Is Modern Hollywood “Opium for the Eyes?”

Source: Paramount Pictures

William Friedkin, the director of classic films such as The French Connection, The Exorcist, and To Live and Die in L.A., is one of many onlookers that sees the current Hollywood landscape as unsustainable. To him, the rise of scripted television is not necessarily a case of the television medium catching up with film, but of television pushing for the tried-and-true method of smart storytelling while Hollywood filmmaking hurdles toward increasingly spectacle.

Friedkin is especially critical of superhero movies, which he believes will eventually be Hollywood’s undoing. “In cinema, that is the assumption: You just want to see guys flying around with Spandex suit and a cape and a mask, solving crime everywhere,” Friedkin told THR. “This is 80 percent of American cinema … to me, much of it is like opium for the eyes. It does not go into your brain or make you think about it later.” However, he noted that, “cable television programs in America is what people talk about the next day, week, and on and on.”

Friedkin is not the first major figure to bemoan the current state of cinema, and he won’t be the last. That’s because 2014 has seen a 20 percent decline in the summer box office year-over-year, stirring many onlookers to see this as the breaking point for Hollywood’s tentpole model. So far this year, the box office has earned $5.89 billion giving Hollywood a little over five months to match last year’s $10.92 billion.

Even five years ago, the current state of Hollywood would have seemed ripe for a pendulum shift back to original, auteur-driven filmmaking — something that may not be assured this time around, which we’ll get to later. In fact, the 1970s era of studio filmmaking, dubbed the New Hollywood era, bears striking similarities to where the industry finds itself today.