05/22/2013 11:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Doesn't Hollywood Make Ambitious Films for Adults Anymore?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Question Details:
Movies like The Last Emperor, The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, Spartacus, and Gone With The Wind for example. Films where you see casts of thousands, epic landscapes, true vision, big romances, and lifetime stories.

Where are the executives and producers like Dino De Laurentiis and Francis Ford Coppola who had vision and made great movies?

Answer by Ken Miyamoto, Screenwriter,

I'm going to answer this within the context of the emotion I felt when I read this question, and other questions like in the past. If you'd like to get a feeling of my initial delivery, a sense of my reactionary emotion, then watch this clip from Adaptation and picture me in the Brian Cox role of Robert McKee while the questioner is Nic Cage as Charlie Kaufman. 


Now that you have a point of reference, here's my initial reaction (and note that this is all in good fun ... it's a great question) ...

Questioner: Why doesn't Hollywood make ambitious films for adults anymore?

Ken: They don't make ambitious films for adults anymore? Are you out of your ****ing mind? People are making great films every year. There's Zero Dark Thirty, There Will Be Blood, Life of Pi. Every ****ing year, somewhere in the world, somebody is pushing the envelope and risking their careers to bring ambitious films to you. Every ****ing day, someone, somewhere is making the next Avatar, Titanic, Troy, or Inception. People take risks, like with The Master, and lose because audiences aren't showing up. For Christ's sake, a director makes the epic The Impossible and barely anyone goes to see it. Someone produces Silver Linings Playbook or Beasts of the Southern Wild, and yet people still say that great films aren't being made. Steven Spielberg makes Lincoln! If you can't find that stuff in the cinemas, then you, my friend, don't know crap about films! And why the **** are you wasting my two precious minutes with your question? I don't have any use for it! I don't have any bloody use for it!

Okay, now that I've got that out of my system, allow me to elaborate without the tongue-in-cheek. 

First off, one could answer your question in two different ways because there's the initial question of lack of ambitious films. Then in the details, you seem to be pointing to epic films. Then you end with asking where the great producers are that have vision and make great movies. 

On The Epics

Original epics are costly, and in this day and age, it's a huge gamble to create an original epic. Huge gamble because audiences are moreso choosing the comforts of their own homes and Home Entertainment systems and Big Screens as opposed to seeing films where they should be seen, the theater.

So why should all major studios and producers spend what now costs upwards of $200-$300 million on original (i.e. non sequel, non superhero movies) epics when no one is going to go see them? Or if just one or two out of a dozen are a success.

And for the record, Hollywood IS still making these films. I've mentioned some above, and we have epic movies in the making right now with big names, including a new Moses film, new Noah film, etc.

And again, we had Lincoln last year. War Horse the year before (Which I hated ... and he's my favorite director).

On the Specialty Films that ARE Original and Great
  • Silver Lining Playbook
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Amour
  • The Master
  • Django Unchained
  • Argo
  • Seven Psychopaths
  • The Sessions
  • Looper

Those are just a few ... from last year. You can add almost every original Pixar film made. And add multiple films not mentioned here and the film representatives of the last 40 some years, since those days where Hollywood only made great films (That's what many think, but it just isn't so).

In fact, there are more great films being made today than there were in the sixties and seventies. And about those decades, as I mentioned above and likely in many other Quora answers over the years, they made some pretty terrible films back then as well. Hindsight is 20/20, so we remember all of these now classic films and look at the decades they debuted in within the context of those great films. 

More films are being made today. More great ones, and yes, more bad ones. Studios are often working more as distributors for many of the greats, sure, but that's just the current business module. The studios develop the tent pole pictures like sequels, remakes, reboots, superhero flicks, big adaptations, etc. Anything with almost guaranteed large grosses, especially in the international markets. This keeps the studio owners (corporations ... shareholders) happy, keeps the money flowing, and allows studios to take some risks (Inception) and handle their own specialty divisions as well as co-finance and distribute specialty films that they may acquire. 

My point?

Besides the differing business modules, cinema as a whole is much the same as it was back in the "glory days&qu,ot; only more people are getting a chance to make great films (and yes, bad ones too). 

What cynics see are the multiplexes. They see television marketing. They see posters and magazine covers. All focused on the big ticket event films that audiences go to see in droves.

There are great producers out there. I don't even need to name them. Go find them yourself. They are out there. And go see them in the theater because every time the audience doesn't show up, it makes it all the more harder for such great producers and filmmakers to make great original films.

And don't worry, the epics are out there and they are being developed and made as we speak. Take a look at the time spans between the great films you mentioned, and the many more you didn't. Such films take time. Some fail. Some succeed. Others are lightning captured in a bottle, groundbreaking, amazing, and decade defining.

Oh, and Dino De Laurentiis' last film credit as producer? Virgin Territory, starring Hayden Christensen.

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