Now that BuzzFeed has sufficiently memorialized the ’90s, it’s time to start incessantly whining about how totally flawless the 2000s were — starting with the movies. We had a Spider-Man series that was 66.6 percent not-shit, Peter Jackson wasn’t phoning in an all-CGI Middle Earth, and the Joker wasn’t spending thousands of burnable rake on sick nihilism tats. Not to mention that going to the theater didn’t equate to watching the same characters get blown and rebooted more times than a Super Nintendo.
So what in the balls happened? After some thoughtful digging (Googling box office numbers while drinking Black Velvet Cinnamon Rush), I’ve discovered the ground zero of this explosion of desperate spinoffs and remakes … and it’s the same culprit who taught a generation of Satanists that magic was real. That’s right: Harry Potter And The Gradually Diminishing Whimsy is to blame. Here’s how your favorite kid wizard cursed us to decades of crappy cinematic franchises.
If it’s not too much, take a gander at all the top-grossing films per year from 1988 to 1998:
It was a big decade for the “resourceful orphan kicks ass” genre.
Notice anything? Before 1999, we didn’t really have active franchises hitting it huge at the box office. For the most part, the highest-earning films came and went as single stories — eventually followed up with a sequel (or four) years later that never made as much money as the original. Then hit 1999, and this happened …
The only non-derivative movies are “Pixarized French storybook” and “every movie ever, but with blue cats.”
The aughts began an era in which sequels actually mattered. Star Wars, Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, Shrek, and Pirates emerged as top dogs, and other butt-destroying series like Lord Of The Rings, the Bournes, and The Matrix were not far behind. For one reason or another, the fantasy/sci-fi trilogy slowly began to engulf Hollywood. This made a seven-part book series like Harry Potter the Burrito Supreme of all money hogs. When the fairy dust cleared, Warner Bros. had made a nation-buying $7 billion in a decade from those itty snake-murdering scamps.
And they couldn’t spare a few hundred bucks for scar-removing surgery for the main actor? For shame.
And what’s more, Warner Bros. would also spend that decade making a king’s ransom on films that were also good, if not future classics. Directors like Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, the Wachowskis, and Alfonso Cuaron boosted WB to surpass $2 billion in overseas box office dinero by 2004. The Brothers Warner were more slick, high, and mighty than Dumbledore on a cocaine-fueled alpine slide. But much like all blow-related excursions, the comedown is a beast …
I know how much you guys love looking at numbers, so here’s a bunch more:
Aww, yeah. That’s the stuff.
That’s a list of Warner Brother’s top-grossing films of all time … which is almost exclusively Harry Potter or Batman films from that sweet spot between 2001 and 2012. Since then, these Animaniacs-harborers have completely run out of billion-dollar franchises. And while that sounds like nothing to cry about, considering all the money that was made from said billion-dollar franchises, remember that the studio system is one that constantly treads water when it comes to finance. It’s why we’ve had the same studios since the ’50s, and why the expected profit growth of the industry is at 0.6 percent. In other words: Making movies isn’t all that profitable, because of how hard the system is to sustain.
It’s like running a circus exclusively comprised of juggling elephants. Along with maintaining and feeding them, you have to hope that the public will never get sick of seeing your large mammals get debased for their entertainment. That means competing with all the other companies specializing in humiliating grassland beasts. Suddenly, you have to buy bigger and flashier elephant-sized juggling hats than everyone else — and so the growth becomes exponential.
In both cases, you’ll inevitably end up with some giant turds in your hands.
Let’s also pretend for a second that this act, which I will now call “Merry-Mammoth and the Madcap Masto-Funs,” becomes so world-famous that you pummel all the other circuses in town. Congratulations on swinging the biggest dick! Now continue to hire more employees, maintain your tortured animals, and try like hell to forget that your prized elephants will eventually die.
They’re down to a Warner Bro now.
Your Masto-Funs are in the ground, Warner Bros.! You’re now the Dirk Diggler of mammal entertainment (or, I guess, SeaWorld). Point is that once a studio is sustaining on a billion dollars a year, it’s hard to suddenly roll over to the competition … which is exactly what has happened to Warner Bros. in 2015, after Universal and Disney completely buried them with Age of Ultron and Jurassic World. Their biggest moneymaker was San Andreas, a movie destined to be forever watched with the TNT channel logo burned in the bottom-right corner.
And so, after years of studio expansions and shady accounting, Warner Bros. is receding their spending with cost cutting and layoffs while maintaining a hopeful future, even though they cannot stop dwelling on their past …
While the era of dark franchises like Harry Potter and The Dark Knight was winding down, something else happened in the late 2000s. It was a film called Iron Man, and its popularity and rise coincided with the silly cliche of the “gritty reboot” created by Christopher Nolan. Suddenly, Marvel was making more money than any superhero franchise — and doing it with charisma and lightheartedness.
Naturally, Warner Bros. got the message …
Oh wait. Shit.
… and cry-murdered that message like it was a sick cat. While the presence of Batman at least tonally justifies Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice‘s gloom, Man Of Steel has forever marred the series by giving us a Superman who opted to let people die in funereal tornado attacks rather than make rational decisions. I’m not talking about what you, the reader, personally think of the film, but rather the objective truth that this series is now popularly associated with literal overkill.
None of this is helped by the utterly tone-deaf justification from WB chief Kevin Tsujihara that future films about characters named Aquaman and Shazam are going to be “steeped in realism” and “edgier than Marvel’s movies.” All of this adds up to a company that can’t tell which way the wind is blowing — even after the giant flop of Fox’s gritty, un-fun Fantastic Four. And speaking of colossal dumps, if you want further proof of WB’s stagnation, check out the spoilerrific new trailer for Batman v. Superman:
This is what happens when you eat nothing but Reese’s Pieces.
What you’re seeing is supposed to be Doomsday, the monster who death-punched Superman back into relevance in the ’90s, who is either too steeped in realism to adhere to the laws of physics or riding some kind of diabolical Segway. If you haven’t noticed, he also looks exactly like the monsters from Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings (with some Incredible Hulk thrown in) …
That’s one orgy we’re all strangely curious to see.
… because Warner Bros. can’t stop reminding us of the days when it was making films we wanted to see. This devotion to habit also explains why they compulsively hire the Wachowskis to make potential franchise-launchers, even though the Wachowskis haven’t made a profitable film since The Matrix, and by all accounts are in fact costing the studio money at this point. But it’s not exactly like they have any other option either, considering how …