Are “Intellectual Properties” Ruining Movies?

Are “Intellectual Properties” Ruining Movies? May 13, 2023

In an excellent article at Paste,  Jacob Oller explains how the management of “intellectual properties” has completely changed the film industry.

Pretty consistently, folks go to the movies when they recognize something and stay home when they don’t. Looking at the past 10 years of box office Top 10s, it’s far faster to note which movies aren’t based on a pre-existing property: Frozen, Gravity, Inside Out, Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Sing, Onward and Tenet.

That’s it. Eight movies out of 100.

Two of them even let you see a person.

But in the IP Era, people are merely a liability. Movies seeking this modern kind of success—as many sequels, spin-offs and merchandise tie-ins as possible—only need humans in front of the camera when they function as an extension of IP. Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum were brought back for the latest Jurassic World cash-grab to excite us as embodied reminders of a better movie. They’re not actors anymore. They’re mascots.

When you realize that that’s all AAA actors are being cast as, it becomes obvious why the biggest blockbusters have recently boiled down to ensembles standing around reskinned warehouses and parking lots. As Jake Ures writes, “when acting has been reduced to stewarding IP,” you don’t want people getting invested in the stars. Rather, “it’s better for investors if they function as empty vessels for stories much bigger than them, ones that can be endlessly iterated long after they’re out of the picture.”

It’s not about creating something, it’s about owning something, forever.

And that’s the success model. Increasingly, it’s the only model. Because now we crave it, beaten into submission by the sheer onslaught of “Remember that?” requels, legacy sequels and reboots released since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Star Trek and Star Wars: The Force Awakens helped establish the monoculture model of filmmaking. Audiences didn’t do this to pop culture. It was the corporate powers that invested in and encouraged their most ravenous demographic, turning “audiences” into “fandoms.” We’ve had slop shoveled onto our pop culture prison cafeteria trays for decades, and the prison-industrial multiplex expects us to give our compliments to the chef for another meal of empty-calorie Easter eggs.

(“The IP Era’s Venture Capital Philosophy Has Poisoned Movies” By Jacob Oller)

I’ll admit that I have been enchanted by the movie industry’s consistent diet of intellectual properties. It’s easy to name a few of them.

  • Marvel Cinematic Universe
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • King Kong / Godzilla
  • Batman
  • Mission Impossible

And of course, the ones that I didn’t get so caught up in, though you might have:

  • Fast and Furious
  • Top Gun
  • Jurassic Park
  • Harry Potter
  • Despicable Me / Minions
  • James Bond
  • Transformers
  • Ice Age
  • DC Universe (Superman/Wonder Woman/Batman/Aquaman/Shazam/Black Adam/Flash)
  • Live-action remakes of Disney animated classics
  • Pirates of the Caribbean

YIKES! It truly is mind-blowing when you see them listed like this.

In spite of the fan service done in such movies, there have indeed been some great movies in these intellectual properties. But there have been great movies if we look beyond the IP gruel. Including The Master (2012) , Her (2013), Life of Pi (2012), The World’s End (2013), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Intersteller (2014), Inside Out, (2015), Ex Machina (2015), Dunkirk (2017). First Reformed (2017), Get Out (2017), JoJo Rabbit (2019), Soul (2020), Dune (2021), The Card Counter (2021), Encanto (2021), The Killing of Two Lovers (2021), Drive My Car (2021). Plus, I’m sure, of others have slipped my mind at this time.

What other movies of the past ten years that are not a part of the “prison-industrial multiplex” are worthy to watch?

Photo by Igor Bumba on Unsplash

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