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It must be noted this shift in the economics of Hollywood moviemaking began before Marvel or The Avengers. Director Steven Soderbergh famously retired (temporarily) from making movies in 2013 due to the larger economic interests and corporatization of studios leading, even then, to the decline of mid-budget movies. Though his retirement was brief, his motivations were not, and one of his fellow Gen-X filmmakers, Spike Lee, had an interesting insight into the shift in what audiences and studios appeared to want by the early 2010s.
“I’m not Steven Soderbergh, I’m not banishing myself,” Lee said in Flavorwire in 2014. “I’m adaptable! [I’m not] saying, ‘Fuck Hollywood, I never wanna do another studio film.’ That’s not the case at all, but there’s some films the studio doesn’t wanna make lately.” Lee went on to note his breakthrough movies into the American pop culture mainstream were studio efforts.
“Malcolm X was a studio film,” Lee said. “Do the Right Thing was a studio film.” Indeed, Do the Right Thing multiplied its $6.5 million budget for Universal Pictures by more than five times when it grossed $37.3 million domestically in 1989; Malcolm X earned $48 million domestically off a $33 million budget in 1992. The first of those was healthier than the latter, but what feels like a novelty today is that a studio would spend north of $30 million on a Malcolm X biopic—and that was 1992! With inflation, that budget is closer to $67 million in 2022 money. While the variety of voices making movies has widened, the amount of money being spent on them in the non-superhero or blockbuster realm has demonstrably shrunk. Consider that Regina King’s soulful historical fiction, One Night in Miami, which also features Malcolm X as a major character, cost only $16 million…. and premiered on Amazon.
The economic reasons for this are bigger than any single franchise or genre, even if superhero movies have become the primary one that audiences go see in theaters. In truth, it began with the implosion of the home media market in the late 2000s due to the advent of streaming services like the aforementioned Amazon Prime or Netflix. Additionally, as more studios were subsumed by larger and larger corporate conglomerates, the fiscal bottomline became the overriding determination of what got greenlit… and what didn’t. Making a $300 million profit off a $200 million superhero movie with a built-in audience is far more appealing to AT&T than making, say, $40 million off four $50 million films. If they all hit.
The reality is that more movies are made now than before, with a greater diversity of storytelling talent in front of and behind the camera, but more and the vast majority of them are produced as indies without a major audience or for a streaming service that feeds them into niche algorithms. Meanwhile, Hollywood studios increasingly decrease their output as they invest greater amounts into tentpoles that are either Marvel movies or are chasing the Marvel movie formula.
In 2002, 10 years out from Paramount Pictures distributing the Disney-produced The Avengers, Paramount released 20 films; in 2012, the same year that Paramount closed out its contract with Marvel, the studio released 15 films; in 2022, long after its financial stake in the lucrative superhero genre concluded, Paramount is theatrically releasing 11 films (it was supposed to be 13 until two projects were sold off to separate streamers).
Source: Den of Geek