Column: Guess what? Movies aren't dead. So let's stop with the prophecies of doom for a minute


When I became a television critic for the Los Angeles Times, way back in early 2007, many people told me it was a Very Bad Idea. Why would I give up a job as a film writer to review TV? Didn’t I know “The Sopranos” was ending? And that, with a few notable exceptions, original scripted television was dead, murdered by reality TV and endless internet content?

Mercifully, I listened to none of it; instead I was able to watch and write about one of the most stunning artistic revolutions of our time. The pendulum (and Hollywood’s penchant for excess) being what it is, television is now facing a financial crisis due, in large part, to that marvelous period of growth. But though the industry is in a belt-tightening phase, no one is predicting the demise of the art form altogether.

I think of television in 2007 every time a consortium of pundits calls time of death on anything. I certainly thought about it a month ago when so many people were announcing the demise of moviegoing.

In May, “The Fall Guy,” “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” and “The Garfield Movie” failed to live up to prerelease expectations. Instead of questioning the wisdom of the expectations themselves, especially given crippling writers’ and actors’ strikes, the industry, and many of those who cover it, preferred to announce that the sky was falling.

“People just don’t want to go to the movies anymore,” is something more than one person said out loud and in public.

Then “Bad Boys: Ride or Die,” “A Quiet Place: Day One” and especially “Inside Out 2” premiered and suddenly everyone was, and is, going to the movies again. The box office has roared to life and “Deadpool & Wolverine” isn’t even out yet.

As it turns out, people do still want to go to the movies. Maybe not in the same numbers they did before streaming made television self-curating and available 24/7, or before a global pandemic shuttered theaters for more than a year and studios decided to make films available for home viewing mere weeks after their theatrical release. “A Quiet Place: Day One” has already grossed more than $100 million globally in its first five days, this despite Paramount announcing a streaming date of July 30.

As that film and other June or July releases prove, when there’s something (and this is important) that people actually want to see, there they all are, talking and laughing and waiting in line to pay $17 for a ticket and $10 for a bucket of popcorn. I saw “Inside Out 2” a full week after its release and it took me almost a half-hour just to find parking.

After last year’s strikes, this summer may not manage to meet the magic of “Barbenheimer” or whatever yardstick analysts want to use. But that’s not the point.

The point is: Why have we become so anxious to pronounce time of death when the patient is clearly still breathing?

This country has endured quite a bit of trauma in recent years, but we are not doing ourselves any favors by continually leaping from “problem” to “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it catastrophe” about everything. (Don’t even get me started about the post-presidential-debate rush to madness but subtext, subtext, subtext.)

Not only is it exhausting, and occasionally embarrassing, but our addiction to hyperbole makes it impossible to delineate the actual DEFCON-1 emergencies — the climate crisis, the unhoused crisis, internal threats to our democracy — from lesser problems.

That’s not to downplay the state of affairs in Hollywood. For those working in the entertainment industry, this current period of constriction is a very immediate and livelihood-threatening problem. But looking at the failure of a few movies as the bellwether of not just the state of film but the mind-set of billions is not just unhelpful, it has been proven, by recent history, to be completely bone-headed.

TV was dead until it wasn’t. The summer box office was dead except it’s not. Publishing had no future until Oprah started a book club and “Harry Potter” appeared. Oh, and remember how people told Taylor Swift she was in danger of ruining her career by “overexposure”?

There is both pathos and poetic justice in the fact that “Inside Out 2” is currently “saving” summer. Much of the story revolves around how terrible life is when Anxiety takes control; Anxiety only knows how to imagine worst-case scenarios and inevitably spins out trying to prevent them.

That doesn’t mean some of those scenarios aren’t possible or even likely; it just means we are better off not relying solely on Anxiety to define life’s problems and supply the solutions. Give Joy a chance, or Sadness or even Embarrassment.

Pixar is not going to change the state of the nation (it has its own troubles, after all). But the pained laughter provoked by the movie’s climactic scene — in which Anxiety piles on one disastrous prediction after another — is telling. Between the state of American politics, social media (and legacy media’s attempts to keep up with it) and the trauma inflicted by the pandemic, we have become a nation of anxious adrenaline junkies, ignoring the good, pouncing on the bad and making sweeping generalizations about very complicated things the moment something appears to be going wrong.

Or even before it does. Like Anxiety, we are all increasingly in the business of prediction. Whether on Instagram or CNN, analysts (professional and self-appointed) behave like modern-day soothsayers, peering at the tea leaves of polls, social media, video clips and the general zeitgeist to utter words of prophecy and, increasingly, doom.

Obviously, crises do exist and doom is something to be avoided. The film industry faces a host of challenges, as do many industries, just as they always have. Just as they always will. Alarm bells are important, but they become increasingly less effective if they are rung every hour on the hour.

Not every moment requires an instant call — even refs often go to replays on video. Some moments require calm assessment of the problem and of potential solutions. It’s easy to run around screaming that the sky is falling, more difficult to ascertain if what actually fell is an asteroid or an acorn and if something can be, or needs to be, done about it.

Many things change, for good and ill, but a few do not. The entertainment industry needs to find a firmer financial footing, certainly, but people will always want to be told stories in the dark.

Even if it’s quite difficult to find parking.



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