The death of reading and good franchises

Photo by Blake Israel

We are a somewhat spoiled generation of moviegoers. The biggest and most thrilling movie franchises have been created in the last twenty years, with the best technology that movies have ever been able to utilize. At this point, he developmental years of most college-aged students took place during a Renaissance of movie franchise–namely Marvel, Harry Potter, the Hunger Games and all of its copycats. 

As the movie industry has evolved–or as I would probably say, devolved–into a money-driven race to be the next thing Twitter or Tik Tok will buzz about for a few months, creativity has been drained from a lot of theatrical releases in the last five years or so. 

The infamous phenomenon of reboots and decades-later sequels are a huge part of this. Even in just the last few months of trying to see every ridiculous-looking movie released in theaters, at least half of what I have watched has been some kind of reboot of a once-beloved property; Scream, Matrix: Resurrections, Cruella and Disney’s other live-action dumpster fires are the first that come to mind. 

Do not get me wrong, there have been some very good movies with original plots and shockingly great performances in the last few years. 

2019, for example, was a notably great year for theatrical releases, with the juggernaut that was Avengers: Endgame as well as modern classics like Midsommar, Parasite, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood and more. 

But now that movie theater culture has been unceremoniously killed by the proliferation of streaming services, there has been an increase in cash-grab garbage that production studios have been pumping out, all for the sake of chasing something mildly close to the cash cow that has been Marvel. Marvel has an endless amount of comics and universes to choose from that will likely keep the franchise going on forever. While many can confidently say that anything post-No Way Home will not be able to recapture the magic of the original Avengers-era movies, the moderate financial success of new non-Avengers movies like The Eternals (bad), Black Widow (pointless) and Shang-Chi (good!) clearly shows that there is still a market for big franchise cinema. 

However, I think the time where blockbuster franchises truly peaked was between 2011 and 2015, when Harry Potter, Hunger Games, the original Avengers and Twilight were ruling both the world and the box office.

Something that all of these franchises have in common–besides the obvious teen and young adult appeal, hot actors and teenage rebellion — was their origin from books. 

All of the book (and comic) series that these movies were derived from as well as the movies’ release dates were during a time when reading, while definitely on the decline, was still a lot more common than it is now.

I recogonize that culture and entertainment has changed, so I do not want to go on some boomer-esque rant about how the kids need to start reading again. 

However, the void that reading left behind in terms of its impact on the movie industry is definitely noticeable, and it is undeniably for the worst. 

These aforementioned franchises had a built-in audience going into their releases, whether it be from those who actually consumed the books or comics that they were derived from or those who experienced the second-hand hype.  

Now that movie studios are not able to capitalize on this hype from a book series being received by a massively large amount of the population, it seems their next-best option is nostalgia. 

To bring in numbers with a movie release, studios must now dig up something that is recognizable to a large number of people who are too distracted by the onslaught of information they receive on their phones or the plethora of movies and television waiting for them on streaming services. 

Books were able to unite communities of people in a very unique way, even more unique than social media. 

When millions of different people are consuming a story and using their imaginations to experience it, it becomes a lot more exciting to hear that a version of what they formed in their heads will receive a screen adaptation. 

Books are also inherently larger vessels for manifesting creativity, with the ability to include a large cast of side characters, intricate development and further exploration into lore. 

Many book-based franchises, even with the inevitable scrutiny most endure for not being line-by-line adaptations, ignite so much excitement for those who have grown to love a story that is now being given a new life with a theatrical adaptation. 

Big cinema has been forced to find a replacement for the void that the death of reading has left, and most of its choices have been criminally worse.

 If the general population’s consumption of entertainment was not so heavily altered by phones, I wonder how many big franchises would be born today in front of our eyes–the kinds of things that we do not realize how truly big they will be until a decade down the road.

As I see old franchises like Twilight and Harry Potter being given an umpteenth life on Tik Tok, I wonder when the next big franchise will be created, if it ever will or if it is simply impossible for one to be created ever again.