Ever since world-class directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola dismissed Marvel movies as mere theme park rides with little to no cinematic edge, a debate has been raging over whether or not franchise films are genuine works of art. In the age of reboots, remakes, and seemingly never-ending universes, detractors often assert that Hollywood has run “out of ideas.”
In a recent op-ed for Bustle, Dana Schwartz says that “Hollywood isn’t out of ideas” and argues that franchise movies are now the only avenue for artists to strut their stuff.
“Just because a film is based on a property that already exists doesn’t make the film itself inherently any less creative,” she writes. “Almost all movies are based on something. A book. A short story. A short film from another country. Am I supposed to enjoy You’ve Got Mail less because it’s based on a film that was based on a play? Must every film bro stop talking about The Departed because it’s a remake of a movie from Hong Kong?”
“Hollywood doesn’t work the way random people on Twitter think it does, where there’s an executive sitting in a room with two scripts — one that says GENERIC MARVEL MOVIE and one that says EDGY ORIGINAL STORY — and he’s so busy chomping his cigar that he makes the wrong decision every time,” she added.
Though Schwartz considers herself a fan of the movie “Cruella” starring Emma Stone, she understands why cinephiles might dismiss the movie as unoriginal trash due to the inarguable presence of Disney’s corporate hand at every turn.
“You can see the cynical corporate strings at work, the mental calculations of men and women in suits inputting the box office returns of Maleficent into a spreadsheet,” she writes. “And certainly, coming to understand the business of Hollywood is a disquieting experience, bringing with it the slow realization that despite what the perky montages at award shows claim, it’s not all about the love of cinema. Show business is a business, and studios decide to spend their millions of dollars on the movies that seem like they’re going to make lots of money, which means things that have name recognition and proven popularity. ‘Hollywood writers’ are not out of ideas so much as ‘audiences everywhere in the world’ don’t really go see small arthouse films en masse.”
That said, Schwartz celebrated the fact that artists like Chloé Zhao and Taika Waititi are being given opportunities with huge IP projects.
“The unfortunate byproduct of the industry is that our best and most exciting artists are moving to marquee IP projects because that’s where the resources are,” she said. “Chloé Zhao and Taika Waititi are making Marvel movies. Cruella was co-written by Tony McNamara.”
“But the system in which these artists operate doesn’t cheapen or negate their work, at least in my mind,” she added. “Bemoan the system if you might, but don’t tell me the costume designer of Cruella, Academy Award winner Jenny Beavan, is doing work any less creative than if she were working on a non-Disney property. (For the record, one of her Oscar wins was for another reboot/sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road.)”
Critics of the current industry trend, such as Martin Scorsese, have never faulted studios for seeking to make money with the best available product. As the Oscar-winning director noted in his New York Times essay, the problem is not so much in the types of movies being made but in the corporate culture that insists those types of movies be made. In other words, there is a difference between Warner Bros. letting Christopher Nolan craft “Batman” (a multi-million dollar franchise) in his own image and Disney (or any other studio) hiring artists to make a movie in an image that fits a previously-crafted business model spanning across multiple different film franchises.