The New Entertainment Industry
It used to be that going to the movies was a common form of evening entertainment - or even afternoon entertainment - for people of all classes and age groups across the United States. These days, a trip to the movie theater has been largely replaced by television, video games, and the Internet. People don't want to shell out ten bucks or more to go to a movie when they could easily watch a rented movie or stay home and play games with friends via web-connected gaming systems. Nevertheless, all-time top grossing box office records continue to be broken, it seems more and more often.
Movie Going as an Event
This odd situation is fairly easily explained. Hollywood knows that people are unlikely to go see any old movie in the theater. They need the movie going experience to be a true event. Going to the movies needs to be a big deal - something special enough to disconnect people from their cell phones and computers. (Of course, not everyone bothers to disconnect themselves from mobile devices, making for a more distracted cinematic experience.) So how does Hollywood achieve this epic event atmosphere to keep breaking box office records?
One way to get people into theaters is to promote opening night events. The excitement of standing in line for a midnight showing of the latest blockbuster can't easily be replicated in the comfort of our own living rooms. Opening night events are a huge source of revenue for the film industry, and Americans continue to buy in to these promotions.
The Power of Sequels and Adaptations
By now, most people have noticed that the vast majority of new movies being produced are sequels and adaptations. Utilizing familiar stories is another way that Hollywood keeps luring us into theaters. If we are already emotionally involved with a story, whether because we saw previous installments or because we've read the books, then we are more likely to become impatient to see new movies. By contrast, a movie with an original story is something we don't know about, something that could hit or miss, even if it's getting excellent reviews. If we're on the fence about whether to go to the movies or not, an original, unknown story is less likely to sway us in Hollywood's favor. The latest installment of a story we know and love, on the other hand, could convince us to go out.
Is Hollywood Really Thriving?
At first glance, this situation could seem innocuous, or could even seem to be a clever strategy on the part of Hollywood. If we take a closer look, we see that it could be having some negative effects on the world of cinema. After all, in twenty or fifty or a hundred years from now, who will remember the third or fourth movie in a franchise? Probably not many, but the resources that went into creating that third or fourth installment are tremendous. If Hollywood spent the same amount of money, time, and effort creating original stories, the quality of its output could be far better and longer lasting.
Hollywood and American Cultural Relevance
Does it matter whether films are remembered in future decades? There could be various answers to this question, each with good arguments to support them. One interesting angle has to do with the international reputation of the United States. For many decades, the U.S. has been called a superpower. Many people underestimate the importance of cultural relevance to international superpower status. The U.S. could have a strong economy and a strong military, but without exportable culture that captures the hearts and minds of people around the world, the nation's importance could decline. A strong, lasting film industry built around high quality movies, not just opening night spectacle, could be important for the future of the U.S.