Has Hollywood transformed more over the course of its 100-year history than from 2010 to 2020? Perhaps the last time there was such fundamental change was when television reshaped America in the 1950s. Maybe the cultural events of the 1960s witnessed across all media were just as impactful. That being said, neither the advent of VHS in the 80s or DVDs and the explosion of the internet in the 90s prompted as much change in the film and television industries as they have over the past ten years.
Of course, there were individual moments that will stand the test of time. “Moonlight” being awarded the Oscar for Best Picture after “La La Land” was mistakenly read first. Beyonce‘s landmark performance at Coachella. Lars Von Trier being banned from Cannes for seven-years after one of the worst festival press conferences in history. The three years Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosted the Golden Globes. The “Breaking Bad” finale. The “Mad Men” finale. Steve Harvey crowning the wrong Miss Universe. Danny Boyle‘s opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Jimmy Fallon playing with Donald Trump‘s hair. “SNL” letting Donald Trump host running for president. Jon Stewart handing the “Daily Show” baton to Trevor Noah. But, those aren’t the stories that will truly define the decade. That’s the change we’re discussing in depth. So, keeping all that in mind…
Netflix changes Hollywood
Formerly known as the company that mailed customers their DVDs, Netflix launched their first original narrative series, “House of Cards,” in February 2013 and “Netflix and Chill” was born. In less than seven years, the company was spending billions of dollars a year on original content, convinced major stars that streaming movies and series were the future, became a significant force at the Emmys and Academy Awards and found over 150 million subscribers across the world. How dominant is the streaming company at the end of the decade? Netflix can’t build enough office space – in the heart of Hollywood, no less – quickly enough.
Disney Buys Lucasfilm
Bob Iger’s is good at keeping secrets and the announcement in 2012 that The Walt Disney Company was acquiring Lucasfilm, after taking over Marvel Entertainment just three years earlier, was an earthquake. Disney paid $4 billion for the “Star Wars” universe, Industrial Light and Magic, Skywalker Sound and the Lucasfilm library. When founder George Lucas stepped away from his company after the sale, Disney put producer Kathleen Kennedy in charge. In the eight years since the five new “Star Wars” films under her watch have grossed over $5 billion to date. “Star Wars” is also a key component of the new streaming service Disney Plus and its original series, “The Mandalorian,” is already a monster hit as one of the most in-demand shows of the entire year. Disney launched immersive “Star Wars” themed areas at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Granted, the final film in the latest trilogy, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” has gotten off to a comparably shaky start, but overall it’s been a massively profitable investment.
China Becomes A Box Office Powerhouse…Sorta
In terms of the box office, it’s hard to argue that anything affected the business of films as much as the rise of China as an international powerhouse. Over the past decade, the explosion in numbers of theaters in the Middle Kingdom led to the country quickly becoming a territory that studios just couldn’t ignore. Not only were Chinese films becoming massive hits in their home country, but American films (especially those with huge action setpieces and superheroes) saw a dramatic uptick in business. Films like “Avengers: Endgame” ($600 million in China alone), “The Fate of the Furious” ($371 million), and “Aquaman” ($291 million) saw their box office totals get a huge boost thanks to China, leading many studios to shamelessly add plots that involved the country in their films and local superstars from the territory. (“Transformers: Age of Extinction” earned $278 million in China, thanks in part to an inclusion of a specific plot point that involved the country.) Of course, China still doesn’t truly rival the US as a box office powerhouse…yet. Studios only receive approximately 25% of the box office totals in the international territory. However, moving into the next decade, it’s clear that China is only becoming more and more important. – Charles Barfield
MoviePass Tries To Revolutionize Moviegoing…And Fails Spectacularly
Where do we begin with the story of MoviePass? The movie ticket subscription service caused quite the disruption in 2017 when the struggling company announced a new price point of $10 per month that allowed customers to see one film at the theater per day for “free” with its service. Subscriptions shot up, as you might expect, and MoviePass quickly became the biggest story in the film industry. Theater owners panicked, as they attempted to figure out how this new paradigm would affect business, and MoviePass, led by CEO Mitch Lowe, began acting like it was unstoppable, going so far as to become a film studio of its own. But then, that all changed. Dramatically. The “too good to be true” pricing structure quickly showed its unsustainability with MoviePass hemorrhaging money and embarrassingly having unexpected “disruptions” of service during some of the biggest moviegoing weekends. Lowe kept making statements that, in hindsight, seem a bit…untruthful. And theater chains realized they could offer the same service as MoviePass without the company being involved at all. By the end of 2019, MoviePass ceased operations and became a hilarious cautionary tale. – Charles Barfield
North Korea Hacks Sony Pictures
With perspective, the North Korean hack of Sony Pictures was a red flag about just how bizarre a turn the 2010s were going to take. Upset over the upcoming release of the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy, “The Interview,” cyber-terrorists who called themselves “Guardians of Peace” released thousands of documents of confidential data including E-mails between major Hollywood figures. The group then threatened terrorist attacks at any theater that screened the movie which caused the studio to pull a wide release and distribute the film digitally. U.S. intelligence officials went on record crediting the hack and threats to the North Korean government. Despite it being an obvious farcical comedy, the Koreans were upset over the film’s depiction of two Americans out to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un. The hack became a scandal for Sony Pictures who saw countless employees’ private information leaked and cost then chairwoman Amy Pascal her job. It was a very public warning about how dangerous the North Koreans could be in the internet age.
Disney buys 20th Century Fox
Like a plot twist on “Succession,” Rupert Murdoch hung out with Bob Iger, pitched an idea and Hollywood was changed forever. The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, FX, NatGeo, Fox Searchlight and a controlling stake in Hulu was a jaw-dropping move in a shifting IP landscape. Disney not only regained control of major Marvel characters but brought The Simpsons, Avatar and a library of valuable characters in the fold. On the television side, it found two of the biggest show producers, ABC Studios and Fox Television Studios, combining and the now separate FOX network on a not so enviable island without any corporate production entity. Disney will mine Fox’s library for decades, but the biggest loser? History, as the studio no longer controls the legendary 20th Century Fox lot and likely won’t live there much longer. Oh, right and all the other corporations who didn’t try to get control of Hulu while they could.
It may seem strange for Amazon Studios to be listed as its own story when Netflix got a majority of the streaming headlines, but it often (and quietly) was breaking new ground before its more publicity friendly rival. Founded in 2010, and initially dismissed by many, the content division of the shopping powerhouse made Prime Video free to all members who bought an Amazon Prime membership (an ingenious once-a-year fee that made free shipping seem like a constitutional right). Because it was just part of a massively larger offering there was never any pressure for the company to release streaming numbers to its investors as it grew. Instead, Amazon allowed as much creative freedom as Netflix and started raking in the awards. The company was the first streaming service to win a major television award (a Golden Globe Comedy Series for “Transparent”), the Emmy for Comedy Series (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) and then win it again (“Fleabag”). It also was the first streaming service to be nominated for Best Picture (“Manchester by the Sea”), win an Oscar statue (“Manchester’s” Kenneth Lonergan and Casey Affleck) as well as Foreign Language Film (“The Salesman”). While it has partially retreated from theatrical distribution, it had significant success with “Manchester,” “The Big Sick” and “Cold War.” And on the episodic side, it might not be as prolific as Netflix, but it’s had almost as many breakout hits including “Marvel,” “Fleabag,” “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and, most recently, “The Boys.”
Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company’s Rise and Fall
There was no real surprise when Harvey Weinstein’s past caught up with him. Despite taking talents such as Quentin Tarantino and Gwyneth Paltrow to new heights, the prolific producer and indie studio chairman was known for harassing filmmakers, re-editing films when it suited him and not paying his debts. When the New York Times and New Yorker reported that over a dozen women had come forward to accuse him of sexual assault, sexual harassment and, in some cases, rape, it was a sea change not only for Hollywood but global culture as a whole (well, that’s the hope). If things could get any worse, it was revealed Weinstein had also hired a private “intelligence” firm, Black Cube, to intimidate his accusers, including Rose McGowan, who became one of the defining faces for the burgeoning #MeToo movement. Not only did Weinstein find his Oscar-winning studio, The Weinstein Company, taken from him (its assets were acquired in bankruptcy from Lantern Capital), but he became a pariah in an industry where he was once an undisputed king.
The Streaming Wars Begin
In 2010, the idea of streaming networks seemed like a far off pipe dream. 10 years later, every major entertainment company has a signature option available or in the works. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu (initially a co-venture for the big media companies to explore the opportunity) planted their flags first, but things changed quickly. CBS launched CBS All Access while Time Warner (now WarnerMedia) made HBO Now an option for consumers without cable. By the end of 2019, Apple had Apple TV Plus in the marketplace (to very mixed success) and The Walt Disney Company surpassed expectations with the U.S. launch of Disney Plus. WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal will release HBO Max and Peacock, respectively, in 2020. The “future” of content found companies spending hundreds of millions of dollars over popular libraries such as “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “The Office” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Netflix signed Shondra Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Kenya Barris and “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to massive deals. Amazon did the same for “Fleabag” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge and reportedly spent $250 million for the rights to “Lord of the Rings.” In fact, every move a studio or network now makes is in the context of how it can help grow the parent companies’ streaming efforts. Who will survive, who will thrive and who will die? The next decade will decide.
Viacom and CBS dance
If you want to consider alternate timelines, ponder what would have occurred if former CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves didn’t destroy his career following allegations of sexual harassment. After initially merging in 2000, Viacom and CBS split up in 2005 and took significantly different paths. The former struggled while the latter became a Wall Street darling under Moonves’ leadership. When the Redstone family (notably Shari Redstone), who controlled significant shares in both companies, tried to reunite the entities in the middle of the decade, CBS and Moonves balked. At first, it appeared Moonves had the upper hand with investors in CBS wanting him to have control of the new combined company only if and when it happened. When Moonves was forced to resign in Sept. 2018, it wasn’t just over for him, but for the overall influence of CBS. A little over a year later, the companies remerged with Viacom’s Bob Bakish as CEO of the newly christened ViacomCBS and Shari Redstone full in control. Never screw with a Murdoch? Shoot, never take a Redstone for granted.