Why are blockbusters getting worse? Short answer: Money.
Long answer: Blockbuster franchise movies have become such a cash cow that the corporations who own the major studios are relying on these billion-dollar movies as a primary source of revenue. The studios operate at the whim of the corporation’s board and shareholders, so they become risk-averse and reject any new or creative ideas because they don’t know if it will succeed or fail.
Instead, they play it safe and do the same things that have succeeded in the past. They do this by either directly remaking a past hit, or doing a sequel of a hit, or formulaically repeating the plots and characters that have worked in the past. They want something familiar—be it an old cartoon, toy, board game, or emoji—anything with brand awareness that would in itself sell tickets regardless of how good the movie is. Even good blockbusters like The Force Awakens, which I enjoyed, play it safe by skewing close to the original Star Wars with many of the same plot devices.
This blockbuster franchise model has worked so far, but it has diminishing returns. It’s only a matter of time before moviegoers get tired of seeing the same movie over and over again. We’re already starting to see this happen.
Meanwhile, as the quality of big-budget blockbuster movies get worse, low budget indie films are getting better. Why? Because financial motives run contrary to artistic motives. Indie directors are able to make innovative creative movies when given complete artistic freedom. Of course, they also fail spectacularly sometimes. That’s the risk. But with lower budgets, they are able to take those risks. It’s worth it to find the rare diamond in the rough.
Technology is improving to a degree that indie directors are able to produce higher quality films at lower costs, so they are able to compete with the big studios—not in terms of special effects and technical innovation, which costs money, but for creative and artistic innovation, which is free.
Ultimately, Hollywood studios will make whatever movies are most profitable. So it is up to audiences to support the movies they want to see at the box office. If we stop paying to see the remakes and sequels, we will get more original blockbusters.