Is the State of Cinema Salvageable?


Stella Thrift, Staff Writer

I recently watched a masterpiece of a movie: Whiplash. It came out in 2014 and touched upon a genre that had already been done before with many other films (like Black Swan, which it is often compared to): the obsessed artist trope. Of course, this isn’t to say that it lacks originality. Whiplash pulls you in from the beginning, and it doesn’t matter if you’re into drumming, or jazz, or any musical medium, really.

The opening of Whiplash is enticing just from the horrifically enthralling but brief interaction the protagonist has with a character he will later lose blood, sweat, and tears over–literally–to gain their approval. I was amazed at the acting, the many monologues, and the smooth but creative transitions. Most of all, I was fascinated by the visceral fear of the main character never feeling like he was enough as he tried and tried again to become something great. 

Whiplash is nearing a decade old, and as I was watching, all I could wonder was what happened to movies like this. With the exception of one or two recent 2022 films, the last good movie I saw in theaters was Parasite, which came out three years ago. The state of cinema has been bleak, and it feels like there is little optimism aside from the occasional “good” movie released once a year that sparks glimmering hope within the film community–only to dim and flicker out in a couple of days, maybe weeks at best.

Nielsen reported that less than 10% of U.S. households watched the Oscars last year. Although some of this can be attributed to the pandemic: as viewer rates went back up in 2022, the number of Americans watching the Oscars has been on a steady downtrend since the year 2000. The number of movie tickets sold has considerably declined since 2002, completely plummeting after Covid-19 (Statista, 2021). In Deloitte’s 2021 Digitial Media Trends survey, most Gen Z respondents reported they enjoyed playing video games as entertainment more than any other form of media, with watching movies in the lowest ranking. 

Society has never been more isolated. There’s no reason to leave the house anymore when any form of entertainment can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home. In the modern era, movie theaters were the exception to this asynchronicity. Sneaking in candy, buying a bag of buttered popcorn, grabbing a drink, and then sitting down in a dimly-lit theatre on a Friday night was such a specifically unique experience. To watch a movie with your family or friends and connect with a character or a plotline–or just be touched by the story–felt special. There was a sense of community when everyone went out to see a recently released movie. But now, that is being taken away from us. 

Clearly, pop culture is shifting away from movies. Less people are interested. There is less engagement, which creates a scramble for studios to make something eye-catching that will score them the next box-office hit. Unfortunately, this rarely happens now, because most film studios have lost sight of what makes a movie great. This means we’re stuck watching sequels that no one asked for, live-action remakes, and superhero movies. So much of cinema now relies on CGI and special effects to make up for something otherwise uninspired and mundane. There are an endless amount of ideas, and even if this weren’t true, there are still a million different ways to develop a pre-existing idea and make it into something new. But why try anymore, with the existence of streaming giants like Netflix and HBO Max? Other film studios’ numbers pale in comparison to the amount that Netflix originals rack up. The motivation to make something good simply isn’t there now because the competition is so brutal. 

There is still a silver lining in all of this. Movie theaters may cease to exist one day, but promising studios and new technology could lead to the next age of movies: something unforeseen and entirely different. Film effects have never looked more real, and the next generation of directors, writers, and actors will likely have their own distinctive ideas and perspectives. For now, though, we just have to hope that the state of cinema is still salvageable.