Time for the now traditional year-end wrap up with a look at the top ten movies of 2019, thanks to the list compiled by Box Office Mojo. The top movies are
1) Avengers: Endgame – sequel to an adaptation.
2) The Lion King – remake.
3) Toy Story 4 – sequel to an original work.
4) Captain Marvel – adaptation.
5) Spider-Man: Far from Home – sequel to an adaptation.
6) Frozen II – sequel.
7) Aladdin – remake of an adaptation.
8) Joker – adaptation.
9) Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker – sequel to an original work.
10) It Chapter Two – sequel and adaptation.
Like last year, there is no original movie in the top ten. Us, written and directed by Jordan Peele, was pushed out of the top ten in the final week of 2019 by Star Wars: Episode IX. The top ten consists of sequels, adaptations, or remakes. Aladdin is a remake of the animated film adapted from a folk tale. Superheroes took up 40% of the list, down from 60% last year. One movie, It Chapter Two, is adapted from a novel. Disney is the big winner of 2019, releasing seven of the ten movies. Warner Bros has two, Joker and It Chapter Two, leaving Sony to get one slot with Spider-Man.
Movie studios are still counting on known properties to draw an audience. Budgets have exploded, especially for summer blockbusters. If the movie fails to perform, studios lose money and execs lose bonuses. The effort to redo Sonic might not have been done if less money was involved. This won’t be changing anytime soon. Studios are risk adverse. Unless there’s a number of sleeper hits over the course of a year or several star-driven original works that gain attention, expect more adaptations. Disney and Marvel are at a point where the movies are their own universe, and missing one may mean missing a key part leading up to the big ensemble film. Warner and DC are trying the same, but have had more success with their television series.
However, there is hope for more original works. Us tapped a market that is usually ignored. The film also had a much lower budget. This combination could set a path for more original works in theatres. The problem may not be adaptations but excessive budgets. There is room for smaller budget films in theatres.
Last year’s wrap-up, I predicted that Captain Marvel and Valiant’s Faith may do well at the box office. Faith is due to come out February 2020, but Captain Marvel finished fourth overall in the top ten, following Black Panther dominating in 2018. Studios will have to pay attention to audiences outside the 18-45 white male demographic. However, 2020 won’t be that year. It takes time to create a movie, from story outline to finished product. Audience demand is starting to be seen. All that’s needed now is a hit that features an atypical protagonist for the dam to crack.
Last week, Lost in Translation took a look at the top grossing movies of 2018. What can be expected in 2019?
Adaptations aren’t going away anytime soon. When they succeed, studios get a huge return on their investment. Guaranteed audiences are the reason why studios will continue to rely on adaptations for income. People are still getting out to them, despite complaints that there’s nothing original. Risk aversion exists with both studios and audiences today. That said, not every adaptation is a guaranteed success. Mortal Engines/ may not make its own budget, though it has only been out less than a month. The only way studios will stop relying on adaptations is if there is a long streak of massive flops as audiences look elsewhere for entertainment. That isn’t going to happen right away.
On the other hand, remakes are going to become scarce. The problem remakes face today is the availability of originals through DVD/Blu-Ray and streaming services. Why watch a remake of, say, The Breakfast Club when the original is available on Netflix? There are a couple of exceptions. The first is when the original is outside recent memory, such as A Star is Born. Recent, right now, means anything after 1980. Prior to then, the acceptability of a remake goes up unless the film is a cultural touchstone. With A Star is Born, the original was released in 1937 and remade in 1954 and 1976, ignoring the 2013 Bollywood version. A black and white film remade today in colour would slip past the audience reluctance for a remake, possibly getting by on not being generally known as one.
The other exception for remakes is when there’s a new approach to the work. This is a risking venture, especially with today’s social media. Too big a change and the screaming will travel on social networks far faster than a marketing department can keep up. In particular, changing the composition of the main cast, either gender or race, can get certain elements to decry the change without even seeing the film at all. Word of mouth is now faster than traditional marketing.
Superheroes aren’t going away anytime soon. While Warner Bros. slowed down on the DC cinematic universe, Marvel Studios kept going in 2018. The DC television series, though, are still around, having had a crossover event. At this point, superheroes are the new Western – morality plays without the historical baggage. Superhero adaptations will remain the main source, but there should be attempts at original superhero works. It may take a few tries, with several bombs along the way, but the appetite is there. The cast and crew will have to accept superheroic tropes, which may take some getting used to. Marvel’s approach to superhero movies and TV series may have the best chance of succeeding for an original work – cross superheroes with another genre.
Television, including streaming services, may be where original video works come from. With the silver screen dominated by adaptations, original works need to come from somewhere. Netflix and Amazon have released original series as well as adaptations. Traditional broadcasters will need to keep up just to maintain their share of the audience. The competition for viewers is intense and not going to get better, even with time-shifting devices like digital video recorders. TV today will be the source of remakes and adaptations in 2038.
Adapting Young Adult literature may be on its way out. While there have been stand outs, both in YA literature and in its adaptation, the glut means that no one work gets all the attention. YA novels will still get written; readers enjoy the works. Movies and TV series based on them, though, will get more selective. There hasn’t been a YA novel this past year that garnered the attention that The Hunger Games had. Few will be filmable as a movie; novels tend to have far more details than can be used in a two hour film. The most likely adaptation will be a miniseries, though a full TV series isn`t out of the question.
Finally, a video game movie will draw an audience. The live action Detective Pikachu will bring the Pokémon world to life. This will add pressure to the competiting Sonic the Hedgehog film. Detective Pikachu had the head start, releasing its trailer first. At least one of the movies should break the video game movie curse.