Most people constantly moan about the state of Hollywood. There’s too much money-grabbing and not enough originality, everything is being dumbed down to reach wider audiences, it’s all just a constant churn of reboots, remakes, prequels and sequels, etc.
But to this we say “pish”, “tosh” and indeed “pffft”. Blockbusters have never been better and here’s why.
20. The heroes that we deserve right now
Remember the Spider-Man TV series of the late 70s starring Nicholas Hammond? The ones where the webhead would scale the wall assisted by a ropes and a harness, and he would shoot white silly string out of his wrists? Now look at the modern incarnation of the character – he swings through the streets, double-back-somersaults across buildings and fights giant lizard rage monsters.
We’re in a place now where existing popular properties that have previously seemed impossible to recreate on the big screen can be brought to life in all their fantastic glory. For comic-book fans, it is especially an exciting time; characters and storylines that have given joy to millions over the past 50-or-so years are finally getting the cinematic treatment they deserve.
19. Taking a gamble
Gone are the days where only a handful of directors are responsible for delivering top blockbusters year on year. It’s not just the Spielbergs and the Camerons and the Burtons that we rely upon to give us that full popcorn spectacle any more – now we have all manner of serious filmmakers and unproven visionaries getting the opportunity to turn in a multi-million franchise instalment.
No one is doing more for this movement than Marvel. Giving the reins to Thor to Kenneth Branagh was a genius move thanks to the film’s Shakespearean undertones, but giving Thor: The Dark World to Game Of Thrones director Alan Taylor was a gamble that paid off. Likewise, handing Captain America: The Winter Soldier to Anthony and Joe Russo – best known for directing episodes of Community – seems like an insanely risky choice. But Marvel has rarely taken a step wrong so far, and handing these franchise properties to untested directors can only add an exciting variety to our cinema experiences.
18. The animaissance
It’s not only comic-book superheroes that are enjoying a renaissance at the moment. Children’s animation has arguably never been better. With Pixar leading the way and showing how to strike that balance between fun and feelings, other studios are catching up to speed and delivering equally wonderful movies.
From the magnificent Frozen and the brilliant The Lego Movie, to recent properties like Despicable Me and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, never before has there been so many animated films that both kids and grown-ups can enjoy together.
17. Effects are getting even more special
It’s strange to think now that “believing that a man can fly” was the most enticing reason to see a blockbuster spectacle. Now we expect our men to fight mid-air, level skyscrapers, float out of spaceships and do battle with giant, tentacled machines. It’s fair to say that the benchmark has been raised somewhat.
And it’s not just the fact that CGI is getting more elaborate, it’s that it is looking more and more realistic. So much so that it’s not just monster movies and sci-fi robot films that benefit, but more straight-laced films too. A recent SFX showreel for The Wolf Of Wall Street showed that CGI is being employed more than ever before without audiences even realising... and no one can tell.
16. It's not all sequels, prequels and reboots
The most common criticism aimed at Hollywood is that it is a killing off originality by only putting money behind existing properties – franchise sequels, remakes, rebooting old movie series. But, while that seems the case to a certain extent, there is still a lot of original ideas still being developed for cinema.
Last year alone, we saw the likes of Gravity, Elysium, Pacific Rim, Olympus Has Fallen and White house Down, while this year we have such films as Pompeii, Transcendence, Jupiter Ascending and Interstellar, all of which are among the most exciting films in 2014’s roster.
15. The acting pool is deeper
It’s not just an interesting choice of writers and directors that are making current blockbusters so exciting. The fact is that big, pricey films are no longer the domain of A-list actors. Instead, some of the biggest films to be released in the past few years have been filled out by a cast of relative unknowns, young, fresh talent and surprising celebrated thesps.
While the likes of Ian McKellen, Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Costner, Michael Douglas and Gary Oldman continue to lend credibility to box office contenders, the main roles are being taken by lesser known actors who still have the chops to carry the weight of the story. Take a look at the likes of Joel Kinnaman, Chris Pratt, Aaron Paul, Kit Harington and Martin Freeman, all of whom have massive movies out in 2014.
14. Less pandering
When Harry Potter showed that young adult novels can make for a great basis of a successful franchise, studios tripped over themselves to find the next teen hero saga. While some fared better than others, the general shift has been toward films that don’t pander to kiddies.
Never is this more apparent than with The Hunger Games, a series of movies that are proving to be every bit as ‘adult’ as ‘young’, depicting an uncompromising and often brutal dystopian world that provides the context for an otherwise relatable underdog story. It seems that studios are really getting to grips with pleasing wider audiences.
13. No lead role limitations
Blockbusters are no longer confined to the actions of strong, young men. As audiences tastes become more sophisticated, so do the films they want to see, which means room for more diverse lead roles. For instance, film stars continue to pull in mass crowds despite their age. One of the biggest films of 2013 was Iron Man 3, starring a 48-year-old Robert Downey Jr. And the biggest cheer during The Wolverine? Seeing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen back on X-Men duties.
And then, of course, there’s 2013’s biggest box office success: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which has been called the first female-led film to be the most successful cinematic release of any given year since The Exorcist. All of which helps to pave the way to finally get projects like the long-mooted Wonder Woman film off the ground.
12. Quality TV as a calling card
There has been an undeniable surge in the quality of TV productions over recent years, all of which helps to raise the profile of incredible cast and crews that can then move on to the business of making movies.
Between actors like Bryan Cranston, Kit Harington, Adam Driver, Emilia Clarke and Idris Elba all making the leap to the big screen, not to mention formidable TV writers and directors, television is proving to be a great resource for talent.
11. 3D and IMAX
The 3D trend is still a cause for contention among movie fans. While more and more directors align themselves in favour of the technology, it’s easy to dismiss the whole thing as just a gimmick.
And yet, the fact that more and more films are being released both in 3D and in the IMAX format, does give us all the opportunity at least to experience cinema in different, spectacular ways. Whether or not, you’re a 3D fan or naysayer, it can be no bad thing to have more viewing options.
10. Exciting trailer campaigns
An argument often levelled at movies – particular summer tentpole releases – is that too much is given away in their numerous trailers. Major set-pieces are spoiled, creature designs are ruined and the best jokes are told too early. And yet this isn’t always the case. Films such as Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness still managed to keep some character reveals a relative surprise. Well, Iron Man 3 did.
More to the point though, we now live in an age of free information at all times. Never before have we had so much access to pictures, posters, clips, and greater looks at behind the scenes of any given film. As long as these movies still manage to keep important plot details under wraps, trailer campaigns can become a fully immersive experience for any film fan.
9. Tackling complex issues
There was a time when blockbusters were always simply just eye-candy movies with popcorn stories and, to a certain extent, many still are. After all, no one can argue that the likes of Fast and Furious 6 and White House Down are trying to be complicated think-pieces. And yet film audiences have matured.
Films like Inception have led the way for complex concepts to challenge viewers, like the forthcoming Transendence (in which a dying Johnny Depp is downloaded into a computer) and genetic epic Jupiter Ascending from the Wachowskis. Even at their most basic level, many blockbusters are exploring grey areas between good heroes and evil villains. After all, who would have thought that we ever have a Planet Of The Apes prequel where we ended up rooting for the apes?
Which brings us to our next point. Blockbusters now offer us a range of different mood and tones – from feel-good family films to murky mature movies. Want to see exciting car chases and fight scenes? Go see the latest Bourne-type thriller. Want to see a deadly global crisis bring Earth to its knees? Go see World War Z. Want to see awesome robots punch even awesome monsters? Check out Pacific Rim. The variety of blockbusters keeps more diverse every year.
7. Franchises allow for long-term plots
It’s true to say that studios are no interested in longer-term investments. If a film looks like it could be a hit, sign up the stars for a three-film contract in advance and start thinking about sequels right away. While some films defy the franchise model and their sequels feel needless, in many other ways, this approach has wonderful story-telling benefits.
While Marvel has set up a system whereby they are planning film three cinematic phases ahead, everyone else is following suit. The Amazing Spider-Man has set in motion a hidden back story about Peter Parker’s parents that is yet to be revealed, while the sequel looks to set up the coming-soon Sinister Six movie featuring a assembled team of Spidey’s greatest baddies. And none of it feels rushed – movies are now being made like the best TV shows: don’t show all your cards at once and set things up for later.
6. Films that have (over-)ambition
If there’s any forgivable flaw for a film, it is being too ambitious. We’d all rather a film try too hard than not enough, right? So it’s good then that there’s a general trend with blockbusters to dig a little deeper beneath the surface than just white vests and exploding helicopters.
Even the new RoboCop remake, which could have ended up as a simple B-movie-esque cyborg action film, tried to explore the existential and topical issues surrounding the idea of replacing men with machines.
5. Up and coming directors given a budget
There are always exciting new directors making fresh, original films and now, more than ever before, these directors are taking charge of huge blockbuster releases.
Forgetting even just the excitement of having Joss Whedon helm one of the biggest films of all time, or Shane Black directing one of the most successful films in recent years, we also have the likes of James Gunn, Edgar Wright, Marc Webb, Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank all lined up for massive cinematic releases.
4. Multigenerational appeal
We often think in terms of ‘kids films’ or ‘teen flicks’ or ‘adult movies’, but the barriers defining those categories are constantly being broken down. Now kids and adults and everyone in between can all enjoy the latest animated adventure, or the new superhero movie, or the new sci-fi epic equally because these films are now all being made with a better formula for being enjoyed by wider audiences.
3. Character crossovers
We’re back firmly in comic-book territory again here, but with the advent of superhero team-up movies, how exciting is it to think that there’s potential for plenty of character crossovers in future films? And not just with the Marvel properties either, but with the forthcoming Superman vs Batman, there’s plenty of scope for Justice League appearances.
And then, of course, there’s the greatest, most ambitious crossover yet – linking the old and new casts of the X-Men franchises to X-Men: Days Of Future Past, a film that is going to serve as both sequel and prequel all at once.
2. Films made by fans
While many will argue that we’re living in a cinematic era of remakes and adaptations, the reason why they would complain is because they’re fans and don’t want to see their favourite characters get handled badly. But the good news is that we are now living in a time where the filmmakers are fans too, who revere the source material as much the audience.
Just look at J.J. Abrams – a film nerd who you can well imagine spent his childhood playing with both the Starship Enterprise and the Millennium Falcon. And don’t get us started on the Marvel movies. Superhero films being made by comic-book geeks? Frankly, it shouldn’t be any other way.
1. Imagination is the only limitation
It has long been said in Hollywood that it’s possible to put anything up on screen as long you have a large enough suitcase of money. But is now becoming easier and easier as CGI gets more and more sophisticated. So really, anything the filmmakers’ imagination is the only limit.
As if to prove the point, in 2014 alone we will be seeing Dinobots, angry apes, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a new Godzilla and... a kick-ass, gun-toting, talking alien raccoon!
What do you think? Is this the best time we've ever had for blockbusters? Let us know in the comments below.