By Keller Hollingsworth
After a long, pandemic-induced period of halted productions, the movies are back in 2022! Audiences were excited to return to theaters and found no shortage of exhilarating set pieces to entertain them. Superhero movies seem to be pulling the largest crowds, so let’s take a look at all of the superhero titles from the year:
- The Batman
- Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness
- Thor: Love and Thunder
- DC League of Superpets
- Black Adam
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
That’s a lot, but it felt like there were even more this year. Let’s throw in all of the other blockbusters from 2022:
- Top Gun: Maverick
- Jurassic World Dominion
- The Gray Man
- Turning Red
- Fantastic Beasts: Secrets of Dumbledore
- Minions: Rise of Gru
- Strange World
- The Bad Guys
- Avatar: Way of Water
All together, these movies run for 43 hours and 1 minute, have an estimated collective budget of $3,303,058,120, and made a staggering $11,022,279,885 at the box office (IMDb).
As if the fact even needed to be explained, this proves how strongly this modern form of blockbuster is dominating the film industry. Some would say it has defined the previous decade, but it will most certainly define the 2020s. The nail in this coffin being that these movies (and their respective franchises) bore the weight of pandemic closures and helped both theaters and the industry stay afloat amid such turmoil.
This year’s award nominations seem to reflect this as well. The Golden Globes nominated Avatar: Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick for best drama picture of the year, on top of Top Gun already winning the same award from The National Board of Review. India’s RRR has been gaining accolades across the globe. Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have given twenty nominations to films on our blockbuster list, including two Best Picture nominations. But in a year ripe with great dramas, are we really valuing the coolest spectacle over the most touching stories? Does awarding these films signal a degradation of film as an art form?
Much has already been written on the mind-numbing “amusement park” tendencies of these kinds of movies and their need to please over their need for storytelling. Many of the above listed movies are so obsessed with providing what audiences ravenously demand that they wouldn’t be able to piece together a compelling theme even if they wanted to. Others are so muddled by studio interference that anything resembling an original idea was cut to pieces in the editing room or stamped out entirely.
And yet, despite the merit in this cynicism, these critiques do not apply to all the blockbusters of 2022. Sure, there is some pretty hot garbage in that list, but since blockbuster movies are such an important financial pillar for the industry, we need to champion the ones that are well made.
Marvel Studios, for example, took the time to create a meaningful sequel in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever; seemingly giving director Ryan Coogler more artistic freedom than any of their other directors since Thor Ragnarok and Coogler’s first Black Panther. Unfortunately, when the superhero studio titan made their other 2022 films, they did so with significantly less care. Both Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and Thor Love and Thunder had the incredible creativity of their directors stifled by studio heads. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that audiences felt those two films had inconsistent pacing and messy, half-baked ideas.
The other superhero studio on the block experienced the exact same phenomenon with their films. DC’s The Batman was an incredibly unique and expressive film about class and the nature of law enforcement. The film is riddled with gorgeous sets and locations with carefully planned effects, both practical and digital. Black Adam was flashy, hollow, studio fodder that will be forgotten by most before the next release in the franchise. The most notable aspect of The Rock’s new film are his social media manifestations that the film is a hit. According to IMDb estimations, The Batman made roughly $700 million with a budget of $200 million while Black Adam only grossed $392 million with a nearly identical budget of $195 million, exemplifying that careful artistry can in fact pay off.
Film has always been the most accessible art form, and that is an element of the medium that should be cherished. Audiences clearly enjoy the blockbuster, and filmmakers who are able to innovate within their genre and tell their stories in a framework that appeals to the masses should be celebrated. If we don’t take the time to separate the wheat from the chaff, then the industry might really be at risk of degradation.
Purists can expel limitless energy trying to prevent or minimize the blockbuster’s hold on the film industry, but they will never convince most moviegoers. Their efforts would be better spent convincing studios to make the sorts of blockbusters that might win awards, even if an auteur’s latest tear jerker might be more deserving of the accolade.
Ultimately, neither Avatar: Way of Water nor Top Gun: Maverick took home the Golden Globe for best drama film of the year, but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association saw what the films represent within the context of the broader industry. The Academy’s final verdict will be known soon, but either way, it’s an honor just to be nominated. Anything that can be done to influence studios to create more work like that of Joseph Kosinski and James Cameron are steps toward a brighter future for film.
Article by Film Club officer Keller Hollingsworth