The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

Movies have long been seen as vessels for creating both art and capital, integrating scenes of heartbreak, hope, angst and anger with the incentive of profit. From its beginning, film has been recognized as a form of storytelling with potential to be far more immersive than a novel, photograph or any other form of media.

Technical evolutions of the animated art, mainly spurred by individual ambition and creativity, propelled film to its current status as arguably the best model for storytelling. But, echoing the fate of so many other things, movies have slowly fallen victim to their corporate sponsors’ motivation: money.

In recent years, instead of quality screenplays being selected for production by major film studios, more emphasis has been put on topics already familiar to a wider population: childhood toys, overplayed superhero tropes, or live-action remakes of well-loved cartoons. This should not be how it is. 

The best films have rarely reached mass appeal: Scorsese’s legendary “Raging Bull” barely surpassed its budget of $18 million, grossing just over $23 million in 1980. 

But so what if a movie isn’t supremely economically viable? Do studios believe that we are so far past the point of new artistic creation that the only reason a movie should be made is for money?

Movies need to come from the filmmakers themselves in order to be authentic, instead of a soulless board of chairmen who care more about turning a profit than creating something of note. Popular movies have trended towards creating low-quality mush that leaves little but memory of flashing lights and bright colors. A quick reference to the highest-grossing films validates this issue. Eight out of the ten movies topping this list were released from 2012 onwards, and seven of those were large-budget, action-adventure movies.

This isn't to say that these flicks are the antithesis of all cinema: they can communicate important motifs and are notable for the technological power needed to make them. Still, they just fall short of what should be considered classic films. 

However, their gaudiness and broad appeal, if only by low-brow means, garner millions, if not billions, at the box office. As a studio executive bankrolling movies, why wouldn't you throw gobs of money at these projects? “Titanic,” released in 1997, is the only non-franchise or remake (read: cash cow) movie in the top 15 of the top box office list, save Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.”

If you’ve been on the internet in the past nine months, you know about “Barbie.” A smash hit, the feminist critique of gender structures through the lens of a doll’s world has spurred a rash of movies like it. But rather than of crediting the film's success to its woman-centric message, Mattel, the company behind the Barbie brand, has greenlit 45 other toy movies.

Gerwig owes some of her movie’s eminence to well-executed marketing and the star power of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. But the feature also stands quite well on its own, with accessible yet thoughtful themes and wonderful cinematography.

This is not something that an “UNO” movie could foreseeably replicate. However, it's easy for studio executives to reach into their inventory of games and action figures, searching for a way to expand and franchise things that have already been created.

“Barbie” has been a spitball in a world that values pure velocity over finesse. While the lessons being taken from it by industry higher-ups are backward, this hot-pink outlier represents the ideal that quality films can be successful. Perhaps, instead of conceiving a surprisingly independent series of toy flicks, Hollywood can turn to produce truly exceptional pieces of cinema. If fantastic directors like Greta Gerwig are given the support to make these films, major studios can have their box-office cake and eat it too. Besides, no one really asked for a Magic 8 Ball movie anyway.

@dthopinion |

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