In the ongoing “state of cinema” conversation, which has mostly been reduced to Marvel nerds yelling at Martin Scorsese for not liking cape sh-t, Christopher Nolan has entered the chat with a very measured response and sensible perspective. What! Someone being sensible about a topic we love yelling about? Burn the witch!
But seriously, earlier this year in an interview with GQ, Scorsese called on filmmakers like Nolan and the Safdie Brothers to “hit ’em from all sides” and “go reinvent” to save American cinema. Scorsese is, and always has been, concerned about blockbuster films, particularly the dominant expression as superhero movies, swallowing all other genres and types of films at the theater. Years ago, he mildly suggested it wasn’t great for cinema that Marvel movies were SO dominant it was choking the life out of other types of films in theaters, and we’ve never heard the end of it.
But Nolan, in an interview with the Associated Press, answered that call by pointing out that cinema, in its traditional, theatrical release state, relies on both big and small films to thrive.
He’s not disagreeing with Scorsese, he’s just saying that if smaller films are to thrive, then studios also need bigger, safer bets to offset those potential losses. This is how Hollywood worked for a century, when studios would make two, maybe three potential blockbusters a year, a bunch of mid-range stuff, and a few genuinely risky, smaller films. If even one of those big movies hit, it paid for the losses of the smaller stuff that failed, rinse and repeat. Honestly, it’s the same business model used in publishing. Romance earns over $1 billion a year, representing the broadly appealing titles that sell like hotcakes and cover potential losses on riskier, artsier titles that don’t have the same wide appeal.
And maybe because it’s coming from Christopher Nolan, father of The Dark Knight, the nerds will f-cking listen this time and stop jumping on Scorsese for daring to say that studios going all-in on blockbusters/superhero movies at the literal expense of everything else, has been bad for the art of cinema. It has been bad for cinema! It’s not the only thing in the last twenty years that has been bad for cinema—streaming has done a lot of damage, as has corporate consolidation—but if any shred of sanity can return to this business after the hot labor summer and the streaming bubble bursting, let it be that not every movie needs to be a $200 million blockbuster, that studios (other than A24 and Neon) can take chances and, as Nolan says, “respect the audience’s desire for something new”. If we’ve learned anything this year at the cinema, it’s that audiences are hungry for something different. Let’s just hope the studio bosses are listening. If we’ve learned anything else this year, it’s that they’re not good at that.
Live long and gossip,