20 years of moviegoing by adam rubins

20 years of moviegoing by adam rubins

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For anyone in any kind of doubt, the film industry is now a franchise business. Industry has won over art and as we move forward into the next 5 years, we will soon start to see the impact of a business based on content that can be monetized through multiple forms, be it a movie, a game, a consumer product or a theme park ride.

To see how the business has changed, lets look at 3 specific years that have delivered personal benchmarks for me, 1995, 2005 and 2015.

1995 was my first year working in the film industry as a wide eyed eager enthusiast at Buena Vista International. It was my first gig and as far as I was concerned, I was the luckiest guy in the world. My intention was to work hard, learn and develop my knowledge of a business I genuinely loved (and still do to this day). The industry at that time was revelling in a highly memorable year (‘94), one that gave us award winners (Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction), game changing animation (The Lion King), controversy (Natural Born Killers) and popcorn blockbusters (True Lies, Speed). This was a time where original stories delivered box office success and audiences were voting with their feet.

In the next year things started to change. The first CG animation Toy Story would lead the way. I worked on that movie and I remember all of us not knowing what way this would go, so soon after The Lion King had broken records. In those days, no-one talked about franchises, just sequels. And the top 20 grossers that year were made up of disappointing sequels such as Batman Forever, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and Grumpier Old Men. It was still a time when the US (domestic) led the way and dictated international distribution. When you break it down, the top 20 grossers in 1995 gave us:

2 x Animated movies
2 x Franchises
5 x Sequels
12 x Original Stories (with only 1 going on to have a sequel, Get Shorty)

10 years later, I was nearing the end of my time at Buena Vista International, or Walt Disney Studios as it was now called. It was quite honestly, an incredible experience and something I look back with fond memories. But the business had changed. Independent cinema was already starting to implode and the focus, quite understandably, was about the bottom line. I had worked on everything from the sublime (Finding Nemo, Pulp Fiction, The Rock) to the ridiculous (The Alamo) and in 2005 I would sign off my time at Disney with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The business had become more global thanks to releases like Titanic that had delivered $600m domestic and $1.2bn international.

One thing is for sure, 2005 wasn’t a year for great movies. Star Wars: Episode VIII, War of the Worlds, King Kong, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Robots and Fun with Dick and Jane all stood in the top grossers list. That year, we had:

3 x Animated Movies
2 x Sequels
5 x Remakes
3 x Franchises
5 x Potential Franchises

With existing franchises Star Wars and Harry Potter sitting in the top 3, potential franchises such as Narnia delivering fantastic global box office and summer event blockbusters such as War of the Worlds and King Kong displaying marketing and production intent, we were already starting to see signs of where we were heading. Surprises Wedding Crashers and Hitch showed there is nothing like a sleeper hit and the low risk high reward continues to this day though more in the horror genre than comedy.

So now to 2015, my 20th year in the Entertainment business. This is how my top 20 looks that year:

1. Star Wars Episode VII
2. Avengers 2
3. Finding Dory
4. Bond 24
5. Jurassic Park IV
6. Man Of Steel 2
7. Independence Day 2
8. Hunger Games 3
9. Pirates of the Caribbean 5
10. Penguins of Madagascar
11. Mission Impossible V
12. Kung Fu Panda 3
13. Ant Man
14. Terminator
15. Hotel Transylvania 2
16. Inferno
17. Ted 2
18. Inside Out (Pixar)
19. Cinderella
20. Untitled Illumination

Now we can argue over who will come where but the fact remains that the business has changed. Sure, we are missing the odd potential break out hit. There may also be a surprise or two (Monster Trucks, Fantastic Four, B.O.O, Alvin 4, Assassins Creed). But the breakdown of 2015 is like no other in film history:

6 x Animated Movies
14 x Sequels
18 x Franchises

What we are seeing now is a stark (not Tony) shift in the industry. MORE franchise. MORE animated releases (I remember the days of one a year at Christmas), MORE high cost low risk investments (no more of The Alamo, high cost, high risk) and MORE films that are MORE than just films. Movies now are just an advert for the toy or the ride. Personally, as a fan of blockbuster cinema, I don’t mind. But it will be interesting to see what happens in 2025. After all, this business is cyclical.