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Movies are becoming more like giant TV shows
Andrew Garfield stars as Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." - photo by Jeff Peterson
Its never been quite so tempting or quite so easy to become a permanent couch potato as it is today.

For the last decade or more, scripted television has been experiencing a golden age, matching and sometimes even surpassing movies in terms of production values, writing and overall scope.

But while TV series have become more and more cinematic with the kind and quality of stories that they are able to tell, a lot of recent and upcoming movie releases suggest that movies themselves might be becoming more and more like TV, just on a massive scale.

This seems true in both the way theyre being conceived and the way theyre being made. And if this is indeed a trend, it could be bad for film as a medium in the long run for a few reasons.

Series appeal

Franchise building is par for the course in Hollywood. Even something with as humble a concept as The Fast and the Furious has spun off into a multi-billion-dollar property (complete with a Universal Studios theme park ride).

But now, movies are even being pitched and sold as full-blown series, just like in television.

Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchies upcoming King Arthur adaptation, for example, which is currently filming for a planned July 2016 release date, is the first of a six-movie saga that will try to turn the Knights of the Round Table into a 6th-century Avengers. (At least Hawkeye wouldnt seem so out of place, right?) Assuming each installment is average length, the whole thing will wind up clocking in at around 10 to 12 hours in other words, the same as a season of most cable shows.

Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur is part of the franchise arms race going on in Hollywood.

Studios now depend on the annual or semiannual guaranteed blockbusters the Harry Potters, the Transformers, the Hobbits (or Hobbitses, as Gollum would say) so franchises are willed into existence by executives with multiple sequels already in the works by the time the first movie hits theaters. Case in point: Last years The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was meant to lead into a full-fledged Spider-verse for Sony with at least two more solo installments as well as movies based on the Sinister Six, Venom, an undisclosed female hero and even a young Aunt May all in development and/or officially announced. The problem is, they were all contingent on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 being a billion-dollar blockbuster, which it wasnt. In fact, it turned out to be the worst-reviewed and lowest-grossing Spider-Man movie to date.

In general, new properties are treated essentially like pilot episodes for TV series, albeit very expensive ones. This can be a costly gamble. Look at a misfire like 2012s John Carter, which lost Disney an estimated $200 million, according to Entertainment Weekly. But when they do connect with audiences and manage to spawn multiple successful sequels, like Transformers or The Pirates of the Caribbean, it can be worth billions.

Its no coincidence that of the 22 movies that have crossed the $1 billion mark at the international box office, only one of them, Titanic, isnt part of a series either a sequel or a first installment and for pretty obvious reasons. Its only one of two movies, Jurassic Park being the other, that was made before 2000, which is usually identified as the rough starting point of TVs new Golden Age.

Shooters vs. directors

Assuming Ritchies King Arthur movie does prove to be a hit next summer, the other five films in the saga could follow the TV model in another key way.

Unlike film, which has always placed emphasis on the director, TV is a writers game. Directors are treated much more like hired guns they come in, shoot an episode and then a different director takes over the next week.

With the prefab franchises that Hollywood is pushing for these days, the challenge is getting a director to stick with a series from beginning to end, forcing movies to adopt a more TV-like approach. The Harry Potter and Twilight series, for example, both divvied up the material among four different directors.

Ritchie has already signed on to helm an edgy new take on Robin Hood for Lionsgate (one of at least three Robin Hoods in development right now at various studios), so its possible hell pass the torch to someone else after the first Knights of the Round Table.

This is a pretty fundamental change from the way directors have traditionally been viewed in Hollywood. No longer the sole authors of a property, they have to blend with other filmmakers in order to maintain a consistent tone across multiple entries of a franchise, once again just like in television. Its a significantly diminished role from the auteurs of decades past.

Its no wonder that a lot of major properties these days are handled either by directors with extensive TV backgrounds Joss Whedon (The Avengers: Age of Ultron), the Russo Bros. (Captain America: Winter Soldier), Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World), Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens) or young indie directors Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) and Jon Watts (the upcoming Sony/Marvel Spider-Man), for instance.


In TV, the secret ingredient that keeps everything together is the showrunner, the writer-producer who shepherds a project through a season, ensuring consistency from episode to episode and overseeing the arc of the story.

Thanks largely to Marvel Studios head Kevin Feiges role in masterminding the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has proven to be one of the most successful film experiments of all time, the movie showrunner is now becoming a thing. Franchises aiming to emulate the MCUs interconnected-universe style of filmmaking like Star Wars, Transformers, DC and the Universal monsters are all turning to writer-producers to take on a role essentially the same as what the showrunner does in television.

Part and parcel with showrunners is the TV writers room, another idea Hollywood appears to be borrowing for its epic-scale franchises. Studios have experimented with different ways of implementing this on Wonder Woman, for example, Warner Bros. commissioned teams of writers to put together different scripts before selecting one that would go before cameras. Just last month it was announced that the Transformers series producers and writer Akiva Goldsman (Batman & Robin) were putting together a Transformers think tank aka, a writers room to develop new scripts based on the 80s Hasbro toy line.

While seemingly necessary for the serialized franchises that Hollywood is turning to more and more these days, both the showrunner and the writers room may further undermine the role of the director in moviemaking. Directors are now replaceable, as seen in the kerfuffle last year involving Ant-Man, which saw fan-favorite director Edgar Wright leave the film a passion project of his only weeks before filming was scheduled to begin. The result could be more big-budget movies that feel safe.

Director-led filmmaking

Along with the influx of TV directors in Hollywood, there has been a mass exodus of Hollywood directors to TV.

Everyone from David Fincher to Martin Scorsese to Steven Soderbergh has dipped toes into cable series, lured by the promise of greater creative freedom*. Even Steven Spielberg, the father of the modern blockbuster and one of the most respected filmmakers alive, told a crowd at USC that his Oscar-winning biopic Lincoln was this close to having to be turned into an HBO miniseries. In the end, according to an Entertainment Weekly profile, the only thing that got Lincoln into theaters was the fact that Spielberg happens to co-own DreamWorks.

Pixar prides itself on being a director-led studio, where filmmakers feel like they have control over their projects, not the studio executives.

This was one of the key changes made at Disney when Bob Iger incorporated Pixars leadership into the then-struggling Disney Animation. The result has been a recent string of animated hits, including Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6.

Pixars latest, Inside Out, is evidence of a strong creative voice. In many ways, its unlike anything else that has been done in animation since the days of Walt Disney himself. At the same time, though, it has director Pete Docters name written all over it.

If animation really does become the last bastion of director-led filmmaking, though, movie lovers might find themselves more and more content to stay home on weekends and watch the latest TV miniseries.