With the garbage fire of a year that was 2016 fading away in the rearview, it’s time to look forward at the prospects that 2017 holds. While 2016 was pretty awful in most respects, it did manage to deliver some excellent films, including a few instant classics. But will the studios learn the right lessons from these critical and financial successes, or will the new year simply regurgitate the same wrong-headed mistakes from years prior? To help Hollywood navigate the stormy seas of success, below is a list of five resolutions it should adopt in 2017 (and beyond) to ensure delivery of more great films in the future.
1) Embrace Diversity in Casting (and Behind the Camera, Too)
Two of the biggest successes of the year, “Doctor Strange” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” were populated by a diverse cast of actors that were of different races and genders. And while they weren’t without controversy (the whitewashing of the Ancient One, for example) or their token white saviors (Benedict Cumberbatch and Felicity Jones, respectfully), it was still refreshing to see large studio films actually utilize women and people of color in bigger roles in their tentpole movies. But there needs to be more of this, and it needs to happen behind the camera, too.
The reason why this is so important, especially for blockbusters, is that it helps inspire the next generation of nerds and cinephiles. It’s easy to forget how transformative it can be to “see yourself” up on screen, especially for the white male population, but it really does matter to younger generations to see representations of themselves in movies. Embracing diversity in film helps audiences (particularly non-white, non-male viewers) connect better to what they’re seeing, which helps to inspire their dreams and imaginations, as well as reflects the actual diversity of audiences in today’s world. 2016 did an okay job of inclusiveness, but there are many miles to go before we sleep.
2) Take More Chances on “Smaller” Talent
To return to “Doctor Strange” for a moment, that film (much like “Guardians of the Galaxy” before it) felt new and original thanks mainly to the outside perspective of its director, Scott Derrickson. Prior to “Doctor Strange,” Derrickson had only worked on a few horror movies (“Sinister,” “Deliver Us From Evil”) and one failed blockbuster (the remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”). Similarly, James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), Taika Waititi (the upcoming “Thor: Ragnarok”) and Jon Watts (the upcoming “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) all came from smaller, unique films that were critically praised before getting wrapped up in the Marvel fold. And this is great, as it allows an outside perspective to bring new dimensions to the storytelling and visualization of these giant movies.
Other studios would do well to use this same technique in recruiting talent for their franchises and tentpole films, as there’s a higher probability that what they deliver will be something unique, with its own sense of style and flair that will embed itself in the minds of many audiences. Filmmakers like Mike Flanagan (“Hush”), Jeremy Saulnier (“Green Room”) and Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) could do a lot to make otherwise boring entries seem vital and interesting in ways that no committee of studio hacks and flunkies could ever dare dream up.
3) Let’s Hit “Pause” on Video Game Adaptations Until the Story Works
“Warcraft” and “Assassin’s Creed” were both promising films that came from talented people who seemed to take the properties very seriously. Perhaps too seriously, as the resulting movies were convoluted messes that didn’t connect with audiences and, while respectful of the games, ultimately fell flat due to overly complicated stories and paper-thin characters. With the exception of the “Resident Evil” movies, which aren’t good but are fairly successful with their fanbase (and are tenuously connected to the games), video game movies remain mired in mediocrity.
It makes sense that Hollywood wants to tap into the video game audience with its billions of dollars of revenue and increasingly growing number of fans, but they have yet to do it right. “The Angry Birds” movie made some money, and probably has some child fans out there, but it is a forgettable piece of filmmaking that’s dull and lazy. Before the next video game adaptation, most likely “Tomb Raider” with Alicia Vikander and Walton Goggins, Hollywood needs to take a breath and figure out what people like about the games in order to craft engaging storylines (that make sense) with characters that audiences care about. Until more focus is put into delivering a good script, Hollywood will continue to churn out regrettable movies that pander to hardcore gamers but have no real substance to them.
4) Spectacle Used to Mean Something; Have It Mean Something Again
While “Captain America: Civil War” is the better film, that movie is built on serialization, characterization and some excellent action set pieces; it was fairly boring visually and didn’t really deliver anything new to the language of cinema. However, everyone agrees that the best part of “Doctor Strange” is the visuals, because it was a return to the trippy images of its ’60s psychedelic roots. Hopefully, Hollywood will realize that audiences have grown immune to the same old shots of destruction porn, beams from space (seen again in “Suicide Squad”) and uninspired blocking for fight sequences. One of the great concerns about the rise of Marvel (and Disney) is that it’s too “by committee” and its visuals are utilitarian without promoting much imagination.
Obviously, every filmmaker seeks to commit something memorable to the frame, and one never knows what images will end up being iconic to fans for decades to come, but there needs to be better composition and more risk-taking in delivering the visual aspect of films. If more resources (and more risks) are going towards these tentpole blockbusters, then more creative thinking needs to be encouraged to deliver something remarkable and never seen before. When people see something new, or feel that it expands the visual vocabulary of film, it stays with them and adheres to their minds for generations to come.
5) Stop Chasing Success
This one is the least likely to actually be followed by the big studios, but it is the most important resolution that Hollywood should stick to in 2017 and beyond. Obviously, Hollywood is going to be more interested in delivering what they think those viewers want to see based on previous success. Hence all of the “cinematic universes” and sequels and remakes and reboots that are delivered every year, because it worked before and it should work again, right? Add to that the fact that studios are now parts of major corporations that are risk averse while also interested in doubling down on intellectual properties they already own, it makes sense that studio films chase success. For instance, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was about a group of ne’er do wells that team up to stop a world-ending disaster with a pop soundtrack that scores the action, so it’s easy to see why Warner Bros. figured they would just do the same with “Suicide Squad.”
The problem is that audiences are getting tired of seeing retreads; if studios learn the right lessons from the success of a film (for example, the pluck and unique approach in “Deadpool” and not its R-rating), then they can continue to create something new that will be well received critically and probably financially. By using more diversity in the cast and crew, turning to outsider filmmakers to lend their voices to blockbusters and make them more individual, and crafting interesting shots that linger past the end credits, Hollywood will go a long way to forging their own paths. That doesn’t mean every tentpole movie will now be an art house film – people still desire the familiar after all – but it means that each one will now be just different enough to be memorable, affecting and create characters and stories that actually engage audiences. Hollywood will still churn out clones of much better and more popular films, but if they are wise and think harder about what resonates with viewers, moviegoers will flock to theaters to discover something new and exciting. Until then, here’s a look back at 2016, warts and all.