Things the movie industry will regret in 20 years

All is not well in Tinseltown. While box office receipts are up, there are still some disturbing trends caused by bad habits and a fear of risk on the part of major movie studios.

You need only look at the summer of 2016—when tentpole franchise extensions that seemed like surefire bets underperformed, and the buzz was around Stranger Things, an original Netflix series that harkened back to the glory days of Hollywood in the '80s—to see the downside of the big studios' focus on established brands over original ideas. And thanks to their stubborn refusal to adopt streaming services and some disturbingly backward-thinking casting trends, movie studios seem dangerously behind the times. If Hollywood ever does recover from its current state, it's going to look back at today and cringe.

Betting the farm on remakes, reboots, sequels

The first week of April 2017, the top movies at the box office included a live-action version of a Disney animated film from 1991, a controversial adaptation of a Japanese anime from 1995, and a big screen version of a long-running kids TV series. But the movie that scored the best reviews, strong box office receipts and highest audience ratings was a low budget horror film with an original script from a comedic actor making his big screen writing and directing debut. After all the hype and obscene amounts of money spent to bring Power Rangers, Beauty and the Beast, and Ghost in the Shell to the big screen, the movie that will be best remembered two decades from now will be Get Out, the sole original concept.

20 years ago there were plenty of sequels and unnecessary updates of classic franchises. (There was even a poorly received Power Rangers movie in 1997.) But today, it seems like every other major release is a remake of a popular film or an adaptation of a comic book, '90s TV series, cereal mascot, or literally any type of existing property. Will any of these movies be remembered two decades from now when they've been rebooted ad nauseam? The Hollywood landscape in 1997 was fairly risk-averse. But compared to 2017, the late '90s look like the freewheeling Hollywood of the 1970s.

Focusing on theatrical distribution over streaming

Recently, movie geek idols Christopher Nolan and Sofia Coppola threw their support behind beleaguered theater owners, urging moviegoers to watch their upcoming films on the big screen where they're "meant to be seen." Because what better way to watch Nolan's World War II epic Dunkirk, or Coppola's lyrical Western The Beguiled, than in a crowded multiplex jammed next to texting teens?

Look, seeing a film projected in a theater still does make for the best viewing experience—we get that. But ignoring the streaming boom in favor of theatrical distribution is hurting the biz, and we can only imagine how many more streaming options there will be 20 years from now. (By 2037, we might all be projecting the latest Kevin Hart comedy out of our eyeballs.)

Instead of sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming "No No No!" like little babies, studios should be investing in streaming services and offering more digital-first releases. An entire generation is growing up being able to stream movies on their phones. Over time, seeing movies on the big screen will become even more of a niche pursuit, akin to music purists who insist that everything sounds better on vinyl. While theater chains are figuring out elaborate gimmicks to lure millennials into theaters, Hollywood studios are looking like the upper decks of the Titanic thanks to streaming services and movie piracy cutting into profits. It's make it or break it time for movie studios, and investing in chairs that shake and make us drop our popcorn while we're watching The Fate of the Furious is not the answer.

Perpetuating whitewashing and straightwashing

Today, we cringe at the sight of Mickey Rooney in yellowface in Breakfast at Tiffany's. 20 years from now, future generations will wonder what the hell the Ghost in the Shell filmmakers were thinking by casting Scarlett Johansson as Major, a character who is Japanese in the original manga and anime. And yet, white actors playing roles meant for other ethnicities is still prevalent on the big screen. "But we need stars to open movies!," the studios moan. Except Ghost in the Shell failed at the box office, and the era of movie stars being the golden ticket to guaranteed success is long gone. So why is whitewashing/straightwashing still a thing?

Hollywood doing this in 2017 is downright embarrassing for the industry. 20 years from now, as America gets even more diverse, Hollywood's insistence on casting actors in roles they have no business taking on will be tantamount to a hate crime. That's pretty much the only way you can describe Benedict Cumberbatch in Zoolander 2.

Making every movie a chapter in a multi-part series

The Fifth Element was one of the top-grossing films of 1997. Have you watched it lately? Go ahead, we'll wait. Back? That was pretty fun, right? Bruce Willis cracking jokes and zapping aliens. Milla Jovovich kicking butt as cosplayer favorite Leeloo Dallas. Chris Tucker doing his motormouth schtick back when he cared about making movies. Cutting edge special effects and a unique visual design that create an immersive world and add to the plot. In fact, The Fifth Element is so fondly remembered, it's returning to theaters for its 20th anniversary.

Now what if The Fifth Element was the middle chapter of a multi-part franchise? How likely would you be to go back and care about it? Would you recommend it to friends who'd never seen it? Would the plot make any sense if you hadn't seen, say, the Leeloo Dallas solo film or the Fifth Element: Legacies TV series or whatever else was required viewing to enjoy a two-hour sci-fi flick? That's what it'll be like to watch current movies 20 years from now. As much as we tolerated Kong: Skull Island, which version of King Kong are future generations more likely to look back to? The classic one from 1933, or even the 2005 standalone remake with its own beginning, middle and end, or the one from 2017 that's lashed to the dull Godzilla movie from three years earlier?

Letting white men run every franchise (even when they fail)

Two decades ago, blockbuster franchises like Batman, James Bond, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park were helmed by white men. Today, save for rare exceptions like Patty Jenkins on Wonder Woman or Ryan Coogler on Black Panther, not much has changed. The big screen exploits of Batman, James Bond, Star Wars, Jurassic Park—not to mention more recent franchises like Harry Potter and the Marvel properties—are almost exclusively under the purview of middle-aged white men. This is a sad state of affairs that will only look worse 20 years from now.

Television and streaming media, while not perfect, are at least more welcoming to female showrunners and creators from diverse backgrounds. There are even programs whose goals are to make the industry more diverse. Movie studios would be wise to adopt similar methods to foster diversity among the ranks of the next generation of filmmakers. While white male filmmakers like Jon Watts (Cop Car) and Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) jumped straight from indie hits to steering major franchises like Spider-Man and Jurassic Park, the same can rarely be said of filmmakers from diverse backgrounds. Whether it's through fellowship programs, mentorships with industry veterans, or studios simply doing the right thing and taking the same risks on diverse filmmakers that they do on literally every white dude with a digital camera, something needs to change and soon.

Allowing the midsize movie to die

Two decades ago, a typical movie studio's development slate included everything from blockbuster action flicks to modestly budgeted romantic comedies and Oscar bait fare. Today, studios make almost exclusively one thing: tentpole blockbusters with budgets that rival the per capita income of small island nations.

Sometime over the past decade or so, Hollywood stopped caring about the midsize movie. Marketing budgets got bigger. Visual effects got flashier. Original scripts geared toward discerning adult audiences were tossed out in favor of safe bets like blockbusters based on existing properties and disposable genre fare meant to part teens from their allowances. As the international market became a crucial part of yearly profit margins, studios ignored the kind of serious filmmaking they once made room for on their production schedules in favor of increasingly lavish spectacles. Giant robots laying waste to major metropolitan areas works in any language. Subtle character drama, not so much.

The types of risk-taking material studios produced in previous eras boomed on cable and streaming TV. (If Breaking Bad had been made in the '70s, it would've been an Oscar-winning film produced by a major studio.) For the most part, the major studios have left award season to boutique indies like A24 (The Lobster, Moonlight) and streaming services like Amazon (Manchester by the Sea) and Netflix.

While it's easier than ever to make and release a film thanks to innovations in digital technology, the top movie studios seem to only be capable of producing blockbusters whose marketing budgets alone are the equivalent of 10 films Harvey Weinstein would've made back in the '90s. When Netflix is snatching up a Martin Scorsese/Robert De Niro gangster movie that's deemed to be too much of a risk for Paramount Pictures, something is definitely off.