2019 was a fascinating year for media. We saw some of the biggest franchises come to a close, with the end of the Infinity Saga and the new Star Wars trilogy. We saw the launch of Disney+ in America, and we saw a rise in mobile and short form content with things like TikTok and the soon-to-be-launched Quibi.
But we also saw big names like Martin Scorsese describe Marvel movies as “Theme Parks,” and absolutely “Not cinema.” Equally, we had diehard comic fans immensely frustrated after Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t nominated for his performance as Iron Man.
Now, we’ve had an historic win with Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite – a thriller about an impoverished Korean family slowly infiltrating the higher-echelons of elite society. This film hasn’t just swept the awards at the BAFTAs and Oscars but just became the first non-English language film to receive Best Picture.
Yet the Oscars aren’t what they once were. In fact, the 2020 award ceremony had their lowest ever viewership, clocking in at 23.6 million.
So today, I wanted to figure out some of the more interesting things with the 2020 awards and what it means for the state of the film industry going forward.
Are the Oscars Anti-Franchise?
A fascinating event following the blockbuster phenomenon of Avengers: Endgame were the open critiques of franchises we got last year. Sure, I talk about the pros of franchises a lot – discussing more immersive and engaging ways stories are connecting with their fans. But that doesn’t mean I’m dismissive of non-franchise media.
I suppose you can compare it to McDonald’s and Michelin Stars. One is run as a global enterprise, establishing itself as a franchise to reach as many people as possible for maximum market potential whilst the other serves a more specialised market.
They’re different, but they both serve a market need … and you can like both.
Film is the same, and I think doing something like creating a Parasite video game or graphic novel risks diluting its appeal. Not everything needs to be franchised.
That’s not to say you can’t have a “franchise” Oscar film. We’ve seen franchises built out of Rocky and the Hannibal Lecter series – both of which have received multiple nominations and awards. Of course, even Joker – a comic book character – received nominations and won the Golden Lion; with these lines are getting blurred with time.
Yet this disconnect seems to be more apparent now than ever. After the blockbuster machine that is the MCU, we saw audiences build an emotional connection with characters over 10 years only to have zero nominations by the end (apart from Best Visual Effects).
In fact, Avengers Endgame has now set another record being the latest highest-grossing movie to not win a single Oscar; something we haven’t seen in a long time.
No doubt, as technology, audiences, and business transform the industry, the Academy will have to adapt as well. We saw Black Panther nominated, but I think it will be a good while before we get an Oscar-winning franchise blockbuster.
Again, it’s a bit like entering a gourmet McDonald’s burger in a Michelin restaurant; you may like both, but they satisfy different tastes.
The War on SVOD
Netflix has also faced a fair share of criticism amongst the academy. Last year, Steven Spielberg even tried to get Netflix banned from the Oscars. He said when interviewed:
“Fewer and fewer filmmakers are going to struggle to raise money, or to compete at Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically … more of them are going to let the SVOD businesses finance their films, maybe with the promise of a slight, one-week theatrical window to qualify for awards.”
“But, in fact, once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie … they could deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe that films that are just given token qualifications, in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for the Academy Award nominations.”
It’s not about quality, it’s about the distribution model. Netflix (and other SVOD services like Amazon) are no stranger to this issue. Especially at the Cannes film festival (where the window release system is enshrined in French law) film begins in cinema.
There are cultural reasons for this as well, but naturally streaming services completely bypass a traditional academy release schedule.
As a result, Netflix is a bit of a controversial topic for the academy – despite their critically and commercially successful films. What’s interesting is that Scorsese’s The Irishman – released by Netflix – received 10 nominations and went home with nothing … that’s pretty extraordinary all things considered.
As a film it didn’t really fit the Netflix mould, and felt more like something that you’d need to properly sit down and watch in a single sitting – like a typical Scorsese film.
But the appeal of Netflix is it’s on-demand nature. In fact, only 18% saw the film in a single sitting; with some offering “mini-series” alternatives to dividing it up.
Netflix also struck out a bit with Marriage Story, with Laura Dern only winning best supporting actress whilst despite the film getting 6 nominations.
For me, it’s all a bit of anachronistic – good movies, but hindered by its distribution. Then again, I would say that being born on the threshold between Millennial and Gen Z.
An International Media
The biggest thing on everyone’s mind after the awards is Parasite. Now, about to go for a wider theatrical release across the UK and US following its historic win.
There’s no doubt that technology and globalisation is part of what made this film successful. The director – Bong Joon-ho – already had success on Netflix with Okja and later thrillers like Snowpiercer, but it’s Parasite that really got academy attention.
One of the benefits to streaming services is that it’s changed global distribution. With Okja, Netflix was able to release it globally without any trouble – just put it on the service with everything else, something that also helped Roma attract award attention in previous years.
But Parasite is also significant of a more global film market. On an international level, there’s a “Cool Korea” rise to prominence, between YouTubers, BTS, and now Parasite dominating media and culture. It isn’t just Korea of course, but it is certainly prominent.
Netflix is presently leveraging its global brand to rival Disney, having recently acquired the Studio Ghibli catalogue and a slew of other anime to compete against its rivals.
What’s most important is the future audience – namely Gen Z. With this demographic more open to global content. Whether it’s through the academy or other forms of media, this is something that we can expect to shake up the industry in big ways.
‘Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.’
– Bong Joon-ho, BAFTA speech.