Recent blockbusters like Top Gun: Maverick have been huge cinema hits. However, one disheartening thing about many recent big moneymakers is that they are usually based on existing intellectual property or a famous name.
Where are the original blockbusters? What was the last original blockbuster to make huge amounts at the box office? And can original blockbusters still gain a foothold in the MCU era? Today we’ll try to answer these questions. But first, let’s define what a blockbuster is.
It’s hard to define everything that makes a “blockbuster”. Industry analysts say it’s any film that takes over $100 million. But The Blair Witch Project isn’t what we think of when discussing blockbusters. Others say a blockbuster is a big-budget, box-office hit that has some involvement with a major studio. They also focus on generating excitement through fast-paced storytelling and big effects/action sequences, leading to repeat viewing. But this definition also has flaws. For example, The Battle of Lake Changjin is currently China’s highest-grossing movie ever and has a $200 million budget. And while it’s produced by major local production companies these companies don’t have a huge worldwide presence like those that produce English-language blockbusters. It also performed well in China but not internationally. So is Lake Changjin a blockbuster or a domestic hit?
For the purposes of this article, we will define a blockbuster as a film produced or distributed by a major studio with a big modern budget that aims to excite audiences. Which makes its budget back at the box office and performs well with worldwide audiences.
So what was the last major studio blockbuster not based on existing IP to truly capture the world’s attention? Some may immediately think of Avatar which for 10 years was the highest-grossing film of all time. That said, Avatar isn’t the only original blockbuster to have captured attention recently.
In the past decade, we’ve seen several original animated blockbusters score big at the box office. Including Zootopia (2016’s 4th highest-grosser), Inside Out (2015’s 7th highest-grosser), Coco (2017s 11th highest-grosser) Moana (2016’s 12th highest-grosser), and The Croods (2013’s 11th highest-grosser). Films like Interstellar (2014’s 10th highest-grosser) and Gravity (2013’s 8th highest-grosser) also saw success during this time.
Hollywood’s New Ideas?
Unfortunately, this year big original blockbusters didn’t really materialize. Exciting projects like Lost City and Nope did good business but both were mid-budget films rather than big-budget releases. But if original blockbusters can make money why are big studios not making them?
Well, because blockbusters are expensive to produce many major studios need to ensure a return on investment. Also with competition from streaming services and the need to get people back to theatres post-pandemic the industry is looking for ways to keep audiences returning. Therefore, unfortunately, it’s understandable why studios use a well-known IP or figure as a project’s basis as audiences are more likely to watch something with a familiar brand. 2022’s highest-grossing movies seemingly prove this thesis.
Of course, this doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for original ideas to flourish. Big studios have shown a willingness to fund original work if a director has delivered a hit (like Christopher Nolan). Animation has also proven a great home for original family audience blockbusters. But one thing that might spur more creativity from big studios is competition from smaller independent and international blockbuster-style movies. In 2022 Everything Everywhere All At Once and RRR showed that blockbuster action can be delivered from smaller sources and that audiences still want to watch original exciting titles. Hopefully, these factors will lead to more diversity in blockbuster filmmaking.