Does Hollywood still provide blockbuster returns?

Hollywood sign

With Stan Lee’s passing, a comic icon has left the star-lined streets of Hollywood. Whether diehard DC or Marvel, fans everywhere put aside their differences and paid tribute to the late comic legend. Still, the battle for supremacy in Hollywood rages on between DC and Marvel - with both jostling to lead in box office sales, screen time and financial performance.

Marvel vs DC: a real-life Infinity War

There are many fronts where DC and Marvel are at loggerheads. If you consider per-film average takings, then Marvel has a slight edge over DC - taking $247 million compared to DC’s $224 million. But that’s a relatively small difference in Hollywood terms. That said, Marvel has released more films overall, taking its revenue higher than DC.

Disney drives a lot of online conversation across both press and social media, with the majority of this being positive. It has received praise for a recent donation to the Hurricane Michael relief effort, raising the minimum wage for its employees and implementing solar power in its parks. By joining forces with Disney, Marvel has found itself a powerful ally - with its reputation benefitting as a result.

Media giants joining forces

Then there’s the proposed Disney/Fox merger, which will boost the distributor’s market share from 30 to 40 per cent of the industry. For comparison, Warner Brothers holds 15.4% of the market.

The merger is a strategic one for Disney, increasing its direct-to-consumer offering at a time when Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu are darkening Hollywood’s doors. Disney is also planning its own Netflix-esque service called Disney+. However, some are concerned that the merger will lead to more revenue-boosting blockbusters, making it harder for independent filmmakers to get screen time.

Nevertheless, the rise of Netflix and others has had an impact on Hollywood’s takings. 2017 saw a steep decline in box office revenue, causing the film industry to look elsewhere for investment and alternate revenue streams. Foreign investment is a potentially lucrative strategy, especially as audiences in China and India are growing. Then there’s merchandising, endorsements, soundtracks and other platform distribution. Which explains why caped crusaders such as Supergirl and Daredevil have leapt onto smaller screens. DC is also planning to compete with Netflix with its own streaming service.

The rise of the not-so-silver screen

It’s hard to avoid the Netflix in the room when talking about Hollywood. Admittedly, the company is better known for its TV series, however, it has begun a large push for dominance in the film industry. There is ample opportunity for Netflix (and its competitors Amazon Prime and Hulu) to pick up some of the independent and middle-road films that aren’t getting airtime in Hollywood. But Netflix has more world-dominating ambitions.

Netflix wants to play Hollywood heavyweights at their own game, with movies as big as Marvel or DC blockbusters that would attract audiences as well as Oscars. It’s a daring move that could make some investors nervous. Film budgets often run astray more than TV.

Yet, in some ways, Netflix has an edge over Hollywood. There’s a lower barrier to viewing because of its monthly subscription versus a £10+ cinema ticket, so audiences are more likely to try some of its movies. This is also its kryptonite. Some filmmakers and stars aren’t as attracted to the low key launches of movies on Netflix, they want fanfare and big box office sales.

Building a film brand

Still, Netflix is attracting some notable names including Will Smith, Ryan Reynolds and Michael Bay. Plus, it’s stumping up Bruce Wayne amounts of cash - spending $170 million on Michael Bay’s latest film, Six Underground, and paying $30 million upfront to Reynolds for his starring role.

It’s also eyeing up accolades, notably an Oscar, which it could be in the running for this awards season thanks to new film Roma. It has earned rave reviews amongst film critics, leading Netflix to make an unusual move and launch the film in cinemas.

The resurrection of cinema

Indeed, cinemas may have been given a lifeline thanks to the company’s shift. Showing films in cinemas is a key strategy for Netflix as it seeks a coveted Oscar. Revenue from cinema showings is less of a priority, as it is releasing many films over a well-known quiet season for cinema goers (with the exception of Roma, which is launching over Thanksgiving). Sci-fi film Bird Box and the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will also get a silver screen showing. Of course, if Netflix does indeed bag itself an Oscar, more filmmakers and actors may be tempted to work for the movie underdog.

Netflix has a great opportunity to shake off its reputation as merely a TV series creator. With Hollywood’s Big Six about to become the Big Five, there’s room for Netflix to grow its reputation amongst viewers and filmmakers alike.

Moving forward with film

The future of the film industry is as up-in-the-air as the superheroes on its screens. Times are changing in Hollywood, with mergers strengthening the biggest players and incumbents such as Netflix threatening the status-quo. Audiences are set to benefit the most, with more variety of movies and viewing options. With Netflix, Amazon and Hulu entering the fray, there’ll be a whole new definition of what watching a movie really is. But, as Stan Lee once said, “Keep moving forward, and if it’s time to go, it’s time. Nothing lasts forever.”


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