Have writers run out of movie ideas, or is scriptwriting just getting plain ol' bad?

The past ten years, in my opinion, have shown to be relatively uninspired and lacking in innovation in movies. Seems nowadays every single movie is a horror flick or a comic book or a shoddy remake of some old blockbuster. And while CGI is nice, a movie that offers 10 explosions a minute with little substance might be great for the masses, but generally leaves something to be desired for the rest of us.

I guess my point is, am I alone in thinking that 99% of movies in the past 10 years have just plain sucked? Have scriptwriters found a perpetual writer’s block, or are they simply not trying that hard anymore, relying on the tried-and-tested “3-B” formula to generate revenue (bullets, bangs, and babes)?


No, you’re not alone - but your observation is rather strictly focused. Though the ratio of ‘sucked/didn’t suck’ will vary depending on the individual, you’ll probably most people agree with your basic premise that over-whelming majority of (all) cultural arts are (for lack of a better term) garbage.

Your theory starts to unravel when you make mention of the past decade. Go back and read film reviews from the 1950s, music reviews from the 1980s, art reviews from the 1960s, architectural reviews from the 1970s, theater reviews from the 1940s or fashion reviews of the 1930s and you’ll see a very common theme running throughout all of them; Critics always seem to conclude the overwhelming majority of contemporary culture is crap. Call it ‘the good old days phenomenon’ if you wish, but it’s a sentiment voiced just about every day since the beginning of time.

'Tain’t the writers. Read the “Ask a Screenwriter” column to get a glimpse of how the industry actually operates. Writers are doing the best they can, considering that five or ten writers on average will work on the typical Hollywood movie, and many have lots more; considering that producers are putting unreasonable demands on the writers to include stuff that can be tied in with toys, games, music, cars, and other merchandise; considering that studio executives are meddling with the creative process despite not knowing jack or shit about the moviemaking art; and so on.

I won’t argue with you that most Hollywood movies are pretty bad, but then most Hollywood movies have always been pretty bad, because, here’s a news flash, crap makes money. We remember the 1970s as a “golden age,” in which 1974 alone saw Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Chinatown, Lenny, and other masterpieces. But note: In 1974, the top moneymaker was *The Towering Inferno*.

There are always good movies being made. If you find yourself watching a lot of bad ones, then change the way you choose the movies you watch.

[QUOTE=Agent Foxtrot]
I guess my point is, am I alone in thinking that 99% of movies in the past 10 years have just plain sucked? Have scriptwriters found a perpetual writer’s block, or are they simply not trying that hard anymore, relying on the tried-and-tested “3-B” formula to generate revenue (bullets, bangs, and babes)?[/QUOTEPerennial question, to which the answer is yes–most movies made in the last ten years have “just plain sucked.” As did those in the previous ten, and the decade before that, and so forth, only you don’t remember or have never seen those films.

Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and Double Indemnity weren’t the only films to be made in the 'Fourties, ach. There was plenty of crap, and a lot of it exists today only as an entry in the IMDb. And there have been some great films made in the past few years…even, on occasion, some big Hollywood films (and a lot more independent and foreign films). And big blockbuster films have always depended more on star power and effects than writing; if you think writers have it bad today do some research on the way writers were treated during the height of the studio system; except for writer-director collaboration teams (like I. A. L. Diamond with Billy Wilder and John Michael Hayes with Alfred Hitchcock) writers were just as disposable as Kleenex then as they are now, and script doctors were regularly brought in to “clean up” another, ultimately uncredited writers work. Casablanca, for instance, has five credited writers and (allegedly) half a dozen uncredited doctors and dialog surgeons.

With good SFX becoming cheaper and video (and now DVD) allowing studios to recoup first run losses on popular rentals and cult classics, there’s actually a lot more variety to pick from. Sure, most of it is still crap, but there’s a lot more in the remaining minority to pick from.


I’ll second what Stranger said.

I think your 99% figure is a bit exaggerated, but not my a whole lot. I’d say about 90% of movies are crap.

I think that age has a lot to do with perceptions of the goodness of movies, or rather the perception of the percentage of movies that are good.

Hollywood is putting out the same crap/good ratio that it always has, but it’s the good, or great, films and/or the blockbusters that go on to be seen by future generations, and there aren’t more than a couple of each that get released in any given year, whether that year is 1945 or 2005. Trust me, our forbears sat through great loads of crap that was splattered on the silver screen in between the Casablancas, Whatever Happened to Baby Janes, Lawrence of Arabias and Citizen Kanes. Our perceptions are skewed because a much lower percentage of the B-grade films of yesteryear are available on video/DVD or being shown on television, so we’re just not seeing the great bulk of the older movies.

If the oldsters are complaining that movies aren’t as good as they were back in the day, it’s most likely the case that they’ve forgotten the mediocre-to-bad movies they saw because the movies were so, well, forgettable.

All right, but 90-95% of anything is crap. The best movies are still good.

There were some banner years early in filmdom.

That said, did we really need a remake of Bewitched?

Well, it serves to highlight the need to avoid any film with Nicole Kidman in it. (It’s all been downhill since Dead Calm) and with any luck it’ll be the bow shot that brings Will Ferrell’s film career to heave to.

But, worse yet, I see that someone got the bright idea to remake I Dream of Jeannie (the TV series, not the Steven Foster biopic) with Kate Hudson standing in the Barbara Eden role. What kind of smack was that studio executive on? She’s cute, but she’s no Barbara Eden.

::sigh:: When they remake “Pettycoat Junction” as a film, we’ll know that the fifth seal is broken.


If you want evidence of the crap that Hollywood churned out back in the day, get yourself a few DVDs of MST3K.

One thing that is different today than ‘back in MY day’ is that wonderful called globalization.

Them furriners now have considerable box office. Movies are being released world wide on the same day. 30 years ago movies were even released across the US on the same day. This I think has brought more of the “more rock/less talk” movies.

(because* they* have no taste)

Now what we really need is a Waltons movie.


I think the Indy scene is where it is at. The Sundance Festival etc, bringing to attention well written and well acted scripts, usually in budgety locales.

Yeah, there are some bombs in the indy seen, but at least it isn’t by the usual cliche.

And I have to agree about Nicole Kidman and she sucks. Other than being beautiful in an ice princess manner, she isn’t that good an actress.

I think you’re overshooting things here. Most movies aren’t bad, they’re just not particularly great. It takes a special movie to rise above the pack - only that special 10 (or 5 or 1) percent ever will. On the other hand, I think even the average movie now is far better than it was in the 80’s or 90’s. (I’m not going to bother with evidence, because it’s totally subjective.) OTOH, I think there are fewer interesting foreign and independant films, and that they have gotten worse. I;ve no interest in Bollywood films. In fact, the only ones that really intereted me at all were from China.

The idea that movies have more “bullets, bangs, and babes” now than in the mid-80’s or even 90’s is laughable. Hollywood is, if anything, moving away from that.

The difference between today, and, say, the 1970s or the 1980s or even the 1990s is that while Hollywood continues to churn out units from its corporate blockbuster factory, the independent or small movie industry has been progressively weakened. The same thing has happened in the book publishing industry. Whereas in the past there was room for big books and small books/movies and the possibility that a small book/movie could become popular; these days unless you’ve got something that you can persuade the suits is a potential blockbuster, you will never get an audience of any kind.

Think of how many incredibly bad cop/buddy movies that came out during the 80’s.

And I think Zebra is on spot with the global opening of movies. We used to have to wait six months up to a year for American movies to reach theatres here. The “overseas” market usually brings in more money than the US domestic market, at least for blockbuster movies and the appeal has to be pretty generic to go down in Ankara, Kiev, Singapore and Helsinki. Another factor is dubbing. In most countries, movies are dubbed and that costs money. The films are distributed by subsidiaries of the mother companies, so the cost of dubbing hits the original distributor. Less dialogue means less costs.

Another factor is that we’re now getting moviemakers that grew up with VCRs. I think the forerunner here is Tarrantino, who clearly OD’d on b-movies as he grew up. Sometimes, in some scenes, he can revert the input and produce art, but mostly he fails. Earlier generations got their inspirations as youths from other media. The kids of the 40’s (Spielberg, Lucas) grew up on Saturday afternon matinees, and it shows in their moviemaking, in about the same way that the music of Lennon /McCartney shows that they grew up without listening to pop music.
Superhero movies are easy to make, because there are already visuals, almost like storyboards, and with a little luck, enough recognition in the characters to create a buzz. It’s also highly visual and action driven, as compared to character driven, which takes a longer time to establish and is more suitable for tv series, if we’re talking visual media.
Hollywood is an industry, trying to get a return for investment. It’s not about art, it never was and never will be. Sometimes an artist might get an opening in that industry and get the chance to create art, but it’s a rare thing. A little more often we get people who manage to create entertainment.

Sturgeon’s law at work. As always. Be happy that it means that the crap won’t survive.

I think the best writing being done right now is being done on TV, for shows like CSI and Law and Order. I think their success has been due to the fact that their creators have grasped the point that plot is important, characterization less so, when you have a regular dramatic series. They do try to create interesting and generally likable characters for the show’s regulars, but the real energy of the shows likes in the stories about the criminals and their victims that the officers track down and prosecute, and how they and their loved ones deal with the tragedies that are both show’s staples. I don’t see plotting nearly as good in the movies generally – I suppose it’s because they figure if things slow down enough that the audience can think about what’s going on, it’s time to blow something up, have an ureal fistfight, or haul out a naked broad.

And this is a perfect description of exactly why modern police procedural shows bore me to tears. No characters, no humour, no nothing. Just procedure. Oh, and gruesome crimes.

Give me Inspector Morse any day.

Actually, scriptwriting is worse than it used to be. I’m not talking about the quantity of bad movies (which is constant), but even the successful ones these days leave plot holes that no one in previous times would have been allowed.

A prime example is Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The ending, as shot, makes no sense. The entire major conflict is just dropped and not resolved.

During the last part of the movie, the Smiths are the target of two different competing assassination bureaus. They defeat the killers in the final confrontation, but both organizations still exist and presumably still want them dead. Instead of resolving this, they cut to a scene showing everything is all right.

I understand the scene that would have resolved this was cut. :rolleyes:

And that’s the root of the issue: instead of dealing with plausible plots and characterization, many moviemakers (especially those making “big” films) are quite willing to toss them out the window to create a “thrill ride.”

The difference in thought is epitomized in the contrast between Alfred Hitchcock’s “explanation” of Norman Bates by the psychologist in Psycho (something added specifically to give a – mostly false – explanation for those who couldn’t understand Norman’s motivation and needed it explained) and Mr. and Mrs. Smith (coincidentally, Hitchcock used that title, too, though his movie had nothing else in common).

Audiences are much more accepting of sloppy writing these days and don’t care if there are problems with the plot, as long as there are plenty of big explosions.

I don’t think it’s that the scriptwriters are worse than they used to be, but they’re given much less freedom to do their jobs properly. Studios are much more interested in elements other than a solid script and freely tinker with it to address other concerns.

If you’ve ever wondered about Hollywood and what goes in to writing scripts and making movies, you might be interested in reading Monster by John Gregory Dunne. Dunne and his wife were given the assignment of writing a story on Jessica Savitch, which I think would have been a fascinating story. Then they had to do 20 rewrites over 6 years, before the movie became Up Close & Personal, which is a decent movie in my opinion, but a good example of a no-risk predictable studio movie.

I agree with you here. I have probably seen more really good movies this year than any year before, but this is because I went to four film festivals and saw films I never would have seen otherwise. Even the bad independent movies I saw usually have a good idea going for them, or I can admire their ambition, compared to many bad studio movies, where I leave just lamenting my waste of time.


Up Close and Personal started off as a Jessica Savitch biopic? Yikes.

Fortunately, a decent movie about Jessica Savitch was made for TV ten years ago.