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The Hollywood Blockbuster vs. Independent Niche Films

on September 19, 2021

This poster and other Star Wars posters can be purchased at film/art gallery.

After abandoning the auteur film directors of the 1970s, Hollywood turned to independent filmmakers who were willing to follow “the blockbuster formula” (Lewis 387).  Auteur producers began relying on market research and special effects to produce high-grossing films that awed audiences and kept them clamoring for more.

In the 1980s, Hollywood reversed course and returned to its established roots: genre films.  The studios reaped big box-office profits from “the blockbuster, the so-called event film which provides audiences with a sensational experience independent . . . [of] plot and performance” (Lewis 359).  This trend was prompted by the huge success of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Both of these films followed classic formulaic plots, reinvented by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for a modern market (Lewis 359).

One of the most successful genres in the 1980s-1990s was the action-adventure film.  Born out of the success of the James Bond movies that hit the theaters in the 1960s, action-adventure films are driven by a heroic protagonist, a murderous antagonist, heart-stopping action and speed, and a sensational climax.  Successful movies in this genre include auteur producer Joel Silver’s Lethal Weapon and Die Hard (Lewis 359-365).  They both reflect Silver’s particular style.

The heroes in action-adventure films are muscular, strong, independent, and rugged.  They are men who defy convention.  They are men willing to go to any length to overcome the bad guy(s) and win.  The hero hangs in there against all odds, finally discovering “what he is made of, what he is capable of” (Lewis 361).  These movies are often called the “male rampage film” (Lewis 360) because of the brutal, explicit, and law-bending use of deadly force.

At the same time, the hero forges a strong bond with his male cohort.  The two men are bonded by the danger and near-death experiences which they have experienced together.  It’s the kind of bond that excludes other people because nobody else can understand it unless they have been there themselves (Lewis 360-361).

The 1980s also saw the rise of independent auteur filmmakers not backed by the studios.  Unlike the big blockbusters, these films generally have grossed less than “$2 million, suggesting a small but loyal target audience” (Lewis 390).  They are regarded as “niche films, films produced by and for a specific and relatively narrow demographic” (Lewis 390).  LGBT films fall into this category.  In addition, niche films are disproportionately made by women and minorities.  By the end of the 1990s, most independents had been absorbed by the Hollywood studios (Lewis 390).

While violence can be explicit and widespread, as in many Coen brother movies, it never rises to the level of the action-adventure films.  Independent movies tend to move slower and focus on the wants, needs, and desires of real people (Lewis 390-391).  Controversial themes are often explored in independent movies, such as John Sayles’ movie about worker rights, Matewan (Lewis 393).  Only rarely does an independent film become a Hollywood hit.  An exception is Steven Soderbergh’s film, sex, lies, and videotape, released in 1989, which grossed over $25 million (Lewis 393).

If Hollywood is about making money, anybody who can consistently crank out high-grossing movies can become a prominent auteur director or producer.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 23, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

2 responses to “The Hollywood Blockbuster vs. Independent Niche Films

  1. Iowa Life says:

    A thought provoking piece. Whenever I think of Hollywood I see a giant herd of cows, all doing the same thing whether or not it is in their best interest. “If Hollywood is about making money” – strange as it may seem I don’t think that’s their only goal. The BIG moneymakers are those that appeal to everyone by transcending all demographics (Sound of Music, original Star Wars), they know all that. I think if they were simply accountants the product would have wider mass appeal.

    I see Hollywood as agenda driven. I think they feel the need to show Americans the error of their ways and get them to thinking right. It pops out every 4 years when the stars tell us who to vote for. They make nothing for half the country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I think you’re right about the politics. I also think a lot of “has-beens” use controversy as a way to get publicity and keep their careers alive, even though they sound like idiots to a lot of people. Thanks for the feedback!


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