Recently, several major Hollywood studios including Marvel/Disney and DC/Warner Brothers have announced slates for the release of several dozen superheroes movies that will be made within the next 10 years. These slates were announced following the huge success of this past summer’s superhero movies, and in particular ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, which become the most successful film at the domestic box office in 2014.

This past week however, a few major Hollywood studios also announced plans to either remake or reboot two very successful franchises from the 1980’s, they are ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Indiana Jones’. ‘Ghostbusters 3’ had been in development hell for many years since actor and star Bill Murray refused to participate in a third installment and now it seems as if the filmmakers are considering making the Ghostbuster characters into an all female cast. As for ‘Indiana Jones’, that movie will become a straight rebooting as well. Actor Christ Pratt, the star of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and another sequel set to release this summer, ‘Jurassic World’ is rumoured to be in talks to play Indiana Jones in the brand new reboot.

Over the past few months, I’ve heard many of my friends complain that Hollywood doesn’t put out original movies like it used to. This has been a common complaint for many years as it seems like Hollywood studios are interested in producing safe bets such as sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, reimaginings and TV/Book adaptations that already have a popular, built in audience. This way the studios take fewer risks and are almost guaranteed to turn a profit.

In this post, I’d like to examine the origin of the lack of originality complaint that many people have and see if it were true in old Hollywood. I will also examine why studios take fewer risks in order to make ‘guaranteed profits’.

One of the biggest complaints about Hollywood always making the same movie over and over again is that many years ago, every movie Hollywood produced was an original, risky, piece of art. While this would be true in any new venture, anything that is produced would be considered original but many classic films were adapted from previous sources like they are today. In fact, here are some old, classic films that were based on books. ‘101 Dalmatians’, ‘The Graduate’, ‘The Birds’, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘The French Connection’. ‘The Planet of the Apes’ and the most classic films ever made, ‘The Wizard of Oz’. I hate so say it but many of these films were probably made for the same exact reason that adaptations are made today. Because these books have a built in audience whom love the source material and are statistically very likely to pay for a ticket so they can see their favourite book turned into a movie. It was a safe bet all many years ago and it’s still a safe bet today. Maybe one of the reasons why we see more adaptations from book to film is because there are more books in our society than ever before. To me, this isn’t a bad thing at all. So then you ask, what about remakes and reboots?

Since 1908, the classic Robert Lewis Stevenson novel ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (one of my favourite novels of all time) has been adapted to film and television over 30 times with the latest production coming out this year. American studios also aren’t the only ones who create many sequels to well established franchises. In Japan, the 1954 classic monster movie ‘Godzilla’ spawn over 25 sequels and two American reboots including last year’s Japanese-American production staring Bryan Cranston and Ken Wantanabe. If ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ and ‘Godzilla’ weren’t enough, there have been countless remakes and reboots to many of the Universal Studios classic monster movies such as Dracula, The Wolfman and The Mummy. There have even been several remakes of classic courtroom drama ‘12 Angry Men’. And yes, even the most classic film of all time, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ was a remake of a silent film produced in the 1920’s. Studios have always been creating ‘unoriginal’ films so they can easily turn a profit. And why do they do this? Because Studios want to stay in business.

It should be noted that there’s no such thing as a ‘guaranteed profit’ in any business. While there are certain films such as the new Star Wars sequel that’s scheduled to come out at Christmas this year, which many are predicting will make several billions at the box office, it’s still not a guarantee for success. Why is this? The film industry isn’t just an art form. Sorry film students but as a former one myself, I was always told that film is an art form and nothing more. However, just like everything in life, the film industry is a business and all businesses are interested in turning a profit otherwise they cease to exist. There is no good or bad in this reality, only the facts. If you made movies that cost your investors (Production Companies and/or studios) million of dollars, no matter how good your films are, you won’t be able to stay employed in the film industry. It’s as simple as that. Studios are like all other institutions on Earth. They are run by imperfect people who are subjected to the same laws of nature and economics that we all are. Just because they have lots of wealth, nothing changes these facts. Studios need to make money on their productions so they can use their profits to greenlight other productions for the next year. Since studios in Hollywood only make 10-12 films a year, they need at least a few of their films to make enough money to cover what they have already invested in and then to make more content. This is the sole reason why studios make safe films, if they didn’t they would face bankruptcy and foreclosure. As someone who once worked for a major studio in Los Angeles, I can tell you that studios employ hundreds, if not thousands of people who depend on the studio for their paychecks each week and in many cases, for their health insurance and retirement benefits. A studio has a lot riding on each film they produce and one big flop could potentially end the employment of thousands of people.

Historically, the studios did take risks at one time and made some amazing films that would never be made today. In particular, it was the 1970’s that took the most risk and experimentation in modern film with movies like ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Alien’, ‘Jaws’, ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘The Godfather’ (the last two were book adaptations) to name only but a few.

However, one part of the industry began to take hold and started giving the studios a run for their money. While it started with the creation of United Artists back in 1919, it wouldn’t become a strong force until the mid-80’s. I’m of course talking about independent film. Starting with the inaugural broadcast of the Independent Spirit Awards in 1985, the market for independent films exploded onto the main stage soon after. While very much around in the 60’s and 70’s, particularity with the popularity of ‘Easy Rider’, independent film began going mainstream about 30 years ago. By the 1990’s, companies like Miramax and Lion’s Gate started pushing independent films to receive Oscar nominations and many, including ‘Pulp Fiction’ would not only win several Oscars but go onto be considered some of the best films ever made.

This is why I rant and rave about independent film being important because viewers can find original, risk taking movies being made right now in 2015. While studios have set themselves into a comfortable, formulaic business model where only ‘guarantees’ are made, independent film exits to break that mold. Just last year, I saw some of the best films I’ve ever seen in a very long time and the ones that stuck out to me were independent films. ‘Whiplash’, ‘Inherent Vice’, ‘Nightcrawler’, ‘The One I Love’. ‘The Guest’, ‘Locke’, ‘Birdman’, ‘Enemy’ and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ offer seekers the originality you both want and deserve. All these movies are wonderful and very different. Some blended a few generas together in ways you never thought were possible while other simply stuck to one genera or interesting character.

Lastly, I want to spend a few paragraphs taking about economics and studio funding before closing. What I mean by this is why and how studios determine how much money they give to certain projects and what effects they expect to get as a result.

What I find very interesting about studios is that most of them do produce small, low budget films each year with budgets ranging from about 1 to 20 million dollars. They do this via production companies like Fox Searchlight, Paramount Vantage and Sony Screen Gems. These companies work within the studios and seek out movies either to produce or distribute that have an indie feel. The studios began doing this in the early 90’s to complete with Miramax’s success. When a studio produces a film with such a low budget, big name actors and filmmakers usually take a deferral so rather than getting paid a large sum of money up front, they make a certain percentage of the total box office sales. This way the shooting budget can remain low and the movie can get made. However, even if this low budget film doesn’t do well at the box office, it’s not a huge loss for a studio and they can always make a profit on the home video sales. In fact, most low budget movies will break even eventually, even it if takes a couples years.

The most risky are movies for studios to make are budgeted between about 20 to 80 million dollars. Studios usually only give these budgets to established filmmakers and book or book series adaptations. The risks involved here are that if the movie fails at the box office, the studio might never see a return on home video and therefore, the studio will indefinitely lose money. If however, the movie does well at the box office, there’s still a chance the film doesn’t make enough to cover all its losses and these mid-range budget amounts are considered the riskiest. It’s also highly unlikely a first time director would produce a film in this range although not impossible.

Last but not least, we have the highest budget range of $80 million to the most expensive single film ever made, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’ which cost $341 million dollars to produce in 2007. Once a film reaches this range, the profits need to be a ‘guarantee’. Your Marvel movies and their sequels get these budgets, as does ‘Star Wars’, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Transformers’, to name only a few.

For anyone interested in original, risky films I would recommend both American independent film as well as foreign films. These films provide a different way to tell new and unique stories and will stand out from the typical Hollywood blockbusters that can get tedious. However, I also wouldn’t put down any film just because it’s a remake or a reboot. Some of the best to do this were ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ and its sequel ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ which aren’t just sequels to two of the original Apes movies from the 60’s and 70’s but they’re also reboots. Both films show that there is a glimmer of hope in Hollywood and while they might be too few and far between for some, you can always check out many of the yearly film festivals like Sundance or Toronto, and can find smaller films in your city when they open.

Ultimately, the reason why Hollywood makes the same film over and over again is because people go see movies that entertain them ahead of anything else. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because you do have choices as a consumer. Subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, Video on Demand and other online subscription based services that give you the opportunities to search through thousands of movies at your finger tips. Remember, there are unique movies out there and with technology it’s getting easier and easier for millions of people to see them instantaneously.