Remember original movies? You probably do. Some great ones came out just this year, including Knives Out, Us, The Souvenir, Midsommar, Parasite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and The Farewell. However, these films are all anomalous exceptions to the new industry standard: big-budget tentpoles based on preexisting IP.
While it’s still possible to occasionally get original films from acclaimed directors on the big screen, studios feel much more comfortable throwing money at remakes, adaptations, sequels, and just basically any property audiences are already acquainted with. Need any proof? Just take a look at this list of the top 10 highest-grossing movies worldwide in 2019.
1. Avengers: Endgame $2,797,800,564
2. The Lion King $1,656,405,082
3. Spider-Man: Far from Home $1,131,927,996
4. Captain Marvel $1,128,274,794
5. Toy Story 4 $1,073,394,593
6. Joker $1,059,735,374
7. Aladdin $1,050,693,953
8. Frozen II $1,032,542,072
9. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw $758,910,100
10. Ne Zha $700,547,754
The first thing of note is the sheer dominance of Disney, whose Frozen II just became the monolithic studio’s sixth billion-grossing property this year. (Spider-Man: Far from Home is a Sony movie, but since Disney owns Marvel, you could almost count it as a 7th entry in Disney’s triple-comma club for 2019.)
The second thing to note is that the one name on this list you might not recognize, the Chinese computer-animated hit Ne Zha, is bound to be bumped off of this list very soon by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in the remaining weeks of the year, and that’s if Sony’s Jumanji: The Next Level doesn’t do the job sooner. Star Wars is also a Disney movie, ensuring another billion-plus for the monopolistic conglomerate, and both films are further examples of our increasing dependency on franchises. It’s amazing that the closest thing to an original movie on this list is either a spinoff from the Fast & Furious series or a take on a comic book supervillain that’s heavily indebted to Martin Scorsese. And in the coming weeks, Frozen II is likely to out-gross Warner Bros.’s Joker, pushing the juggernaut Disney title even higher up the list.
The only thing more depressing than the above list is the one below, an IMDB-based grouping of the most anticipated films of 2020. (There’s not a single original in the bunch.)
1. Birds of Prey (the Harley Quinn movie)
2. Sonic the Hedgehog
3. Top Gun: Maverick
4. No Time to Die (James Bond)
5. Black Widow
7. Wonder Woman 1984
9. The King’s Man
10. Fast & Furious 9
That’s not to say that there won’t be any original blockbusters in 2020 and beyond (ahoy, new Christopher Nolan!) or that films based on preexisting IP can’t be original in their own right (the new take on Dune comes from Arrival‘s Denis Villeneuve). It’s just an unfortunate reality that the safest bet in Hollywood seems to be whatever everyone already knows. So, happy holidays, and I’ll see you online for Distracted Boyfriend Meme: The Movie, coming probably sooner than you think.