Moving Pictures
May 29, 2024, 06:29AM

The Problem with Movies in 2024

It’s not the audience, it’s not ticket prices, and it’s not “changing tastes.” What’s going wrong?

Img 8635.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Hollywood’s in freefall. This isn’t 1963 or 1981 or 2012. The movie theaters will close if this continues. Executives at all levels are leaving money in the street, but don’t care, because they’re not interested in making successful movies, just good quarterly earnings reports. Not good, great, fantastic, and God knows Warners Brothers/Discovery hasn’t had one of those in a while. So with the stiffing of Challengers, The Fall Guy, and Furiosa, forecasts are worse than ever. And there’s no Alan Ladd Jr. or Richard Zanuck to save the day, no Megan Ellison willing to lose money and/or their jobs over films like The Master, The French Connection, and 3 Women.

So what exactly is the problem with movies in the 2020s?

I wish William Goldman were still alive. Nobody knows anything, clearly. I’d like to hear what he’d have to say about American movies today. He might write something like this:


Ticket prices: Seeing a new movie on opening weekend costs between $11 and $13 in Baltimore City. A revival at the Charles Theatre is $10.

The Audience: I’ve been going to those aforementioned Charles and Senator revivals every week for nearly a decade, and in the last two years there’s been a huge increase in crowd size. This is partly due to the cunning of Charles/Senator revival programmer John Standiford, who last year started making Thursdays one-night-only hits: Manhunter, Re-Animator, Audition, After Hours, Starship Troopers, Terminator 2, Eraserhead, Hausu, Phantom of the Paradise, Badlands.

That’s Hollywood, that’s cult favorites, that’s movies everyone’s always wanted to see in a theater—especially a packed theater. And now that Standiford has established a trend, a precedent, a minimum, more people than ever are coming. It’s leaking into the Monday revivals too, which lean Classic Hollywood and more obscure foreign: I never thought I’d see Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia with a full crowd in Baltimore. Ditto Franco Rossi’s Smog, another big crowd on a downtown downpour Memorial Day.

The cliché is true: it’s the perfect thing to do on a date. It always will be (as long as the movies are good—neither of you have to like it, but it has to be something worth seeing). What’re you gonna do otherwise, go straight to the bar? Or in the words of Cybill Shepherd in Taxi Driver, “Let’s fuck?”

And whenever I tell anyone about the possibility of movie theaters going away, they go quiet. They’re sad all of a sudden. Everyone living has some connection to the movies.


Lack of options: Too many sequels. Too many Marvel movies. Too many reboots of franchises and films that never merited sequels to begin with. Musical versions of movies from the 1980s, the 2000s. Disney, Marvel, The Fast and the Furious. I may love the series, but a new Planet of the Apes film always comes when Hollywood’s desperate. Never forget a producer’s words: “Apes exist. Sequel required.” Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes did pretty well, but nothing smashing. The Apes movies never really blow away the box office.

Netflix: Pernicious, viral, operated on a completely different business model than all other Hollywood studios. It’s not the advent of streaming that’s been most damaging—as Francis Ford Coppola said recently, “streaming is just home video”—it’s Netflix loss-leading garbage in abundance. Hundreds of millions dollars spent on massive productions people watch in the background and never talk about in public; whether or not people enjoy The Gray Man isn’t the point, it’s the destruction of the communal exchange of moviegoing. If Netflix put their main slate in more than two theaters across the country, they’d just be another studio, and, ANDthey’d make more money! Any movie that plays theatrically for longer than six weeks stays in the moviegoing hive-mind.

Risk-averse studios: So many movies rejected, shut down, or shunted to Netflix. Richard Linklater, Todd Haynes, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese: the tech companies bought their movies and buried them. They were well compensated, but at what cost?

Crisis in advertising: No one under 45 watches TV anymore—“Linear TV,” whatever you want to call what used to be cable, what has always been inferior to the movies but at least used to be communal as well. If you’re not going to movie theaters, you’re not seeing trailers for new releases. I don’t think the audience rejected Challengers, I don’t think they knew it was coming out.

It’s easy for older filmmakers and artists to repeatedly cry that the party’s over and it’s never starting up again, and even though they’re right, they’re only right at the moment, because people have always said they don’t make them like they used to, and Paul Thomas Anderson is only 54—what are you going to do, put him in early retirement? He wants to make movies into his 80s like Robert Altman. What about Richard Linklater? His Hit Man was turned down by every studio in Hollywood, and on an $11 million budget, only Netflix was willing to pay $20 million for it.

THE ONLY HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF HOLLYWOOD CINEMA: Another Ladd Jr., another Richard Zanuck, another Megan Ellison.

—Follow Nicky Otis Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith


Register or Login to leave a comment