2014’s Blockbuster Season: Good & Bad Trends

2014 Blockbusters

“We chose to die on our feet, than live on our knees”. This famous line is uttered in 2014 box-office smash 300: Rise of an Empire. Interestingly, in a sense, this quote can be applied to everything and everyone working in Hollywood over the next few months. Between now and the end of August, Tinseltown’s major studios will have to test themselves to pump out every product they covert. Licking their lips over major profits and marketing ploys, these studios believe they own the perfect recipes for box-office glory. However, if last year’s polarising blockbuster season proved anything, this is an unpredictable and vigorous three-month-long stretch.

Surely, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are looking down upon major studios and laughing with glee. With Jaws and Star Wars, they developed this season into something worth cherishing. This year, studios are taking chances with undiscovered properties and intriguing premises. Movies like Godzilla and Guardians of the Galaxy are relying on word of mouth and directorial talents to push themselves into that prestigious no.1 spot. Only time will tell whether these movies receive cheers or jeers. I bet you anything, looking back on this blockbuster season in a few months time, our perceptions regarding blockbuster cinema will have changed once again.

So, because I believe we should support big-budget moviemaking for what it is and not what it could or should be, I decided to investigate (strong word) this year’s promising trends and movies. From Captain America: The Winter Soldier, to Noah, to Divergent, all Hollywood movies fall into specific trends. I looked at such upcoming trends to judge their health, relevance, and buying power.

Peculiar Superhero Movies

Guardians of the Galaxy

This year, we have four big-budget superhero flicks to endure. Surprisingly, these adaptations all have a point to prove. Looking back on last year’s crop, I noticed that audiences want character and story development more so than action. Many people loved Iron Man 3‘s ironic humour and chatty lead characters. On the flip side, people were angry with Superman destroying buildings whilst ignoring the innocent citizens being obliterated by alien technology. This year, Marvel seems to have learnt from previous flicks’ mistakes. Judging by the action-packed trailers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is its safest bet. With its political-thriller narrative and morally distant characters, the movie delves into the genre’s greatest concepts.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This is one of four superhero movies vying for attention this year. The other three, The Amazing Spider-man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Guardians of the Galaxy, have significant preconceptions to overcome. To be recognised as top-tier superhero flicks, they must overcome major roadblocks. For starters, all three have roughly 20 characters each. That may be a gross exaggeration, but you guys understand what I’m talking about. The Amazing Spider-man 2, coming off of a generic 2012 reboot, is venturing into an original story. With three villains in charge of birthing a cinematic universe, this could become a disastrous case of too many crooks spoiling the broth. Fighting Electro, Rhino, and a new Green Goblin (for some reason), Spidey will have to fight for control and screen time. Clearly, Sony didn’t learn from what happened the last time they threw three villains into a Spider-man sequel.

X-Men: Days of future Past is significantly more ambitious yet could suffer due to the same flaws. Nervous about its own existence, X-Men‘s cinematic universe, ironically, relies on a handful of powerful people. Here, Director Bryan Singer crawls back to this franchise after problematic cinematic endeavours. In addition, after X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Days of Future Past will have to entice audiences to return to this hit-and-miss series. Despite these issues, the impressive cast, peculiar timeline, and sumptuous visuals could reinvigorate this franchise. However, by juggling a politically frazzled past, an intense present, and an apocalyptic future, this particular movie’s micro-universe could distort any chance of future sequels, prequels, interquels etc.

Unsurprisingly, Marvel’s riskiest gamble is The Guardians of the Galaxy. Based on an ambitious yet middlingly popular comic book series, this creation deals with the universe’s most bizarre and ignorant antiheroes. As Marvel’s version of Green Lantern, the movie’s star-gazing characters, from what I can tell, must bad together to save everything that exists. Hopefully, the movie will be better than that ungodly 2011 Ryan Reynolds flick. Thanks to the comedically delightful trailer, people are hoping this space opera can further boost Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Holding up a kooky cast, scintillating production values, and Star Wars-like tone, it either be a surprise hit or an expensive disaster.

Young Adult Adaptations

The Fault in Our Stars

As a male, I must state my intentions for including this section. I’m not entirely against the notion of adapting young adult novels into big-budget extravaganzas. If I did, I’d be overlooking the comic books, novels, TV shows, and video games that have been adapted also. So, why not give this genre a chance? Well, there are many reasons as to why I’d be concerned about this. The biggest reason stems from previous YA adaptations. Thanks to underwhelming and simplistic original material, Twilight’s target audience is restricted to mormon propaganda, misogynistic overtones, and cliched storytelling. I may not be a fan of this genre, but I can still see the appeal. Hitting a certain demographic, these movies provide young girls admirable heroes to aspire to. Thanks to the hugely successful Hunger Games saga, Katnis Everdeen has become an inspirational and compelling character for this target demographic.

Divergent Poster

This year, Hollywood is adapting nearly every YA novel in existence. The most obvious example is Divergent. Presenting a post-apocalyptic world (you know, like every YA novel), Divergent tells the story of a young girl being put in her place by rival factions and overlords. Shailene Woodley leads this big-budget experiment. Rocking The Descendants‘ core, Woodley will be tested beyond belief here. Also, actors like Theo James and Jai Courtney will have to prove themselves worthy of starring in blockbuster material. Young actors, normally given generic leading roles, must continually impress to retain positions within the A-list. This story, coming off like a cross between The Hunger Games and The Island, may be the movie’s biggest flaw. From the trailer, I could tell this is walking on shaky ground.

This year’s other YA adaptations look to be just as derivative. The Giver, starring Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, has the potential to be another dud like The Host. Like Divergent and The Hunger Games, the not-too-distant future setting plays host to some bug-eyed characters and a transformative story arc. Thematically heavy-handed, The Giver looks to be yet another bland and uninspired creation for A-list actors to hide themselves in. Speeding down a different track, The Fault in Our Stars crosses The Notebook with Short Term 12. Despite its immense popularity, YA audiences reject cinematic adaptations for veering away from the source material.

Expectations and preconceptions may deter certain viewers from this ambitious adaptation. Woodley, again, will have to stretch her acting muscles to envelop this wholly tacky lead role. With Woodley being typecast as young, naive heroes, this movie, if it bombs, could harm her blossoming career. Combining tear-jerky elements including sick children and unrequited love, the movie will have to overcome the cliched material to win over cynical, sarcastic young audiences. Hopefully, these movies scar too many people before The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 comes out later this year.

Gargantuan Biblical Epics

Christian Bale in Exodus

Peeling back the layers covering one of History’s most important texts, Biblical Epics touch upon sensitive topics and ethical conundrums. Christians look down upon people touching these all-powerful stories. Considered offensive to the Church, these movies are doused in flames by proactive Christians. The year’s first Biblical Epic is Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. Noah, walking with Ridley Scott’s Exodus two-by-two into popular culture, tells one of history’s most popular stories. As we all know, Noah is a man guided by faith and humanity. Guided by God, Noah is inspired to build a gigantic boat to support his family and all the world’s animals.

Noah Poster

Strangely, despite being based an a universally respectable tale, Noah relies on blockbuster tropes. Tainting this harmless and all-encompassing narrative, the CGI creations, action sequences, and A-list cast stretch this movie’s credibility beyond belief. Here, pitting Russell Crowe’s titular character against Ray Winstone’s character and his frightening human forces, the movie’s gargantuan scale and conventional turns distort this otherwise friendly story. However, knowing Aronofsky’s style, I do hope the acclaimed director can identify and highlight the story’s true merits.

Now, let’s compare this to Scott’s effort Exodus. Not much is currently known about this flick. Scott, coming off of several critically and commercially polarising blockbusters, Scott needs to succeed here. Thankfully, heading toward yet another epic narrative, I hope Scott can reign-in any of the script’s failings and deliver an entertaining thrill-ride. Telling the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments, Exodus boasts eclectic visuals and a dynamic cast. Right now, the cast is this movie’s most distinct advantage. Christian Bale, continually transforming himself, is a good choice to play the heroic Moses. Bouncing off of Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton here, Bale will be leading this otherwise questionable endeavour.

Final Thoughts

For the love of God, I hope my cynicism-fuelled predictions don’t come true. I always look forward to blockbusters of all kinds. Last year, we saw a wide array of movies employ traits of vastly different genres, movements, and directorial styles. Here, with sequels, prequels, superhero blockbusters, and YA adaptations running the show, I truly hope they can separate themselves from one another. The blockbuster season, despite its overwhelming flaws, provides more entertainment value than any other film season. Yes, I do believe that to be true.

It’s easy to slip into cliches whilst talking about big-budget projects. It’s simplistic to say things like: “blockbusters kill cinema” and “why can’t Hollywood make movies the way it used to?”. But Hollywood, like the humans running it, evolves over time. It doesn’t make movies like it used to because it now has greater resources. It can extend barriers and reach communities like never before.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Hi, I'm Tom Munday. I'm a Journalism graduate from Perth's Curtin University who's passionate about film, TV, music, theatre, and sport. Happy reading, folks!

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  1. Fransisca Hagen

    Noah was heavily restrained by the production company’s fear of offending, the film’s over-arching themes of respect for the earth and largely encapsulating visuals (apart from a couple of painfully rendered green- screen scenes) make up for times where I thought the screen writing was a little too safe. Shame shame.

  2. Tajuana

    I look forward to seeing Interstellar. Haven’t seen a really good science fiction flick in awhile.

  3. Don’t forget the musicals!

  4. I would note that its pretty remarkable how nine movies out so far, Marvel Studios hasn’t had a crap-the-bed turkey yet. Their lowest rated film THE INCREDIBLE HULK (which I think is just too bland for my personal taste) at RT, its still in the 60s. (Or to put that into perspective, higher than MOS. I know… I was pretty surprised too.)

    • Well, I would argue that incredible hulk is awfully close to a “crap the bed” turkey as it gets.

    • Han-han

      My favorite thing about TIH was that it was a monster movie.

  5. Seems again we’re left with many sequels and remakes. The trend continues as people continue to keep paying to see it. At the same time you could say if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  6. Luke Martin

    Prequels and sequels: $$$$

    Fresh ideas: risky, and with increased film budgets, productions would rather capitalize on a known money maker than to flop at the box office with a failed idea.

  7. I really hope that more unique ideas show up in movies. Adaptations and rehashes can only go so far in movies.

  8. Elaina Chastain

    Great article! I always have mixed feelings about the movie industry and the material its cranking out. I like the points you make, they’re totally valid. I feel like these genres (especially superhero and young adult films) really get people to read the material that the films stem from.

  9. Sam Gray

    I’m glad you admitted your predictions were cynical, there are some promising mainstream releases too! You didn’t mention the new Sin City film and 22 Jump Street, which both might be fun if they’re anything like their predecessor. And later in the year we’ve got films from great directors like David Fincher with Gone Girl and Christopher Nolan with Interstellar. Although I would say that yes, there are a LOT of comic book adaptations coming out this year.

  10. Though I’m usually skeptical about sequel-izing everything, 2014 looks to be a year in which this can work. The full weight of the stories of Captain America, Spider-Man and the X-Men can’t be handled in one film. This makes the creation of a sequel or series a great artistic decision for these characters.

    I love seeing different directors take over for different installments in a series. Take the Mission: Impossible series for example. Each film is helmed by a different director, and as a result, each film looks and feels different. You can watch three minutes of any given movie and know immediately who directed it. In the world of superheroes, where every plot point and character archetype can get beaten to death, it’s refreshing to have a different point-of-view for each film.

    Which is why I’m so skeptical about The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I thought the first installment in this reboot trilogy was solid, a great re-introduction to a character everyone knows and loves. It also gave us a chance to experience The Lizard, a great Spidey villain that Raimi’s trilogy, for whatever reason, never truly introduced to us. But, as you say, I can’t help but feel that they’ve jumped the shark by putting Rhino, the new Green Goblin, and Electro in the same flick. I don’t see it being as much of a dumpster fire as Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 was, but if it’s unsuccessful, it may be the movie that begins the decline of the superhero film phenomenon.

    As for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I saw it this past week and absolutely loved it. It was miles better than the first, which is still a decent movie. But this installment included some much-needed political overtones that grounded the film in reality, which is necessary considering that many other Marvel movies draw from the supernatural and extraterrestrial for their villains. Many complain that Captain America is the most boring member of The Avengers. That may be true, but in our post-9/11 America and world, he’s the member I see having the most relevant and realistic storyline.

    I’m not as cynical as you are about the new X-Men film. Yes, it may be packed with characters, but the last time Bryan Singer directed a movie filled to the brim with heroes and villains, he made X-Men 2, which was easily the best superhero movie anyone had seen until The Dark Knight came along. Lightning may not strike twice, but Days of Future Past looks to be a great movie. Also, who in their right mind would pass up the chance to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart acting alongside Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy as younger versions of themselves?

  11. Jane Harkness

    Loved your article! Even though Hollywood has screwed up some YA novel adaptations in the past, I’m still looking forward to seeing The Fault in Our Stars this summer 🙂

  12. I’m not really much a fan for super heroes and even though I enjoyed the Dark Knight, I thought that the Dark Knight Rises was completely overdone and the villain, Bane? Come on, Nolan could have picked a much better villain than that. I am looking forward to seeing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as well as the new Star Wars and X-Men movies, plus a Jurassic Park that is going to be a spinoff to a whole new trilogy.

  13. Great Article. Thanks for the insight

  14. Aurianna

    I’m kind of leery of Divergent coming out on the heels of the Hunger Games… They would have to go above and beyond to beat out Hunger Games at this point, so hopefully it shows promise. Great article, we share some similar sentiments about the blockbusters of this day and age.

  15. Emaloo

    I would like to see more YA adaptations that are not in the science fiction genre. That’s why I’m glad to see the Fault in Our Stars being adapted for the big screen. Too often Hollywood finds a hit, like with Twilight, and milks it for all its worth in terms of both sequels and other movies similar to the hit. I’m a fan of Young Adult novels and the genre is widespread, so it’s nice to see the films that also represent the diversity of the genre. It not only gives the audiences more options, but gives YA a chance and shows film goers that YA is not all about vampires or dystopian worlds.

  16. Thomas–
    I’m also frightened by these trends, though it isn’t because of your cynical premonitions. Those were actually rather on the mark; it’s more realistic, than anything, to be wary of these YA adaptations parading themselves as the counter-culture film of the century, simply because the books they were adapted from were popular. The death of these wonderfully heart-wrenching, society-critical novels (The Hunger Games, The Giver, Divergent) will come from their transformations into Hollywood blockbusters. What is happening is that audiences will receive their watered-down versions, with the oh-so-popular love triangle thrown in for good measure. Because, you know, filmmakers need something to fall back on when their adapted plot (which, by the way, they gutted from the original novel) starts to fail them.
    Many book fans will maintain that the novel is, indeed, typically better than the film adaptation. That’s because good novels are chock-full of these beautiful, interconnecting threads of events that vary in size and length and come together to create this big, beautiful tapestry. One can’t just pull a few of those threads out and expect the same quality. With YA films, this lack is substituted by the presence of what filmmakers think that their audience wants, which is romance. But what does a teenage audience need? Validation, for starters. A discussion about sexuality, self-esteem, belonging, depression, for example, rather than the same old girl torn between two guys. It’s a tired old formula.

  17. I like this article, and it had valid point. I think anytime mainstream media turn a book, novel, comic, etc into a movie it raises flags with many people. Many things become censored when it comes to film and many things that are in books, comics, etc do not necessarily translate well on film, but they all have their overall messages.

  18. Giovanni Insignares

    Tom, I share your thoughts on how the blockbuster season is always the most exciting but nerve-racking time of the year when it comes to films. So much excitement is built up for the abundance of movies that all come up with a 3-4 month span, and you hope that the season doesn’t disappoint with a large crop of middling films. the growing trends of action-driving and spectacle films all coming out at the same time worries me though. I feel like the movie industry as a whole would benefit if more blockbusters (or blockbuster-like movies) would be more spread out throughout the year, giving audiences something to be excited about all the time, not just concentrated within a small window of the year. This is why I hope that the success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier entices studios to spread their wealth around a little better. If a film is meant to be a blockbuster, success isn’t just limited to the months of May through August, Thanksgiving and Christmas. If a film is good, audiences will make it a success no matter what time of the year it is released.

  19. AmyImogene

    Interesting ideas. Your highly cynical remarks do have merit, but I keep wishing for some external sources to be referenced in terms of the hype value that you kept highlighting. It will be an interesting summer season, to be sure.

  20. Kevin Licht

    I think your cynicism regarding YA fiction, specifically the science fiction adaptations, is well-founded, especially after catching a showing of Divergent a few weeks ago. That film made me feel like Shailene Woodley, who I thought was great in The Descendants, isn’t ready to carry a film. It certainly appears The Hunger Games series is going to be the outlier in these types of movies.

    I’m not sure I’m with you on your take of Noah though, but it really depends on what was meant by it being a “friendly” story. If you mean it’s supposed to be familiar and some of the CGI and additions may alienate some audience members then yes, I could see that. After viewing the film, though, I do believe the disclaimer that was added to the end of the promotions for Noah was accurate.

  21. Adam Frankenfeld

    The new concepts in the upcoming Marvel movie are interesting to me. I think the emphasis on comedy over action could be very beneficial.

  22. As far as YA adaptations go, I feel like they have long become studios’ “smaller” answer to superhero flicks, formulaic action flicks that can be churned out with relatively minimal effort, and are more or less guaranteed to make tons of money.

    I enjoyed Noah. I feel like the action scenes were a little unnecessary, but the clash between Noah and the rest of humanity served a purpose most adaptations or tellings gloss over: that God killed millions and millions of people.

  23. I was so relieved that Winter Soldier was not just all hype. I was growing tired of the same style of comic movies. Anyone else notice the trend of ( hero meets villain…hero fights thugs… then at the end hero fights main villain for a very short and most of the time disappointing fight). Films like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Captain America 2” break that trend, because just like the comics the villain just didn’t appear at the end like some video game, they were a constant threat, taking on the hero multiple times.

  24. The biggest problem with these films is that most of them are made just to make money. Where is the art? I recently watched Man of Steel, and while I commend the filmmakers for sticking to the actual comic, there was virtually nothing interesting cinema-wise. I rarely see a superhero film from today that I can say brings the movie industry forward. The last one was “The Dark Knight”. Obviously making a lot of money has to be an element of making the film, but it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit more creative.

  25. As I haven’t seen any of these movies as of yet it was interesting to see your perspective.

  26. Some variation of the quote in the opening goes back (as a concept of nothing else) decades if mot centuries.

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