings us back to the headline. Is there something of a feeling of obligation to see these movies? If you haven’t seen Thor 2 or don’t line up for Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: The Winter Soldier have you missed out on the conversation? Or perhaps was it 2013’s crop of blockbusters that started this way of “obligated” thinking?

2013-blockbustersLooking at the top of the 2013 box office I see films such as Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Man of Steel. Certainly these were movies a lot of people were genuinely anticipating. A little further down the list you find Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Thor: The Dark World. I’m sure people were genuinely anticipating these films and I’m sure some lived up to expectations, but I can’t help but sense a feeling of disappointment over many of them, certainly a level of disappointment for the likes of Man of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness. That can’t be just me… can it?

I asked readers on the RopeofSilicon Facebook page recently to offer up some titles they were anticipating in 2014 and among the comments were a pair of readers that mentioned upcoming blockbusters, the first saying, “More curious than anticipating the summer blockbusters which I thought were just terrible in 2013.” The other added, “Blockbuster[s] I don’t anticipate anymore cause they always tend to disappoint.

Certainly films such as Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar, Wally Pfister‘s Transcendence, Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah and a handful of others will be anticipated by most, but I don’t consider those your run-of-the-mill blockbusters. Even Guardians of the Galaxy comes with more anticipation than the next Captain America, even though both are likely to do very little to buck the safe system of storytelling the other Marvel movies have followed as blockbusters seem to be made with an embedded level of fear and zero risk.

Just watching many of today’s blockbusters you can sense a fear of offending, a fear of confusing, a fear of stimulating the brain into thinking for itself. There are, obviously, exceptions to every rule, but I found it telling just how easy it was to pass right over the likes of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past when I began my list of most anticipated films in 2014, not giving either a second thought.

I understand we all hope these films will be good as a blockbuster level of escapism is one of the main reasons many go to the movies, but in recent years the disappointments seem to be never-ending and yet, audiences still show up, even though the level of excitement doesn’t seem to be there the way it used to be.

I’ll leave you with this, how excited are you and how much are you anticipating the likes of RoboCop, 300: Rise of an Empire, Captain America 2, Transformers: Age of Extinction or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Before you answer just think about that word “anticipation” and then think of a words such as “curious” and “hope” and ask yourself, Have studios instilled a need to see their tent pole features? Is there a sense of obligation that comes with each of them or just a matter of hope they will be good? There is certainly nothing wrong with anticipating these movies, but I just wonder if what was once anticipation has turned into something else.

Perhaps “obligation” isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s “hope”, but I’d love to read your thoughts on whatever “it” may be as we move into a new year, one where I personally hope the blockbusters are more entertaining than those of 2013.