If you weren’t aware right now, Hollywood is in flux right now. With both the actor and writer strikes halting all film production as well as many recent high-profile flops, the future of the industry seems unclear. Given how studios refuse to budge with the demands of the strikers, wanting to dump a lot of money into AI for film production, and maintains a focus on franchises and cinematic universes when it’s clear the model is on shaky ground, the only thing that is certain is that it will be a while before things get better. With that said, however, this situation might not be a bad thing necessary in its entirety. All one has to do is look back at Hollywood’s history.

Back in the 50s, the big studios were in a similar state of chaos and negative transition. Television and the families moving to the suburbs had greatly diminished revenue. Fewer people, in general, were going to the movies due to the affordability of new entertainment and where they lived. The situation wasn’t helped by the legislative removal of studio ownership of theaters due to monopolistic concerns and the Red Scare creating a sense of distrust around the industry with a lot of blacklisting. In the 30s and 40s, studios were huge controlling powers that relied on the system of revenue and control that had dissipated by this time. Most of the efforts to try and curb this were either big, lavish films to try and attract people over to the theaters or gimmicks like 3D movies. However, these efforts only continued the decline with massive flops like Cleopatra, resulting in the old age of Hollywood ending. Television simply provided entertainment to families in a way that was cheaper and more accessible. By the 60s, the golden age of Hollywood was over, but something new came from the ashes.

New filmmakers who were driven by outsider sensibilities came into the picture. They were young and less restricted by the prior standards of most films and gave a spark of life to the industry by viewing new subjects and pushing boundaries. The movies they made, like Easy Rider, The Graduate, and Bonnie and Clyde, came from more modern sensibilities as a result and felt more like a proper evolution away from what Hollywood wanted to cling onto. Many of these new directors, like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas, also took influence from films of the past as well as from cinema around the world to create more impactful and distinct movies. What was most important, however, was that these movies were individualistic and came from a small scale with a personal approach compared to what the big studios were focused on.

Eventually, due to their popularity and success, many of these directors were able to make bigger movies which culminated in films like The Exorcist, The Godfather, and Taxi Driver that took their ambitions to higher scopes. These new voices becoming the defining ones of Hollywood in this era would be solidified by Jaws and Star Wars in that they gave birth to the blockbuster and the value of box office and merchandising while maintaining their distinctive and boundary-pushing approaches. While these films would eventually become a new model that the industry would exploit and formulize while slowly detaching the directorial influence over time, the important thing is that they came from an intimate place and influenced the entire direction of American cinema. They were directorial-driven and far more intimate, which struck a stronger chord with audiences as a result.

Going back to today, while the big studios will likely still be around to release films once the strike is over, it’s apparent that, like with the Titans of the golden age, the difficulties they face now could potentially diminish the current influence they have. The model of franchises and cinematic universes, as well as streaming being a huge part of revenue, seem to have flamed out due to audience disinterest or a lack of foresight. Like in the 50s, Hollywood now has simply grown too large for it to be sustainable in the form they want to maintain. It is why the strikes are happening and why studios look to AI for their future. They focused on a model of revenue and constant growth from a never-ending source through franchises and brands, but that source can’t be used forever, and we are seeing the potential start of its decline right now. Those in the lower rungs are noticing this and see that they are getting the short end in terms of money and have demanded changes as a result.

The mindset of a set model is also why budgets have ballooned to hundreds of millions. Films can be produced at a lower cost, but it seems like for studios, it’s easier to just throw a lot of money at a project out of ease from their end. Before, there was a guarantee a film with that kind of budget could make a lot of money since billion-dollar hits were abundant, but it has dropped off hard as of late. Films like The Flash, Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny, and Fast X all garnered huge budgets and weren’t able to pull in nearly enough money to cover their huge costs. While some of these were due to production issues, the fact that studios allowed them to get so costly is reflective of their mindset and flawed confidence in their system. Even well-reviewed films like Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1 and Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves struggled due to poor decision-making on the part of the studios. For all of these movies, however, they still made a decent amount of money, and it’s apparent that if their budgets were lower, they could have been profitable. The fact that this has happened so much as of late is an indication that it’s not a guarantee that audiences will go to franchise and blockbuster films on default and that loose spending on them is not safe anymore. Even if there are still occasional hits from this model, it feels like the era of brands raking in billions annually at the box office is over. Both streaming, COVID, and a general sense of fatigue have impacted what audiences are willing to pay for in theaters. As a result, Hollywood has a business model that can’t fit into the current landscape, and they might pay the price for it.

In regard to streaming, the issue isn’t that it isn’t making money. It’s that it isn’t making enough to justify what is being spent like many blockbusters today. Plenty of people use these services, but the model can only be profitable to a certain amount when the expectation from the film studios that start them is constant revenue. Instead, many studios end up losing money and cutting out residuals for actors and writers, which also is a major factor that led to the recent strikes. The platforms had so much investment and focus by the studios under the belief that they could take the position of theatrical releases as a huge source of revenue. However, studios overestimated, and now they are in an awkward place where the services do have traffic, but not nearly enough to compensate for the expectations and demands put upon them.

Even so, while larger studios are in a tough place, other kinds of films have garnered quite a lot of success. Not only that but a lot of it is driven by similar approaches that the new directors in the 60s took. When the industry fell into decay in the 60s, it was revitalized by young talent that took risks and made new kinds of movies that caused the public to re-gain interest in the medium. It might happen again in some form or another and frankly, it’s likely for the best.

Movies from independent or smaller scale labels A24, Neon, and various recent horror films such as those from Blumhouse have cost far, far less than the big studio projects and have managed to make more money from a smaller return as a result. Not only that, but a lot of these films are detached from the brands and models of the big studios and are more director-driven, and take more distinct risks with their premises and stories.

It’s also apparent that the general public has become a bit more receptive towards these kinds of films as well. The fact that such a bizarre yet modern film like Everything Everywhere All at Once not only won Best Picture this year but the most awards of the night in a ceremony traditionally criticized by voters who feel behind the times is a sign that new blood is being noticed and seen as a moving trend. The Barbenheimer trend is also an indication of new audience tastes. The fact that these two different movies have become monster hits mostly through public curiosity and investment rather than nostalgia and franchise trends is encouraging. Even if they are bigger budgeted films and one is based on a huge property, the reason that these films were seen was because of the trend, and that both were helmed by auteur directors, the public has a lot of interest in. Even when a franchise or brand film gets success, they seem to be ones that have more of that personal touch, such as Across the Spiderverse, Guardians 3, and John Wick 4. While these were all from pre-established brands and franchises, the approaches they took were driven by their directors and brought something new to the table.

People want inventive films that feel like they matter rather than obligations to a series or their nostalgia. Studios can afford to make smaller and cheaper films rather than relying on a model under the belief of infinite success because, as we have seen this year, it is absolutely not guaranteed. Even if there still is a taste for the occasional blockbuster or franchise, it feels like the era of brands raking in billions annually and dominating at the box office is over. Streaming, COVID, and a general sense of fatigue have impacted what audiences go to see. As a result, Hollywood has a business model that can’t fit into the current landscape, and they might pay the price for it. Even so, given that the recent success of many films has ridden on directors and smaller productions, it might be the time for independent or director-driven productions to take back the reins. When the industry fell into decay in the 60s, it was revitalized by young talent that took risks and made new kinds of movies that caused the public to re-gain interest in the medium. It might happen again, and frankly, it’s likely for the best.