Are Movies Actually Less Original?

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Fine Man
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Are Movies Actually Less Original?

Postby Fine Man » Mon Mar 11, 2013 4:56 am UTC

I've been wondering about this for some time. It's common for people to say how Hollywood is unoriginal, and deep down it feels like they are right. But I realize a lot of it is biased on movies I've seen and heard of. If I had the patience or knowhow, I would probably do some statistical analysis or something. For example, this year just looking at the first 10 movies on the wikipedia list of American Movies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Am ... ms_of_2012) we have 5 out of 10 based on a previous work:

21 Jump Street
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer
Alex Cross
The Amazing Spider-Man
American Reunion

Those were just out of the first 10 alphabetically, but I just use it as an example.

Now I was going to write up a big thesis on how I would define the originality of movies, and from there use it as a rubrick to actually statistically see if movies are less original now, but I'm sure it would be dry and boring. But I think it is important to be consistent with what you call original. With that said, though, just from what you've seen how do you think cinema has progressed in terms of originality?

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philsov
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Re: Are Movies Actually Less Original?

Postby philsov » Mon Mar 11, 2013 3:54 pm UTC

I don't think so, no.

Looking at the top grossers of 1990, 6 of the 10 were derivative works; either sequels or based on (comic) books.

At least with the advent of the internet, the amateur film and short video sector is a MASS of activity compared to earlier years. Previously those sorts of indie/artsy flicks were made more... corporately. I think, net, movies are actually becoming more original due to the above. But in terms of what hollywood and the big studios crank out, it's somewhere between even keel and slightly less original than they've always been. Scanning through the 1990 list's Note section, about the same ratio seem derivative over the 2012 list.
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LaserGuy
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Re: Are Movies Actually Less Original?

Postby LaserGuy » Mon Mar 11, 2013 6:05 pm UTC

I think I'll start this by looking at a typical Hollywood studio. The answer, as I see it, has a lot to do with where the studio gets its money. Here's the list of movies made by 20th Century Fox in 2012 along with their budget/revenues in millions, as well as whether the script is original or derivative (eg. sequel or based on a book or something).

Red Tails (58/49) (original)
Chronicle (15/126) (original)
This Means War (65/156) (original)
The Three Stooges (30/53) (deriv)
Prometheus (130/403) (deriv**)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (69/116) (deriv)
Ice Age: Continental Drift (95/877*) (deriv)
The Watch (68/68) (original)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (22/76) (deriv)
Won't Back Down (19/5) (original)
Taken 2 (45/375) (deriv)
Chasing Mavericks (20/8) (deriv)
Lincoln (65/253) (deriv)
Life of Pi (120/600) (deriv)
Parental Guidance (25/114) (original)

Note that these numbers are only production costs and don't include marketing. Probably, the effective budget of most films is a factor of 1.5-2 higher.

*holy $%^& Ice Age is profitable
**Prometheus is kind of a borderline case. It is set in the same space as the Alien franchise, but doesn't really engage with that source material.

2012 was a good year for 20th Century Fox. Of the fifteen movies they produced, only two three were losers, and all of the losers were relatively small budget films (though, if we include a 1.5-2x premium for marketing, several more slip into the red). Most of their biggest-budget, biggest moneymaking films are derivatives--Ice Age, Prometheus, Life of Pi (though this was still considered a risky movie to make). And this makes sense... these types of films are large risks for the studios; they want to make sure that they get a good return. A big budget misfire can put a huge hole in the company's finances: The 2012 flop John Carter apparently ended up losing Disney something on the order of $200 million. So the movies with the biggest budgets and the most publicity are probably also going to be the ones that the studio is most certain are going to be hits. And movies that are hits are often derivatives of movies that have been hits--because that's what people seem to want more of. They can only put out a small number of these films a year due to production constraints and because too many will saturate the market. So they have a couple of middle-range, maybe 40-60 million budget films that are slightly higher risk, but on average, still run a profit. Then they have a sprinkling of low-budget films that have a decent chance of losing money, but if they do, it isn't a big deal, and if they have the potential for big returns if they turn out to be a hit (eg. Chronicle), and, if they can get away with it, use these to test the water for new franchises.

Overall, the studio business model favours low risk on the high-end and high risk on the low-end. So the top grossing movies each year are probably going to be primarily low risk ones--sequels, reboots, derivative works, adaptions. Original works tend to be higher risk, so unless they can get away with making them for cheap, they probably won't make them at all. You also are less likely to hear about the lower budget original works, because they're more likely to be limited release with smaller marketing campaigns. Your impression, therefore, will certainly be that the most of the movies out there are derivative works, and I'd say the ratio overall is about 50/50.

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Re: Are Movies Actually Less Original?

Postby KnightExemplar » Tue Mar 12, 2013 6:53 am UTC

philsov wrote:I don't think so, no.

Looking at the top grossers of 1990, 6 of the 10 were derivative works; either sequels or based on (comic) books.

At least with the advent of the internet, the amateur film and short video sector is a MASS of activity compared to earlier years. Previously those sorts of indie/artsy flicks were made more... corporately. I think, net, movies are actually becoming more original due to the above. But in terms of what hollywood and the big studios crank out, it's somewhere between even keel and slightly less original than they've always been. Scanning through the 1990 list's Note section, about the same ratio seem derivative over the 2012 list.


Thanks to the `net, its so much easier to learn about spectacularly unique movies like The Secret of Kells. And smaller works like Red vs Blue and Gamers also are useful for serving niche audiences.

Movies generally aren't original, and instead recycle themes throughout them. But even then, unique big movies come out, like Inception. So its just important to remember how rare it is to see an original good movie.
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ahammel
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Re: Are Movies Actually Less Original?

Postby ahammel » Tue Mar 12, 2013 4:21 pm UTC

The problem with using "based on a previous work" as your originality criterion is that you wind up calling Kubrick and Hitchcock derivative while Michael Bay is original.


That...does not seem like what most people mean by those terms.
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folkhero
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Re: Are Movies Actually Less Original?

Postby folkhero » Wed Mar 13, 2013 8:56 am UTC

ahammel wrote:The problem with using "based on a previous work" as your originality criterion is that you wind up calling Kubrick and Hitchcock derivative while Michael Bay is original.


That...does not seem like what most people mean by those terms.

I was going to say something similar. Just looking at LaserGuy's list and you see where the dichotomy breaks down. It's hard to imagine someone calling Life of Pi anything other than original film-making. Magical realism, only a single human character for most of the movie (who's not even a white guy) coming from a source material that a lot of people (me included) thought was unfilmable. Compare that with the movie right below it, Parental Guidance. That sort of movie is the worst sort of shlock, it aimed for mediocrity and by most critic's accounts it failed at even that. Just because the screenplay wasn't adapted doesn't mean it, or anything else about the movie is anything but safe and unoriginal.

There is also a problem with this classification when looking at historical movies. Lincoln is considered an adapted screenplay because it was largely based on the non-fiction book "Team of Rivals." Red Tails doesn't credit a single source in the same way, but it's based (some may say loosely) on real events and I'm sure the writers and director looked at lots of source materials. It's also not the first movie to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.
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Re: Are Movies Actually Less Original?

Postby PatrickRsGhost » Thu Mar 14, 2013 10:34 am UTC

My definition of "original" is this: It's not a remake. Now, Hollywood could use the same plot devices, or same theme, but the movie as a whole is original. Whenever I gripe about Hollywood "running out of ideas", I refer to the fact they're remaking older movies, regardless if the older movie was awesome or well-deserving of an MST3K riff, or anything in between. Some examples would be "Evil Dead" and "Red Dawn".

Hollywood has used countless classic works as the basis for movies for many years. A lot of movies are loosely based on Shakespeare's plays, or some classic work of literature. Instead of being called "Pride and Prejudice", the movie may have a different title, but the plot is taken from P&P.
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