Dystopias, reboots and superheroes, oh my!
Trends in popular movies can say a lot about our society as a whole. The “Allegiant” box office flop last weekend is no exception.
“Allegiant,” the third film in the popular dystopian series, “Divergent,” pulled in only $29 million during opening weekend March 18— a 46 percent drop from the $54.6 million made by the original “Divergent” film.
Before the “Divergent” series was “The Hunger Games” in 2012, which, by comparison, made over $152 million in it’s first weekend and the fourth in its series, “Mockingjay—Part 2,” which decreased slightly but still made $102 million it’s first weekend.
The Fall of Dystopias
The fourth and final movie in the “Divergent” series, “Ascendant,” is scheduled to debut in June 2017. But has the era of dystopian movies already come to an end? And what does that say about us as a society?
“I think we can find some evidence that today cinema is turning away from the future and withdrawing into an increasingly nostalgic mood,” Mauro Resmini, a Film Studies faculty fellow at the University of Maryland, wrote in an email. “It signals a certain detachment from history, or more precisely, a certain difficulty we have of being contemporary with our own present, of understanding our place in history… We turn to stylized images of the past, or simply do away with the present—and the future—altogether by staging global catastrophes.”
Maybe our attention span for the young-girl-saves-world-from-corrupt-future-government narrative has simply run out, maybe some see the possibility of a President Snow-type situation becoming all too real, or maybe boredom and timing have nothing to do with it. Maybe fans just don’t think “Divergent” is as compelling of a story.
“It feels like ‘The Hunger Games’ was mostly sustained by Jennifer Lawrence’s presence, and I don’t see Shailene Woodley being able to do the same for ‘Divergent,’” Resmini said. “Another way to look at it is the dialectic between difference and repetition…Maybe ‘Divergent’ was too familiar to produce the fascination for the unknown.”
Most likely, it’s a combination of the three. Whatever the case, viewers have moved on to two major trends: reboots and action-packed hero flicks.
“Stylized images of the past”
“Full House,” “Gilmore Girls,” and animated Disney films are among the many stories from years past that are being brought back to the big screen.
But reboots of our favorite childhood stories are by and large proving unsuccessful: not in the sense that they aren’t making money, because they are— Disney’s 2015 live action version of “Cinderella” raked in $132.45 million worldwide during opening weekend alone and their new live action version of “The Jungle Book” is projected to open next weekend with $62 million.
Rather, they’re unsuccessful in the sense that the reboots aren’t particularly good. Reviews of “Fuller House,” the Netflix reboot of “Full House,” suggested that the writers were leaning to heavily on the promise of nostalgia and not enough on writing a story worth telling.
We’re becoming frustrated with our present (re: why dystopian stories are declining— they seem a little bit too real) so we revert back to our childhood, but those efforts to go back to a simpler time are proving futile. Earlier this year, “Friends” co-creator Marta Kauffman explained why fans of the popular 90s television show wouldn’t be granted a reunion show.
“It shouldn’t happen,” Kauffman told The Hollywood Reporter in February. “That show is about a time in your life when your friends are your family. Once you start having a family, that time of your life is over.”
We connected with these shows and movies at a point in our lives when the characters could comfortably exist within the confines of the show. Moving outside that context destroys with why the film or show existed in the first place.
“Staging global catastrophes”
We’re even reverting back to our childhoods when we go to the movies to watch the world narrowly saved from total destruction, like in “Batman,” “Spider-Man” or “Star Wars.” They are, in many cases, reboots of our favorite childhood comics and they come in prequels and sequels and mashups of all our favorite superheroes.
“Big productions tend to neutralize or outright evacuate some of the most radical and compelling aspects of comic books and graphic novels,” Resmini said. “There are some exceptions…but I don’t see how the pop-ironic Marvel approach or the dark-serious DC one can provide us with any kind of genuine mythology for our times.”
We’re living in a time of uncertainty, so it’s no surprise that what we yearn for the most is a storyline with a predicable, happy ending that takes us back to a place of comfort and stability.
What will be the next trend to take over the entertainment industry? It’s hard to guess, Resmini said. Hollywood may just be running out of new ideas.