Why Modern Blockbusters Need to Take More Risks

Why do modern blockbusters all look...boring? 

I want people to think about their best theatrical experience. What was the movie that blew you away? The one you saw on the big screen that just floored you? For me, I think the last time I left a theater feeling breathless was maybe Avengers: Endgame. Before that? It was Avatar

My general point is, we are getting fewer and fewer really jaw-dropping blockbusters. 

Despite budgets soaring and big IP selling like hotcakes, we aren't getting that many visionary worlds. 

I think the general reason is that the ones we are getting, like in Jupiter Ascending and in Valerian, are within movies that ultimately fail at the box office and fail in their storytelling. But man, those movies try so hard to be worthy of the big screen instead of relying on a popular title and phoning in the rest. 

None of the backgrounds are muddy, not of the planets are so smoky you can't see anything. 

They're not afraid to be bright. 

So what happened to modern blockbusters? Let video essayist Patrick Willems tell you.

Why Modern Blockbusters Need to Take More Risks

While there is no straightforward answer, I think the problem with modern filmmaking and special effects is that they get so easy to institute, that nothing feels special anymore. See, when we first got Star Wars and even something like Close Encounters, not everything could be computer-generated. 

For that reason, we had to build things people had never seen on screen.

There was wonderment that came with practical effects. 

But that's mostly gone. 

Even when we see a mix of practical and computer effects, they feel lazy. There is really no depth to the frame. I'm talking about some of the X-Men series, where we just see broken cities or an extremely dark future. Or even something like Bright, that's just cityscapes with no real explanation of what we're seeing.

Where are the color pops? I mean, outside of Matthew Vaughn's X-Men First Class, why is everything so dour? 

When I watch movies like How to Train Your Dragon, they are so exquisite and deep. Animation from places like Pixar have been getting this stuff right for so long, it's a complete mystery why modern franchises aren't stealing it. 

Though, the smart ones are. 

James Wan's Aquaman not only has color pops when you hit Atlantis, but every time we meet a new fish person or battle a monster, they have a unique look and design. 

Obviously, James Cameron's Avatar paved the way here with the tech, but if you're going to use it, use it with some heart. Even Steven Spielberg, who loves practical effects, understood how to make the visuals in Ready Player One pop. 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3MkVi9O3_A

The final battle on Doom, while being a boring planet, contains some of the best character designs and work. Even if the enemy is a little boring. 

What are some of the blockbusters you do you think is doing this stuff well? And who are the modern directors having fun in these realms? 

Let me know in the comments. 

I'm always looking for more movies to keep me inspired. 

Write your own blockbuster. So much of what we're talking about on No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is summarized in our new eBook. It also helps guide you through a 10-week writing plan that will get your script actually finished.     

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Your Comment


How can you talk about aquamans sequence like it wasnt almost shot for shot the same as Black Panthers? Wakanda's world even fleshed out the traditions of the people and its entire world within a world, Aquaman copied pasted and then made some color pops.

September 11, 2020 at 12:38PM

Chris Hackett
Director, Director of Photography, Writer

When good films that truly address meaningful content are 'cancelled' by the angry mob (i.e. Cuties), it's no wonder filmmakers shy away from 'taking risks.' We, the audience who truly love movies, are the ones who lose out to such vociferous, ignorant hate.

September 12, 2020 at 8:49AM, Edited September 12, 8:49AM

Robert Bryant
Writer, Editor, Sound Designer

There are some things that should be risked and some things that should never be risked.

September 12, 2020 at 10:31PM


I still don't get how trying to show that women and young girls are getting oversexualized by modern society, couldn't be done WITHOUT ACTUALLY OVERSEXUALIZING them on the screen. And yes, I have seen that dance scene, I am not refereeing to the Netflix terrible advertising poster. That wasn't a risk, it was just a stupid move to "shock" us and it was probably done to gain attention by director itself and for a film. I mean, everyone want to see it now.

September 22, 2020 at 3:27PM

Luka Eterovic
Director / Screenwriter

You are referring to the homogenization of blockbusters. Hollywood found a formula and they use it over and over, but without also adding a soul into it. That is what happens when cinema industry goes down (as it has for the last 15 years), and large flatscreen TVs go up. You see, the problem here is that when fewer tickets are sold (even if through inflation and price increases the revenue remains steady), then you must create products that sell the best. And that's genre, action flicks of high budget. The films have to become "events". So such types of films are required, and only these. That's why no one is going to see dramas on cinemas anymore, these kinds of films are just for streaming now. So when you can only offer 1 kind of film over and over to keep the event culture up, you must adhere to a formula. And that's how the homogenization of blockbusters happened.

And honestly, business-wise it made sense to do it that way. While it wouldn't pay off in the long run (we're currently at a time where it doesn't pay up anymore), 10 years ago they could see that it would pay for the next foreseeable 2-3 years, as these companies had to appease stockholders. The are not allowed to see the big picture by their own stockholders. Everyone wants immediate financial returns.

In other words, what you're seeing, these boring blockbusters, are "normal". And because no one likes these new films, that kind of type of expensive film, will cease to exist completely, especially now that the theaters can't even stay operational (read the latest news today). The next generation of "blockbusters" won't cost more than $50mil, because that's how much can any streaming service pay to justify any new subscriptions. Even the days of the $150mil for Scorsese, or $100 mil for Will Smith that Netflix paid in the past are gone. Now there is more competition in the streaming industry too, and fewer subs are to be acquired.

Hence, the budget of films will have to come down, one way or another.

To put it more bluntly: we are entering the Dark Ages of high budget filmmaking.

Films will continue to be made, but people will stay mostly with the classics of the bygone era, and continue putting more of their time on playing video games, rather than watching lower budget films. In fact, according to NYTimes recent article, it said that young people prefer to play games than watch movies. This is going to be even more evident in the next few years. Even Reed Hastings said that their true competition is not Hollywood or other streaming services, but video games. The competition is about TIME. There are only so many hours per day.

It is my non-popular opinion that the best of filmmaking (as an industry) is behind us. Film gems will still get released from time to time, but the Hollywood industry itself won't recover.

So the video of Patrick asking for more crazy escapist worlds with good story, it can't happen. Not only it usually requires someone who is a world-builder and not just a filmmaker (there is a difference, consult to another thread on this website about it, a couple of months ago), world-builders who are rare creatures, but also the future budgets won't allow that. We are entering a post-blockbuster era.

September 13, 2020 at 4:46PM, Edited September 13, 5:25PM

Eugenia Loli
Filmmaker, illustrator, collage artist