Hollywood is Out of Ideas

How the modern film industry has lost creativity

September 9, 2021

The Matrix is one of my favorite movies, in fact it may be my favorite movie, I like it so much that I even heavily enjoy the two flawed sequels which tell an interesting and complete story. Which is why I was confused that nearly twenty years later they decided to make a fourth one, sure there was some unanswered questions left at the ending of the third movie but they weren't important to the plot. A good story knows when it is over and at the end of The Matrix Revolutions not only was the conflict resolved but out of the three main characters one was dead and another was left in a position impossible to get out of alive. The story was over and there was no reason to make another movie.

I honestly forgot that they were making a fourth movie until I noticed that they released the trailer for it today. Now I already realize that most trailers are lame but this one was especially dull because it felt like it was a trailer for a movie that I've already seen. The trailer featured subtle nods to small details in the original movie like the white rabbit tattoo and Alice in Wonderland, but it also featured things like jumping off a building, training in a dojo, and a choice between a red and blue pill, these aren't the kind of subtle nods we'd expect from something like this, these are instead a collection of some of the most iconic scenes from the first movie shamelessly redone. Really the only thing I can tell that has been added to the new movie is political correctness, which almost always causes movies to become more dull.

Now I could keep going on talking about how strange the new Matrix trailer feels and how odd it is to be shown towers of human bodies hooked up to machines that are sucking the energy out of them while listening to music that puts you in a state of wonder rather than dread, but Hollywood's lack of new ideas and misunderstanding of the past span farther than just one movie. Consider the trailer for the new Ghostbusters movie, it isn't a bad trailer until you remember that Ghostbusters was a comedy movie, sure it isn't like most other comedy movies because it was also quite deep in the science fiction genre and its humor was much different than that of most comedy movies but a movie where you have a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man terrorizing the city of New York is not a movie that you are supposed to take completely seriously, and yet the trailer for the new one doesn't have a single joke. I'm not sure the new Ghostbusters will even be the same genre as the original.

And we haven't even started talking about movies that are already out (although I've written about this before so I won't dwell on it too long) and when talking about popular movies these days you can't ignore Marvel because they have taken over much of pop culture while most of their movies are mediocre at best and can hardly be considered art. I realize that most people aren't film critics but it still baffles me that people haven't realized that all have the same plot. Take the first Iron Man for example, it was the first Marvel movie and honestly one of the best ones (it's definitely the best one with Robert Downy Jr. in it), it starts out with a rich guy who is a bit of a self-absorbed jerk who gets into an accident then motivated by that accident turns himself into a superhero and saves the world or whatever, it's a fairly decent movie. Now look at Dr. Strange which a lot of people like, it starts out with a rich guy who is a bit of a self-absorbed jerk who gets into an accident then motivated by that accident turns himself into a superhero and saves the world or whatever, it's the same movie except this time there is more CGI and in the case of Iron Man they guy who started the movie as a self-absorbed jerk is still a bit of a self-absorbed jerk while in Dr. Strange he turns into a selfless benevolent protector of the universe or something without there really being any scenes showing him transitioning from one type of character to another, pretty much all the character development happens at once, basically every Adam Sandler movie handles character development more realistically than this.

How it got this way

When we see that Hollywood lacks creativity these days it is important to ask ourselves how it got like this. The way I see it there are two main answers to this question. The first is a cultural reason which I'm not going to go into right now because it is beyond the scope of just the film industry (I recommend reading Fahrenheit 451 for some insight on that). The second reason is a market reason and it is a rather interesting one that I only recently realized and I haven't seen anyone talk about before.

Take a look at the Russian car manufacturer Lada, it's most iconic model was the VAZ-2105 (or Riva) which came out in 1980, was produced clear into the 2000s and wasn't terribly different from its predecessor the VAZ-2101 that was introduced in 1970. Compare that to American cars of roughly the same period, (let's just say from the 70s to 90s to be more fair) during this time cars were constantly changing, part of the reason for that was new safety and fuel efficiency requirements, but the biggest reason for change and innovation was competition, if Cadillac wanted people to buy their cars they had to make sure that it was a better value than the cars Lincoln was making and vice versa. Capitalist economies drive innovation through competition, Lada had no need to improve their cars because they were a product of a communist economy where competition doesn't exist and, for the most part, innovation dies.

There is a sense in which large film companies are in a similar position that Lada was during the cold war. Of course modern film companies aren't in a communist economy but they don't really have competition like most other companies do. Car companies have to compete because cars are serious investments for people who want to be sure that their investment is worth it. Restaurants have to compete because people can only eat lunch so many times a day. Phone companies have to compete because most people only have one phone. Movie companies don't really have to compete because there is nothing really stopping anyone from consooming a large quantity of movies. Back before the world was shut down most people went to the movie theater multiple times a year, many people would go once a month, and there was a collection of people out there who would even try to go once a week. Watching a movie is not a big investment for the consumer and with the advent of streaming services it isn't even an inconvenience.

As long as a movie is somewhat well advertised and it isn't complete garbage (most of them aren't) it will make a profit. Hollywood isn't creative anymore because it has no reason to be, if the film industry keeps pumping out the same sort of junk that it has been then it will continue to be doing just fine ten years from now. Sure movie companies have to react to their customers but their reactions are different from how other types of companies react to things. If customers at a restaurant react negatively to a dish on the menu then the restaurant works to improve it, if the audience of a Star Trek movie react poorly to a bad Star Trek movie then the film company doesn't work to improve Star Trek movies, it just stops making them.

I've come to the conclusion that most of the future movies that will actually be worth watching will be ones that are based off of books, not because Hollywood is any good at adapting books into movies, but because the books that do end up getting adapted into movies have to be popular which means that they expressed the sort of creativity that Hollywood lacks. Of course there will be outliers but for the most part modern Hollywood is void of creativity and has to borrow it from somewhere else to express it.