Hollywood studios, yesterday and today – What happened?

posted by efriedmann on August 3, 2009 at 3:45 pm

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.

  1. 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!
  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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?

Comments (41)

efriedmann
efriedmann on August 3, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Looks like some of my less than profane words were changed here. Good to see that even mild censorship is still alive and well in the good ‘ol USA.

moviebuff82
moviebuff82 on August 3, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Hollywood today isn’t like the old Hollywood of past that you can see on TCM and AMC…it’s more focused on special effects, loud soundtracks, and big budgets rather than character and storytelling.

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 3, 2009 at 9:46 pm

There are small, personal films made within the Hollywood system — (500) Days of Summer, is apparently one, released by Fox Searchlight. A friend has told me this is the best film of the year; I haven’t seen it yet, but I know his taste in movies. I know at one point the main character takes his love interest on a walking tour of downtown LA and talks about the architecture; that’s enough to get it on my “must see” list.

The main problem seems to be: the people who lament the dearth of small, personal films don’t go to the movies. So when one is released, it only does modest box office. Not a big incentive to throw a lot of energy in that direction, is it? Sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

You’re blaming Hollywood, but what happened? The audience changed. All they can do is market to the audience they have. If you don’t support them when they do take chances, Mr. Love Movies – Hate Going! — then you only have yourself to blame (and a whole lot of other people like you.

Jon Lidolt
Jon Lidolt on August 3, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Hollywood doesn’t seem to realize that even small films used to be distributed to both large and medium size towns. And if they were hits they usually ended up playing everywhere. I think Hollywood simply abandoned their audience in search of a fast buck. Another problem is the emergence of the multiplex. We used to have theatres that showed the latest standard fare from the studios, we had art cinemas, then there were the action houses that played westerns, horror films, etc. And last but not least, we had the 70mm and Cinerama venues for the spectaculars. Each type of theatre catered to a specific segment of the population. The audience knew what to expect when they patronized the various theatres. It worked really well. If you attended an art cinema or a reserved seat attraction, you were treated with courtesy by the staff, the presentations included curtains, soft lights, and you weren’t dumped into a space filled with mouthy teenagers flipping open their cellphones throughout the movie.

efriedmann
efriedmann on August 4, 2009 at 1:08 am

Jon, I blame the CELL PHONE for much of the downfall of pleasureable moviegoing (as well as very unsafe driving)!

efriedmann
efriedmann on August 4, 2009 at 1:10 am

Don – yes, the audience certainly changed, but not on their own. The (very bad!) movies came out first and they changed us (most of us). So, I still blame Hollywood. They are, in my opinion, the chicken that hatched the bad eggs!

JSA
JSA on August 4, 2009 at 1:58 am

When it comes to the first two (“Breaking Away” & “Chariots of Fire”), I don’t necessarily agree. The premises behind them have commercial appeal. Not in the sense of “Transformers”, but their themes do strike a universal chord. Assuming that they were never made, it would not surprise me that a director, producer or actor with clout would find these stories compelling, and make them happen with a major studio.

JSA

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 4, 2009 at 7:05 am

Hmm… more and more adults staying home to watch TV and more and more kids going out to the movies to get away from their parents at home watching TV. The movies didn’t change the adults, they made a choice as to how to use their leisure time. Once Hollywood saw which side the bread was buttered on, they started targeting the youth audience, eventually leading us here.

Just look at the Oscar nominees for 2008:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

How many of those movies are “kid flicks”? How many did you see in a theater? If you didn’t see them in a theater, then how can you blame Hollywood for the present situation? It’s clear that you and a lot of other adults have abandoned the theatrical movie-going experience and have no right to complain about it.

p.s. Local Hero — Burt Lancaster isn’t a movie star???

KingBiscuits
KingBiscuits on August 4, 2009 at 12:19 pm

I blame the decline of intelligence. That and the fact the studios tend to confuse “outside the box” with “pretentious”.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on August 4, 2009 at 3:53 pm

I’m very curious about the new practice of nominating 10 movies for the Best Picture Oscar instead of 5, starting next year. It was presumably done to get some popular box-office hits into the race (3 of the 2008 nominees listed above made very little money, though they were all excellent). But do “Transformers 2” or “The Hangover” really deserve a shot at Best Picture, no matter how many hundreds of millions they made?

Can’t wait to see what those “second 5” are. I hope they’re all little films that didn’t make mega-millions but are really good, like “(500) Days of Summer” (which I haven’t seen yet. I didn’t see “Transformers 2” either but I saw the first one, and that was enough).

efriedmann
efriedmann on August 4, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Bill, they used to nominate 10 films back in the 1930s. I watched a documentary on the year 1939 in film on TCM when I learned this. Among the 10 nominated were…

GONE WITH THE WIND, OF MICE AND MEN, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and NINOTCHKA.

efriedmann
efriedmann on August 4, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Don, I abandoned the moviegoing experience BECAUSE I was complaining about it. What about it exactly is pleasureable anymore?

  • The insultingly bad movies?
  • The high ticket and food prices?
  • The incosiderate intolerable audience?
moviebuff82
moviebuff82 on August 4, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Don’t forget the too-much-loud surround sound and the blurry projection, which sometimes happens mostly at my AMC in Rockaway. 3-D won’t even help the studios try to come up with something fresh, although Avatar is just a piece of the pie.

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 4, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Love movies, where do you live? I’m wondering if the films I’m talking about just aren’t making it to your locale, the theaters are not well-maintained, and you’re surrounded by zombie hordes or something. If that’s the case, then I can see why going out might not be a pleasant experience.

I’m lucky in that I live in the Los Angeles area, where there are a number of top notch theaters, a wide variety of films both old and new, and people for the most part behave themselves. The only thing I agree with you on is that ticket and food prices are high, but if I’m going out to see something, I prefer to see it at a palace like the Chinese or the El Capitan. In other words, I don’t mind the higher price if I feel like I’m getting a superior show.

efriedmann
efriedmann on August 5, 2009 at 2:59 am

Don, I live in Great Neck, Long Island. But I used to live in New York City, which like L.A., had its share of common-moron-attracting multiplexes and select art and revival theaters where one could enjoy a more pleasant moviegoing experience. There’s an independent theater in Manhasset that I occasionally go to. But more than that, there’s a small theater in the Hamptons that I frequent a little more during the fall season when the annual beach goers have left and the summer blockbuster crap is over and done with.

I used to visit L.A. a lot about ten years ago. I went to the El Capitan (great theater!) in 1996. A year later, I permitted myself to sit through ALIEN RESURRECTION just so I could experience a movie at Mann’s Chinese Theater.

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 5, 2009 at 7:06 am

Alien Resurrection? Ouch!

MPol
MPol on August 5, 2009 at 3:22 pm

I don’t remember if I saw the film “Breaking Away” or not, but I DO remember seeing “Chariots of Fire” and “Diner”, as well as “Raging Bull” and “American Graffiti” Although none of them were “West Side Story”, they were all cool movies, which I’ve admittedly seen more than once. Too bad about the dearth of independent art-house movie palace theatres that there are to show such movies as the above-mentioned movies in.

I believe that both the audiences AND the Hollywood studios have changed. Popular culture has been cheapened and coarsened, especially over the past 25-30 some odd years, and most of today’s movies reflect on that. There’s lots of expensive special gadgetry being used to make overly graphic and intense special affects, things exploding on the screen too often, long on style (if one can actually call it that), and short on substance, and lacking any kind of real plot or story behind them. This is generally found at most of the multiplex cinemas that dot the USA landscapes and are located just off of State or Interstate highways.

All of the above having been said, I presently hold memberships at the Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Brattle Theatre, where I prefer to see movies more to my liking, and where the audience, in general, is far better behaved and not inclined to be rude and use their cellphones, or talk, etc. throughout the movie. I believe that the above-mentioned behaviours occur due to the quality of most movies these days, and, especially in the large multiplex theatres, management and the people working there don’t make the effort to reign in that kind of behaviour and warn or toss out disruptive audience members.

Sure, there were plenty of junkier films back in the ‘60’s and '70’s, but there were many more good movies back then, too. I also think, however, that the decline of movies began in the 1970’s, continued throughout the 1980’s, and continued throughout the 1990’s and through the present.

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on August 5, 2009 at 4:49 pm

LMHG: 1939 sure was a banner year for movies. Also nominated were THE WIZARD OF OZ (my choice for Best Picture) and STAGECOACH. They easily found 10 titles to qualify for Best Picture. The big question is: in 2009, will we?

I also went to a movie in Grauman’s Chinese just for the experience of seeing a movie there. It was THE SCHOOL OF ROCK in 2003 – pretty good, too. I wonder what dud is playing there now. I’ll check:

HARRY POTTER. Also a good movie. I shouldn’t pre-judge that way :)

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 5, 2009 at 8:14 pm

There are two problems when it comes to comparing movies NOW to movies THEN:

  1. The audience THEN was mostly adults. The audience NOW is mostly kids. So don’t complain that they aren’t making enough movies for grown-ups. There’s a very good reason for that! Either embrace your inner child or stop going to the mainstream cinema.

  2. Memory is selective. You remember the good movies from 1939, but you’ve erased the dozens of stinkers that came out that year. In fact, the arguments you use against the movies today are the same ones they used back then. It’s why the Hays Code was instituted.

efriedmann
efriedmann on August 5, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Don, it seems to me that most of today’s moviegoing audience (young and older) don’t even BOTHER to take in the experience of going to the movies anymore. It seems that they would rather spend their two hours talking, texting or scrolling their brightly-lit and very distracting cell phones – this after paying $10.00 or more for their ticket!

Somebody, anybody, please tell me the logic in this! Why would you bother going to a movie theater to do these distracting things when you can do them in the privacy of your home for free??

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 5, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Well, if what you say about today’s movies being crap is true, why should they take the movie-going experience seriously? It seems that your beliefs and theirs are perfectly aligned!

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on August 5, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Does it matter to the author of the article that Chariots of Fire was not produced by any Hollywood studio, but wholly financed and produced by British companies Enigma Productions (David Puttnam), Allied Stars Ltd. and Goldcrest Films International? Or that Local Hero was also not produced by any Hollywood studio, but wholly financed and produced by British companies Enigma Productions (again!), Celandine Films and Goldcrest Films International (again!)?

To say Hollywood wouldn’t make these films now is disingenuous, as they didn’t make them in the first place.

MPol
MPol on August 6, 2009 at 12:09 am

While much of this:

“it seems to me that most of today’s moviegoing audience (young and older) don’t even BOTHER to take in the experience of going to the movies anymore. It seems that they would rather spend their two hours talking, texting or scrolling their brightly-lit and very distracting cell phones – this after paying $10.00 or more for their ticket!

Somebody, anybody, please tell me the logic in this! Why would you bother going to a movie theater to do these distracting things when you can do them in the privacy of your home for free??"

definitely rings true, Love movies-hate going!, I think that it’s far more true in the great big multiplex cinemas dotting the nation’s state and interstate highways. I think that the parents drop their kids off at the movies at the multiplex cinemas for afew hours so they can get them out of their hair for awhile.

However, Love movies-hate going!, I find that to be far less true in the arthouse repertory movie theatres that show far better movies than the schlock that most movie theatres play today.

BradE41
BradE41 on August 6, 2009 at 12:19 am

I totally agree. Hollywood films are for the mostly trash this summer; the choices have been dreadful.

efriedmann
efriedmann on August 6, 2009 at 1:28 am

I’ve been to two movies this summer – THE HURT LOCKER (only okay) and PUBLIC ENEMIES (excellent!).

MPol
MPol on August 6, 2009 at 8:07 pm

More to the point, BradE41, this:

“I totally agree. Hollywood films are for the mostly trash this summer; the choices have been dreadful.”

has been the case for much longer than just this summer.

I know what you mean, Love moviies-hate going. This:

“I’ve been to two movies this summer – THE HURT LOCKER (only okay) and PUBLIC ENEMIES
(excellent!)”

is exactly why I mostly go to see the great older classic movies when they come around. There are afew new ones that I’ve seen, but I read reviews and synopses about them VERY carefully before I choose a newer film to see.

KingBiscuits
KingBiscuits on August 7, 2009 at 3:15 am

My favorite summer movie was Star Trek. I also really liked Up and The Hurt Locker.

Public Enemies put me to sleep.

efriedmann
efriedmann on August 7, 2009 at 3:47 am

MPoI, compare movie theater going with this analogy…

If you go out to dinner one night at, say, The Four Seasons restaurant in NYC, you’re going to be sharing the room with a more respectable, dignified and considerate group of people – THAT’S your independent or art house movie theater.

If you go out to dinner one night at McDonalds, you’re going to be sharing the room with the more common, inconsiderate, intolerable group of people – THAT’S your average multiplex.

Make sense?

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 7, 2009 at 9:05 am

So if you know that, why don’t you choose your venue accordingly and avoid the hoi polloi? It seems you already have the solution to your problem, but refuse to use it.

MPol
MPol on August 7, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Your analogy is spot-on, Love movies-hate going!

This:

“ If you go out to dinner one night at, say, The Four Seasons restaurant in NYC, you’re going to be sharing the room with a more respectable, dignified and considerate group of people – THAT’S your independent or art house movie theater.

If you go out to dinner one night at McDonalds, you’re going to be sharing the room with the more common, inconsiderate, intolerable group of people – THAT’S your average multiplex."

is precisely WHY, with rare exceptions, that I avoid the average multiplex cinemas.

Btw, Don S:

Who are you talking to? Just curious, because I have found a solution to the problem and I DO use it.

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 7, 2009 at 7:44 pm

MPol, I’m talking to Loves Movies. He hates commercial movies, but goes to them, and he hates multiplexes, but seems to see movies there. If he would just attend more adult-oriented fare (that he says doesn’t exist) at art house/indy theaters, he could change his nick to “Love Movies – Love Going!”

MPol
MPol on August 9, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Okay. Thanks, Don S. I was just wondering.

The only trouble is though, Don S., is that there are so few art house/indy theatres left here in our area, and in the United States at large that there’s little, if any choice for many people, unless they want to sit home and watch older classics or whatever on TV. That’s one thing I don’t want to be relegated to doing, which is why I hold memberships to both of the art house/indy theatres that’re left around my neck of the woods.

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 9, 2009 at 8:28 pm

It’s difficult enough to see new foreign films here in LA, but I guessed that even Hollywood films like Frost/Nixon would penetrate into the megaplexes of the hinterlands…

One of Love Movies' big complaints is about the movies that Hollywood is releasing. If the more serious titles are not even rating small screens for short runs, then yes, I can see how that would affect your perspective.

MPol
MPol on August 10, 2009 at 1:19 am

From what I’ve heard/read, the movie “Frost/Nixon” has been overrated. It only got 2 ½ stars in a Boston Phoenix review in the movies section. That says something right there, imho.

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 10, 2009 at 2:10 am

I thought it was wonderful. My humble opinion.

MPol
MPol on August 10, 2009 at 7:56 pm

I’ve heard different reviews of “Frost/Nixon” To each their own.

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 10, 2009 at 8:52 pm

So you said. Go see it and give me your reaction. I don’t really pay attention to the critics.

janmanzer411
janmanzer411 on September 17, 2009 at 5:22 am

From the rising of new sciences comes new technology. These technologies are introduced to different world industries and that includes Hollywood. The good old days are gone I say.

Best Regards,
Jan Manzer
Jan Manzer

Ramgoti
Ramgoti on January 23, 2010 at 8:36 pm

How are you? I would like to Thanks for the informative post. I really appreciate it. I hope that I can get more benefit from this topic.

Thanks

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on July 3, 2010 at 1:51 am

I think the first big Multi-plex started it all.I could live with four screens,but 30 or more.You gotta hired cops to do the ushers job.I will say it again glad I got out in 1983.

MPol
MPol on July 24, 2010 at 7:18 pm

More to the point, the cinemas in those 20-30 screen cineplexes are shoebox-sized rooms, with screens that look more like big-assed TV’s than regular movie screens. Moreover, the admission prices to those big multiplex cinemas, when one adds up the screening and the concessions, are outrageously off the charts, if one gets the drift, plus they often show the schlockiest films around.

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