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Killers of the Cinema: The Franchise Films

At the San Diego Comic-Con Festival in 2022, the devoted marvel fans sat in anticipation and excitement as the President of Marvel Studios unveiled the upcoming Marvel projects dating till 2027. The projects introduced new superheroes and villains, cautiously followed by an inevitable intertwining of all the characters, and culminated with a Marvel tea party at a newly found planet where some are destined to persevere as heroes, and the others to die in sacrifice (or weakness). In essence, Marvel peddles within familiar stories and styles, often inundated with a flood of characters from its movies and series. Regardless, many flock to fill theatres worldwide to watch Marvel films; And movie theatres preserve their rooms and slots for these films.

It sells. Studios, theatres alike can guarantee profit if the film is a remake or adapted from books, comics, or even toys and video games. They receive global bows at the box office, and dominate the list of most-grossed films of all time. And rightfully so. They are a marvellous cinematic experience palatable across ages and race; an introduction of a new era of films, and of a new multifaceted genre.

But is it Cinema? Martin Scorsese doesn’t believe so, and has reiterated his stance on various occasions since the emergence of franchise films; both in writing and speech. In his ingenious mind, he prefers to compare them to theme parks, clasping the audience on an exhilarating but forgettable ride if mounted in abundance. While paying respect to the efforts placed into production and filmmaking, he simply does not consider it to be a motion-picture art form which he distinguishes as Cinema - even resorting to calling for directors to ‘save cinema from comic book movie culture’. His postulation lies in his worry of cinema culture's illness and of its gradual death. With the bombardment of incessant franchise films, the general audience have lost the idea and spirit of Cinema, and Scorsese is clamouring for its revival. Such is his passion for cinema and his desperation to preserve the art. And his warning must be honoured.

Today’s popular film culture is loyal to studio franchise films. In 2023 alone, we were greeted with a movie inspired by a video game (Mario Bros), seven superhero films, two remakes of previously animated films, a Transformer film, and an addition to the perennial Fast & Furious franchise and the Mission Impossible series – the theatres were tyrannized by them. Mercifully, by the grace of venerated directors, 2023’s theatre run was and will be saved by the likes of Oppenheimer, Barbie, Killers of the Flower Moon, and The Killer. A rare insight on true storytelling; of Cinema. Yet come what may, they alone will not suffice.

The key to the success of franchise films lies in its ability to create compelling characters the audience can enjoy and seek more of, generating more popularity, and guaranteeing profit. Franchise films initially began with an orphan searching for Platform ¾, and has since catapulted into the atmosphere with a man in an Iron suit surviving off of a synthetic heart made from Palladium. These characters are unique, their friends are loyal, their families are largely of insignificance, and their sufferings are endless. By joining the bandwagon, the fame of franchise films has gone global. Millions around the globe are attuned to franchise films, and theatres globally reserve most of their rooms for franchise films. What other explanation can suffice to comprehend the fact that franchise films dominate the list of most-grossed films of all time?

The primary difference between Cinema and Franchise films lies in the support system. Of the two, one is produced and owned by mega-corporations. From the story, the film, the merchandise, and even the theme parks, every aspect of the 'film' is vertically integrated. The grandiose of franchise films demands attention - they are majestic and out of the boundaries of reality, which consequently further pushes independent filmmakers who only have the talent and ability to make movies to the shadows.

Other differences are sensory. The clamorous voices of the Avengers are a stark contrast to the unstirring silence of the Imitation Game, as is the tumultuous background of Mission Impossible when compared to Reservoir Dogs. Cinema elicits deep founded emotions. You feel what the characters feel, you hear what the characters hear, and you may see what they see; it is human. It is an experience of substance which most of the spectacle-oriented franchise films fail to emulate.

The advent of franchise films and its public immersion has left little room for indie films to thrive, impeding evocative stories from being shared, eliminating chances of success for the young directors in the industry, and ruining the uniquely lone thrill of watching them at a theatre hall amongst a crowd with similar patterns of taste in art as yours. Although independent cinema has chanced upon a different route to garner audiences: streaming websites. Most indie films can be found on sites like Netflix, Apple TV, Mubi, and more. To their sheer luck, these websites weigh up than theatres in audiences. Sure, the experiences are diverging, but Cinema seems to be hanging by a thread, a thick persevering one. And if the fact that A24 (independent production house) films are gaining prominence both amongst the public and at the academy is anything to go by, Scorsese can be assured that Cinema is healing and will be everlasting. ranchise Films & Killers of Independent Cinema