Defending the Lack of Originality in Hollywood Blockbusters



One does not have to go far to find someone ripping on Hollywood for a lack of originality. Remakes, sequels, and movies based on existing material are common place. The current fulcrum of criticism is Disney with their yearly stream of live action remakes and sequels; from 2016's "The Jungle Book" to 2019's "The Lion King". It is argued that Hollywood, and Disney as one of it's representative constituents, should take more creative risks and drive towards originality. A creative and original culture around the largest piece of the entertainment industry would be illustrative of an open minded and creative audience. However when the largest piece of our entertainment industry is risk adverse and lacks originality it shows an audience that is accepting of repeated and rehashed material.

I argue that this is not true.

The key here is, "the largest piece of our entertainment industry". The question is: where should we expect the creative engine of entertainment to come from? Movie productions are expensive, and creative risks are increasingly less common as the production becomes more expensive. This is why there are lots of insanely creative never-been-tried-before novels and lots of based-on-existing-material movies. Low budget environments are more conducive to creative risks, so it should be expected that Hollywood has proportionally less original material than other story telling mediums.

Additionally, there are relatively few movies produced each year than books published by multiple orders of magnitude. Around 1 million books are published each year [1] in comparison to around 700 movies that reach US cinema's [1]. Movies must have a wide enough appeal in order to sustain future productions. Hundreds of people all must agree to a reasonable level of risk in order for a movie to be made. In comparison a book requires only a few people to accept the risk and put forward the effort to publish a book. While writing a book might be a tremendous effort over a few years for the author, the combined effort of everyone involved in a summer block buster is orders of magnitudes greater. The risk is not the equivalent of a years salary of one passionate author, but hundreds of millions of dollars and is often assumed by people who are not directly involved in the creative endeavor itself.

This low effort low risk medium of book publishing means that it is the perfect medium for creativity, originality, and niche audiences. Hollywood productions on the other hand are the perfect medium for finding those original stories and bringing them to life to a wider audience in a way that only a multi hundred million dollar production can do. Why was Game of Thrones first a book and then a TV show? Simple: it took tens of thousands of books written in the fantasy genre to find the one story that broke out of it's niche and was ripe for a larger audience in the grandiose production that HBO could bring to it. Why are a higher percentage of movies based on books than books based on movies? Simple: There are a million new books each year, and therefor a million new opportunities for a movie to leverage some authors creative genius. Books provide the creative material of story telling, movies are a collective decision to bring a small part of that creative material and share it with a wider community.

Now I do not mean to defend all of Hollywood's creative decisions by any means. Nor do I want to downplay the place for creative risks in movies. However I do mean to illustrate that it is not self evident that a lack of originality in Hollywood is bad. We should replace our disdain of this so called lack of originality with a thankfulness for all the authors, storytellers, directors, producers, and everyone else who knowingly or not, are involved in this "communal consciousness" that has created an engine for creativity and an avenue for sharing a sliver of that creativity together.

[1] http://www.bowker.com/news/2018/New-Record-More-than-1-Million-Books-Self-Published-in-2017.html
[2] https://stephenfollows.com/how-many-films-are-released-each-year/

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