Is Cinema Dead? Disney, A24, and the Death of Creativity

Avery Chien, Staff Writer

Upon a recent visit to the Issaquah Highlands’ Regal Cinema, excited movie-goers would find 12 different new movies being shown. If they are looking for a selection of new and innovative films, they would unfortunately be dismayed. Seventy-five percent of the showings are reboot or sequel movies, from “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” to “Top Gun: Maverick.” Only three of the 12 movies being shown are original films: “Men,” “The Bad Guys” (animated cartoon), and “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” 

This severe lack of new, fresh, and invigorating films has entered us into a new age of cinema: an empty and lifeless one. The market is oversaturated with Disney monopoly movies and trashy sequels, and smaller creative films are being crowded out. At an AMC in New York’s Times Square in early May, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the sequel to Marvel’s “Dr. Strange,” had a whopping 70 different screenings in one day, each showing only 5-15 minutes apart. In a thesis titled “What Makes Hollywood Run? Capitalist Power, Risk and the Control of Social Creativity,” James McMahon argues that it is the profit-maximizing strategies behind media companies that manifest in absurdity such as the Times Square AMC. Major media companies are able to accumulate money by reducing the financial risk of distributing a specific film. Strategies to do so include saturation booking (releasing a movie simultaneously across the country after massive advertising campaigns), blockbuster cinema (exciting and star-studded movies), and high-concept filmmaking (straightforward premises and plot). The Disney monopoly is an unfortunately perfect example. After acquiring Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilms, and much of 21st Century Fox, Disney now owns a significant portion of the film industry and shows no signs of stopping. Brett Heinz states in a Prospect article that Disney’s monopoly power “threatens the viability of creative independent films, places movie theaters under exploitative pressure, limits the diversity of films available, cheapens our culture, and worsens economic and political inequality.” In terms of saturation booking, Disney has been the most aggressive in controlling theaters–their negotiations for the “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” release demanded theaters give “over 65% of their ticket revenue” and “show the movie in their largest auditorium for at least four weeks” or else Disney could take away another 5 percent. Disney’s monopoly also means it can get away with producing a smaller number of films but with bigger budgets because audiences are dependent on Disney for content. However, this does not mean that these movies are of higher quality or are creative and artistic. Disney decides what movies to put money behind based on its profit-potential, not its quality. 

The sole competitor to the bland formulaic movies being churned out by the same few companies is A24, a film production and distribution company known for its selection of small, indie creative films such as “Lady Bird,” “Moonlight,” and “Midsommar.” “Men” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” are both A24 films. Despite being founded in 2012 and focusing on low-budget and higher-risk creative films, A24 has racked up a total of 25 Academy Award nominations and has a uniquely dedicated fanbase that other film companies lack. In an article written for “Age of Ideals,” writer Alan Philips says, “When their latest release comes out, I don’t even need to check reviews because I believe in them and the work they’re doing. They’ve consistently delivered great films, and this has led me to trust them with my entertainment needs.”

Many say the rapid success of A24 points toward a hopeful future for creative film and a true challenger to the Disney monopoly, but arguably, A24’s commercial success should not even be the revered miracle it is coveted as. It is concerning that the future of independent cinema depends solely on one small company–a company that was even considering selling out in 2021. An article by Variety reveals that A24 explored a selling price of $2.5 billion to $3 billion, a deal that could have been a “merging of standalone players” or an “outright absorption by a tech giant.” In a world of growing entertainment monopolies, A24 stands on uneven ground as ruthless Big Tech companies look at the uniquely creative brand with hungry eyes. 

Profit-driven capitalist monopolies are suffocating creative film, marking a dim future for entertainment consumers. It is only a matter of time before everything is owned by companies like Disney, and a once revolutionary artistic medium such as film will be reduced to nothing but empty formulaic cash-grabs. I highly suggest individuals to support independent films and venture out of their comfort zone to watch a “weird movie” once in a while rather than the newest Disney conglomerate release. There is little we can do against the manipulative forces that drive Hollywood, but we can do our best to value the remaining creativity that artistic filmmakers are brave enough to put out.