With 2017 in full swing, now is the perfect time to look back at 2016 and how movies represented our culture. Movies are a good litmus test for what popular culture is at a certain time. Art often defines a specific moment in time and movies often define the time in which they were released. They inform us all what is popular culture.
This power movies have to define culture, makes the recent news about the top movies of the year quite troubling. Disney has posted record earning for a single studio in one year. They also have four of the top five grossing movies of the year. These films are Finding Dory, Rogue One, Captain America: Civil War, and The Jungle Book. These four films have earned over $1.6 billion domestically alone. They earned much more internationally but for the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the domestic numbers.
These films dominated the box-office of 2016. Each film spent several weeks at number one and each was reviewed positively. However, the success of these films came down to two key components.
Firstly, each film were family-friendly features. Despite their varied subject matter, including everything from talking animals to superhero epics, to space fantasies, each film was created to be enjoyed by the entire family. The films ranged from PG to PG-13, which means the films are suitable for pretty much anyone. These ratings make the movies easily accessible, which in turn let’s the movie stay longer in theaters. The longer a movie stays in theatres, the more money it can make.
A movie with a wide-appeal can mean major gains in the box-office. A prime example is the success of Deadpool. The R-rated comedy was a financial hit bringing in over $700 million worldwide but yet its mature rating kept a large portion of the movie-going audience away. Disney took the opposite approach to its films in order to reach as many people as possible. That approach won them the box-office.
Secondly, each was a new entry into an established brand. Each of the films listed were a new entry or a relaunch of an established Disney brand. These include Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney fairy tales. Each film, in its own way, was a sequel to something successful that had come before. Disney capitalized on their second-to-none stable of franchises in order to make movie-goers come to their films. As said earlier, each film is wildly different from the others. Each tackles different subject matter and, in theory, appeals to a wildly different audiences. Yet, because each is part of much larger whole, these new entries into established franchises are incredibly successful.
Audiences flock to what is familiar and known to be an enjoyable movie-going experience. There are a multitude of reasons for this but the most common one would seem to be ticket prices. The average movie ticket now costs $8.61, an increase of 3.36 per cent from just the previous quarter. Prices have soared since the introduction of high-end experiences such as IMAX, 3D, reserved seating, and in-seat dining. This has made the average movie-goer shell out more and more to see the latest blockbusters. With this in mind, it’s understandable why people are only paying to see what they know will be a good time. Disney knows this and has capitalized on it expertly. They promise a new movie and fun experience that builds upon what you have already enjoyed in the past.
Now that we understand how Disney has become so dominate in 2016, it’s time to talk about why this is worrying.
Never before has one corporation held such control over our popular culture. When people look back at 2016 in film, they will be looking at Disney film in 2016. Disney told the stories it knew would sell, as opposed to the stories they wanted to tell. We, as an audience, lapped it up. We took each film and made it a hit simply because we are fans of the franchise or we remember the property fondly. If we look at the top 10 grossing films of the year, only two were original films. Both of which were animated and marketed to the widest audience possible.
If we are not careful, our pop culture may soon be the Disney culture. Our tastes and interest will be decided by the committee board of a giant multinational corporation. Their only desire will be sell what has sold in the past and keep franchising everything they can.
We, as the movie-going public, must be vigilant and let Disney know we will support originality. We can do this by voting with our wallets. Paying to see films that are wholly original and only choosing to see sequels if they maintain or exceed the quality of the originals.
We can make sure our pop culture remains our pop culture.
Do agree that our pop culture is being threatened or do you praise our Disney overlords? Comment below or tweet at me to discuss!