Hollywood studios, yesterday and today - What happened?
As we are knee deep in yet another summer of pointless and mindless sequel and remake blockbusters, I cannot help but think back to last summer of 2008 when I was absolutely shocked to find that I not only went to the neighborhood movie theater to see “The Dark Knight”, but that I also absolutely loved, loved, loved it! Anyway, it got me thinking about how major studios have chosen to take a cowardly route towards promoting adventurous material the past few decades.
But in looking back at the last 30 years, there are four (4) films in particular that I’d like to take a look at which, by today’s standards of movie making and marketing, would likely have NEVER been released by a major Hollywood Studio.
- Breaking Away (Twentieth Century Fox,July 1979) – There is very good chance that if there had not previously been two “Rocky” films already, this simple, yet inspiring sports drama about four simple Indiana boys who look to gain respect and dignity through bicycle riding might never have seen the light of the big screen. But 30 years ago this summer, this Oscar-winning tale embraced our hearts and we cheered for the simple, Italian-wanna-be who rode his bicycle to victory. It starred four virtual nobodys (Jackie Earle Haley, the possible exception; having done three “Bad News Bears” films) and Fox was willing to put its faith (and balls) behind the project. Good for them!
Chariots of Fire (Warner Brothers, October 1981) – Once again, two successful “Rocky” films, “Breaking Away” and “Raging Bull” may have made this project easier to sell to WB. Still, a quiet, simple story of young runners proving the worth to themselves and the world during the 1924 Paris Olympics would likely only have been picked up today by Miramax or Focus Features. But Warner Brothers clearly had faith and took a chance – and it won them the Oscar for best picture of 1981. And hey, that legendary score by Vangelis didn’t hurt, either.
Diner (MGM, March 1982) – Had “American Graffiti” not been so successful nearly ten years before, would MGM executives even bothered to listen to a pitch about a group of 1950s college buddies who like to hang out and relate at the local Baltimore diner? Add to the fact that it had NO stars (they DID all go on to be stars, though) at all and was a debut film by new director Barry Levinson, my personal opinion is – Hell, no!
Local Hero (Warner Brothers, February 1983) – Okay, try imagining this pitch to WB today – “It’s a simple (perhaps very boring) story about a young Texas business man who travels to a small island in Scotland to look into purchasing it for his company’s business expansions. During this time, he becomes cozy with the locals and even meets a mermaid. Oh, and did I mention it has no stars at all? It has that guy who was in "Animal House” and another guy who had a bit part in the “Star Wars” movies.“ Well, perhaps the pitch might as well have gone like that, because WB backed the project and the film went on to become very popular.
So, looking back at these four studio films and the popularity they gained at the time and over the years, is there any way in Heaven and Earth that any major Hollywood studio would have backed such simply and unassuming projects like those today? My opinion is definitely NO! Projects like those would have required some degree of vision, of faith, of support, of some belief that film can do more than just rake in a quick weekend’s worth of dollars. Films like those would likely only get made by an underground independent film company and only be released in just a few movie theaters in major U.S. cities. They might only get their just recognition at Oscar nomination time, should they be so lucky.
So, Hollywood – What happened?