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The Argument Against Playing Safe in Modern Film

Stagnation in films is a problem that infects every level of the industry. From an overabundance of remakes to an overemphasis on genres, playing it safe is the status quo, and it has frustrated filmmakers and audiences alike.

As shown by the recent enormous success of Everything Everywhere All At Once, playing safe isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. By focusing instead on diversity and exploration, doors can be opened that film constantly ignores, and it’s not the only industry where this has proven true.

Investing in Variety

Many forms of entertainment follow the trap that films have fallen into, but some have made huge strides by bucking the trend. One of the most famously successful is the online casino industry, which has a huge emphasis on game selection, themes, and ideas. Look at what is on offer when playing a slot online for real cash, and you can see the variety these systems embrace. From games that lean on mythology like God of Storms to contemporary sports-based titles like Big Bass Bonanza, there’s something for everyone. Instead of just sticking to what has already worked, the online casino industry is constantly treading new ground, and this is a lesson film needs to take seriously.

What Drove Films Down This Road?

Making movies is a complicated and expensive pursuit, where any mistakes can end up costing a studio a huge amount of money. In extreme instances, bad films can even damage reputations, as was the case with 2003’s bomb Gigli. Films that do well can bring in huge viewership, with some of the most profitable films of all time coming from the last couple of decades.

Taking these two sides into account, it’s natural that big film companies try to reduce what should be artistic forms of unique expression into equations to minimise loss. To go back to the slot example, since these games are small and relatively inexpensive to make, a title doesn’t need to perform as well to break even, so if it fails, there’s not really an issue. In films, one bomb can level many careers, so target accuracy is key.

A New Day

Over time, playing it safe inevitably hurts not just the choice of viewers, but the film industry as a whole. As Marvel movie #31 hits the silver screen, viewers begin to burn out, but studio executives are left at a loss. Yet, with the big studios reticent to take a gamble, the industry as a whole continues to dig. What could be exciting new IPs are passed over, so it’s up to the little guy to save the day.

Enter films like Everywhere All At Once. From a budget of around $20 million, this movie went on to earn over a hundred million, and in the process won seven Academy Awards. With a unique premise, and a diverse cast, Everywhere All At Once is a rarity in Hollywood. It took a big risk, and it was successful in a way that most films can only wish for.

Whether looking at this new film, or the smaller efforts in other industries like online casinos, the big takeaway is that diversity is a necessary component to keep an artistic environment healthy. Even if it fails, a small disappointment can be more useful than a moderate success for the long-term health of the market. Let’s just hope for a changing of the winds, now that we’ve seen beyond a shadow of a doubt what doing something new can mean. 

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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