This past year was a huge one for movies with wide appeal. Generally, that means movies that are action or family blockbusters, like “Avengers: Endgame”. Movie goers turned out in droves earlier this year to find out what happened to Iron Man, et al. (Don’t worry – I won’t post spoilers, just in case you haven’t caught it.) To date, “Endgame” has made almost $2.8 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film (without adjusting for inflation) EVER. However, that movie and others like it have been getting panned by elite directors who pride themselves on making movies that are considered high art. The likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and others have demeaned comic book films, saying they’re “not cinema”. While I understand the need for movies that make people think, I am here to defend these “lesser” movies. I intend to prove why family and action movies are actually good for the movie industry as a whole.
“Part of the journey is the end” –Tony Stark, Avengers: Endgame
To demonstrate this idea, I’m going to have to take you on a bit of a journey. The reason that these wide-appeal blockbusters are good for cinema is because of a pattern that they help set up. The short answer is that they benefit the careers of the actors who are in them. Believe it or not, that’s good news for other movies, often known as “art house” films, that might be more prone to become Oscar nominees. Here are the steps, some of which I’ll talk about in more detail:
- Actor gets cast in action/family movie (or better yet, an entire franchise). Think all the Marvel movies, the Harry Potter films, or even animated family films.
- Actor makes an obscene amount of money and, to paraphrase “Gone With the Wind”, never goes hungry again.
- Actor can now do whatever projects he/she/they finds appealing.
- Movie goers who already like said actor want to see him/her/them in other projects.
- Those fans are exposed to other, less popular, but more artistic, films.
- Other, lesser-known, but very talented, actors also appear in those art house films.
- Those once-lesser-known actors get cast in the NEXT action/family blockbuster.
- The cycle repeats, everyone wins, actors and audiences alike.
Why an actor “selling out” isn’t actually selling out
Let’s talk a bit more about steps two and three. Most actors get into acting because they love acting. Sure, there are a lot of them who do it because they think they can make a lot of money, but overall, ask any performer you know and it’s not about how much they make. And, let me tell you from personal experience, it shouldn’t be – most actors won’t make much money doing what they do. They have to derive success from somewhere else. So, it becomes about the creation of a character and telling a story. Yes, even when that story is how General PowerFistFace saved the universe from Madame NemesisButt. (No one steal those character names – I’m going to write that film…)
When a family or action movie is a success, it’s on a gigantic scale. Like I said at the start of this, “Endgame” made almost $3 billion. Contrast that with the 2017 Oscar winner for Best Picture, “Moonlight”. Its worldwide gross was just over $65 million. Granted, the production budget was only $4 million, but when you put that $65 million up against the lowest-grossing MCU film – “The Incredible Hulk”, which made about $265 million, it looks like peanuts.
Send the ladder back down when you get to the top
All of this money translates to actors in family/action/comic book movies making ungodly amounts of money. That money gives actors freedom to do whatever project their heart desires. Just look at the career of Daniel Radcliffe post-”Harry Potter”. While he’s done great work, not one of his projects has had the same kind of success as his movies about the Boy Who Lived. And I’m willing to bet that Radcliffe doesn’t care. If he’s like most actors, he is probably concerned with testing his abilities and trying something new, because money is no longer a problem for him. But, his name-recognition puts the spotlight on films and projects that otherwise might not get as much attention.
Actors having the means to participate in movies/creative projects benefits the other actors in those movies as well as the fans who go to them. I realize that it’s hard to look at an actor who makes millions of dollars and see it as a good thing, but it absolutely can be, especially for the sake of art. When artists of any medium have freedom, especially financial freedom, they can create amazing things.
Citizen Kane or Captain America?
All of this is to say that I think both art house movies and blockbusters have their place in the world of cinema. Despite what some directors think, big-budget movies can have great acting and great stories. Just look at Heath Ledger’s Best Actor win for “The Dark Knight” as well as the Best Picture nomination for “Black Panther”. Just because movies with wide appeal aren’t as likely to be nominated for awards doesn’t mean they don’t add value to cinema. Action movies are good for the movie industry, no matter what some naysayers may tell you.