The action film genre as we used to know it is dead, the only question is who killed it?
Last weekend, the latest Michael Bay action film “Ambulance” hit theaters with a disappointing $8.7 million in its opening weekend versus a $40 million production budget.
This led to Variety writing an article questioning the cause of death for original action movies. For years, Michael Bay films have represented a nearly extinct brand of action movies. The era of hot women, explosions, fast action, and stunts over special effects is a dying breed in the world of big-budget action. So what happened?
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Variety’s Rebecca Rubin believes that the killer is Netflix. She argues that the action genre is dead because Netflix churns out so many B-quality thrillers on its streaming service, there is no longer a reason for audiences to go to the theaters to watch them anymore. Why watch a Michael Bay movie at the theater when you can watch an awful Netflix movie like “The Old Guard” at home for $20 a month?
Netflix has over 75 million subscribers in the United States alone. It’s easy to think that streaming services are more convenient than movie theaters, however in the same weekend, “Sonic The Hedgehog 2” made $71 million at the box office. The idea that people don’t want to leave their homes doesn’t work outside of Los Angeles and New York City.
This is where we get to the true root of the problem. Hollywood is always looking for an external reason for their failures because it is easier than looking at a mirror.
If you are asking yourself why modern action movies are such a dying art, look no further than the industry itself. These are three reasons why action movies no longer draw with modern audiences.
The Death of the Movie Star
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Ask yourself, who is the last actor who got you to enter a movie theater based on his name alone? The death of the movie star is one of the biggest contributing factors to the death of the action genre. There used to be a time in America where a last name alone could sell a film. Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Van Damme. Gibson. Seagal.
There used to be a time in old Hollywood where actors were exclusive to studios. When Hollywood resembled a capitalist business model, an actor’s name (or brand if you prefer) was the most important asset to his marketability but Hollywood has sacrificed star power for global branding.
Let’s look at “Ambulance” for an example, the two main actors from that film were Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
Jake Gyllenhaal is an amazing actor, he is not a movie star. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II may be an Emmy award winning actor, but he is not a marketable name.
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Thanks to decades of media consolidation, studios are now more popular than the actors they hire. This move has given studios more power than the actors, writers, and directors they hire.
Over the last two years, China has overtaken the United States in global box office. Why? Hollywood has shunned the domestic American box office which only accounts for 35% of their total box office haul in favor of backing and funding progressive politics that alienates them from the consumer.
Meanwhile, China has embraced the old Hollywood model, selling films using their own domestic movie stars.
Hollywood has watered down the drawing power of a person’s name to the point where no name can fill a house. Actors like Leonardo DiCaprio or Tom Cruise still exist but the value of their names are decreasing and they aren’t being replaced by the next generation.
Action movies no longer have bankable stars because the bank is in the brand. This leads us to reason #2 for the death of the action genre.
The Rise of Superhero Movies
For the last 20 years, superhero movies have replaced the Hollywood blockbuster film. Superhero films are routinely the highest grossing movies of the year because people have bought into the brand over the star. Everyone has seen the meme about action stars of the 80s vs action stars of today.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has grossed nearly $2 billion since last December. Is this because Tom Holland is the biggest action star in Hollywood? No, not even close. Uncharted, a film that also starred Holland, only drew $383 million globally.
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But the name Spider-Man is known around the world, Spider-Man is a brand name. Just like Batman is a brand name. In 2022, it doesn’t matter WHO is behind the mask. There have been several names who have played those titular characters in just the last 15 years. Moviegoers are there to see the mask the same way they used to see the star.
Sacrificing creativity in the name of business has led to the overdose of popular franchises from your childhood being remade in modern times in the hopes you will give them money and for the most part it is working. Original action movies have become a niche demand in a market oversaturated in caped heroes.
Action movies used to cater exclusively to men in the 18-34 demographic, over the course of the last 40 years however, that demographic has changed to the point where testosterone fueled action thrillers are no longer a draw to them.
Anyone who has been to an opening night screening of a Marvel Cinematic Universe film knows very well that it isn’t children screaming in the theater for their favorite heroes. The men of today yearn for big cinematic CGI battles which leads us to why the genre is dead…a changing society.
The Attack on Masculinity
Thanks to the #MeToo movement, If Hollywood decides to make a throwback action movie in 2022, you can best believe they won’t get a man to play the lead role. In an industry controlled by progressives, Hollywood has been the leading force in a societal crusade to flip gender roles and put an end to “the patriarchy.”
Big budget action movies that exhibit the male fantasy of babes, fights, guns, and explosions are considered “problematic” in a progressive control society. Hollywood does not want to highlight “toxic masculinity” so instead Hollywood hands over the mantle of “action star” to women.
Hollywood has replaced macho men with strong feminists for a moviegoer that doesn’t exist. You want a big blockbuster action film in 2022, enjoy an all female reboot of “Terminator.”
Want a brand new Charles Bronson style shoot ’em up? Here is a 100 pound supermodel to play the role of Bronson. Can’t wait for the next James Bond movie? There is a good chance that role will be played by a black woman the next time you see it on the big screen.
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The feminization of the action genre is only a symptom of societal change. Look at a film like “The 355,” a movie that tries to put a group of middle aged women in the role of action spies that is traditionally a spot for men.
The film didn’t even come close to meeting its production budget because the filmmakers refuse to accept that female viewers don’t want to watch gender bender action movies starring women smaller than them. On the flip side, male viewers are too busy watching Spider-Man to even know a film called The355 even exists.
Original action movies have become a casualty to extended adolescence and “diversity and inclusion” mandates will ensure that they will never make a proper return as the industry currently stands.
While some in the film industry will cite the convenient excuse of COVID-19 or streaming services for the declining success of their products, the truth lies between the failure to understand your audience and the refusal to cater to your target demographic.
Modern action now lives on video on demand platforms that don’t have the budget or talent to be mainstream successful.
We are currently in the age of franchises and cinematic universes. Barring an unforeseen renaissance, the culture of action films will not change for the better and audience detachment of these movies will only get worse.