The 2010s in Cinema: Can Film Survive Under the MCU Monopoly?
Image Courtesy of Armaan Latif
By Ed Streatfield
It is undeniable that the 2010’s was the decade of convenience in the face of political upheaval. With the rapid rise of streaming services and social media, we have chosen the comforts of consuming media in our beds and living room over cinema screens. This progression started since the invention of home media; but the closure of Cineworld this year is a definitive sign that the cinema has become a place of specialised audiences or mass franchised events.
Nineteen out of twenty of the highest grossing films of the 2010’s were all either reboots or sequels to pre-existing titles. The only exception being Frozen, which is still a loose adaptation of the 1844 fairy tale The Snow Queen. Franchises and reboots have always been a topic of scorn for the snobbish cinephile but in an age where studio profit supersedes risk, and mass audiences want familiar entertainment for their buck, the original blockbuster has been eclipsed and put to rest.
2010’s will be known as the decade filled with superhero films. This is of course not anything new as audience attraction to superheroes has always been the signifier of mass escapism in times of political turmoil. The superhero comics of the 40’s were a response to World War II; The superhero films produced at the height of the Cold War; Now since 2008, the precarious workplace, climate anxiety and racial tension was the perfect breeding ground for the MCU and Disney to dominate the cultural zeitgeist.
Fortunately for us, though the domain of cinematic events has been monopolised, streaming services like Netflix provide a place for easily accessible artistic freedom. Iconic names in cinema like Scorsese chose Netflix as a platform, as run time and risk is less of a concern for audience detraction when they are already a subscriber. Scorsese released his final three-and-a-half-hour epitaph to the Italian American Gangster flic, The Irishman, on Netflix for this reason. Cinemas are no longer the home of risk. Audiences now prefer the intermittent consumption of television than the continuous attention needed for a feature film. This is fantastic if your bladder is bursting, but this takes the control of tone away from the director, and ultimately the viewer.
My faith in humanity has amazingly been rekindled this decade in terms of racial and sexual accountability in cinema, especially the Oscars. Online campaigns such as #MeToo and #Oscarssowhite have put a mirror to the film industry, leading to increasing public awareness and accountability of Harvey Weinstein and racial exclusion. Amazing films which deserved Best Picture would have not even been nominated in the 2000’s like Moonlight, an African-American LGBT coming of age story, and Parasite, the first non-English-language film to win Best Picture. Finally, representation is slowly being recognised by the industry.
Onto genre filmmaking, the hangover of the 2000’s ‘torture porn’ (Saw), and repetitious jump-scare reliant found footage films (Paranormal Activity), left a vacuum for idea-based horror to fill. The rise of studios like A24 (The Lighthouse, Midsommar) and films such as Get Out have brought the exploration of complex social fears back into Horror. While the term ‘elevated horror’ has been coined for these films, this is painfully pretentious.
Horror has always explored complex fears like losing religious faith (The Exorcist), cultural subjectivity (The Wicker Man), and patriarchal angst (Audition). This reveals a generation of late Millennials/Zoomers, who were raised on jump-scares and teenage endurance tests who wanted their contemporary sociological fears, to be reflected in the shared dream (or nightmare) of the cinema screen. While in the arthouse, the boundaries of what fear constitutes have been stretched to its limits. Gaspar Noe’s visionary dance, fuelled by LSD-spiked sangria, Climax, and Julia Docournau’s succulent cannibal vegetarian allegory, Raw apply. The 2010’s proved that horror will never die as our fears will always adapt, providing limitless inspiration.
Another surprising trend is the death of the comedy. While critically films like Knives Out and Booksmart have garnered acclaim, they are often genre fusing. Two of the most acclaimed comedies; What We Do In The Shadows and Toni Erdman, remain in the domain of independent cinema when compared to the blockbuster successes of Borat and Shaun of the Dead. The only notable exception this decade being Bridesmaids, the counterpoint to male comedies such as The Hangover.
Since then, comedies are absent from topical public discussion, probably due to the success of the MCU to incorporate light-hearted humour with action to satisfy both means of entertainment. Hence the original action blockbuster has failed, except for John Wick, a nostalgic ode to specialised action protagonists (Die Hard); Or the visually stupendous Mad Max: Fury Road. Rom-coms has suffered the same fate, the last notable one being About Time. Charming dialogue and warm character progressions have been ditched and replaced with the superficiality of a polite smile. Sci-Fi has also responded to the Marvel monopoly reflecting inwards. The existential ideas-based Sci-Fi of pre-Star Wars, like Tarkovsky’s Solaris, has returned with Blade Runner 2049, High Life and Ex Machina. All of which have made insubstantial box office returns.
While the decade is abundant in incredible cinema, franchise blockbusters prevented them from easy public consumption, as our Odeon’s and Vue’s are filled with the next superhero destroying cityscapes to save the world. I have hope that after the superhero film falls from public attention like the Western, the urge for something new will be felt by the public. This is indicated through the success of Joker. Though taking the form of a franchise film, Joker is heavily inspired by Scorsese-esque character studies and political commentary which audiences attached themselves to in droves.
It’s not the subject but the accessibility and conversation which motivates viewership. So as a final touch, here are the films from the past decade that enthralled me, and I implore you to discover the beautiful matrix of dreams known as cinema.
Drama: A Separation (2011, dir. Asghar Farhadi)[JY3]
Thriller: Under the Skin (2013, dir. Jonathan Glazer)
Horror: Climax (2018, dir. Gaspar Noé)
Action: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, dir. George Miller)
Sci – Fi: Her (2013, dir. Spike Jonze)
Romance: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019, dir. Céline Sciamma)
Comedy: Sorry to Bother You (2018, dir. Boots Riley)
Documentary: The Act of Killing (2012, dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
Animation: Chico and Rita (2010, dir. Tono Errando, Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal)
Experimental: Bait (2019, dir. Mark Jenkin)