They just did Avengers: Endgame – so why do the Russo brothers think movies will have a tough future?
After four Marvel movies, Joe and Anthony Russo are making a film that’s not a blockbuster. We sat down with the directors to talk about what the future of movies will be and how ‘spoiler culture’ and binge-watching Stranger Things will change things drastically.
After making four Marvel movies, including the record-setting Avengers: Endgame, directors Joe and Anthony Russo couldn’t be better served by the current model of the movie industry. Still, when it comes to their thoughts on the future of movies, they are bracing for imminent change. “Studios are in a cocoon right now, and they’re going to come out as butterflies on the other side” as streaming platforms, Joe Russo said. “And those may be as valuable or more valuable than their theatrical entities.”
Their next movie is Cherry, which stars Spider-Man’s Tom Holland. But it’s a detour from their recent blockbuster forays and without the big blockbuster budget. We sat down to have a chat with the Russo brothers and quiz them about what lies ahead.
SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT IN THE FUTURE, THE ONLY FILMS THAT GET THEATRICAL DISTRIBUTION ARE HUGE-BUDGET FILMS AND LOW-COST GENRE FILMS. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Joe Russo: Look, there’s no question that we are heading toward a future where event films are only going to become more event-sized. You’ve got so many options in your home for viewing content that there has to be a need for you to leave your home, and what is going to drive you to do that? When you talk about making character movies like Cherry, even we are finding that is becoming increasingly difficult as the months pass – not as the years pass, as the months pass. It is a tough market, even for us coming off of Endgame, to make a darker, character-driven movie like Cherry. It’s not what the market was even two years ago.
IF STUDIOS BECOME MORE NARROW IN THE SORT OF FILMS THEY’RE DOING, WOULDN’T STREAMING SERVICES BECOME EVEN MORE ATTRACTIVE?
Joe: This is something my brother and I have talked about a lot. I think there’s an evolution of narrative happening, and part of what is attractive about getting content in your home is that you get more of it. A season of Killing Eve is eight hours of narrative with characters I love to watch, and compared to a two-hour movie, I’m getting real value for my money there.
Also, I think this new generation craves long-form storytelling because they like that emotional investment they get from spending time with these characters, which is also what the Marvel Universe is, right? It’s a 10-year investment of your time that hopefully pays off.
THERE ARE THOSE WHO CAN BINGE-WATCH AN ENTIRE SEASON OF A TV SHOW BUT FIND IT HARD TO WATCH A TWO-HOUR FILM. WHY IS THAT?
Joe: We’re speaking as guys who make two-hour movies, but you have to understand those movies we made were part of a collective over the last decade that had narrative momentum and emotional commitment behind them – they were not isolated movies. Marvel is part of that experiment of long-form storytelling that leads to greater investment and greater payoff, and if you see videos of people reacting to Endgame in theatres, they’re having a very emotional response to the material that you can’t get from a traditional two-hour film.
So with this audience, when they binge-watch a season of Stranger Things, that is training them to expect a greater payoff from their commitment than they might get from something that’s two hours. That’s what we mean when we say that we’re not sure the two-hour, closed-ended film is going to be the dominant narrative moving forward for this next generation. They are craving a different kind of thing.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU FIND DIFFERENT ABOUT YOUNGER MOVIEGOERS?
Joe: They have a much more complex absorption rate, where they can handle a lot more volume. I’ve got four kids, and I watch the way they consume content: They can be watching a movie and holding a conversation on an app while doing their homework, and processing all of it. I think they get it much quicker at a younger age than we did when it comes to narrative sophistication.
SO HOW DO YOU GET THEM TO SHOW UP TO A THEATRE TO WATCH A MOVIE THAT’S NOT THE AVENGERS?
Joe: It’s tricky, in this market, to get attention for something they feel they could consume when it shows up on Apple TV in two months. There has to be a feeling that they gain through that communal theatrical experience that they cannot get at home. That’s why, when Marvel is going for a payoff of 10 years of storytelling, you want to be there in the theatre to have that experience with everyone else who’s clapping and cheering.
I also think FOMO is a huge part of it. It’s no accident that “spoiler culture” is becoming a thing. We’re trying to drive the audience to the theatre that opening weekend so they can have that experience before it’s ruined for them.
DO YOU THINK 10 YEARS FROM NOW, THE LENGTH OF TIME A MOVIE STAYS IN THEATRES WILL EXIST IN THE SAME WAY?
Joe: No, not at all. People are going to want the option of viewing a movie day-and-date in home [that is, the same time it’s in theatres]. That’s coming, and I don’t think there’s anything we can do to stop it. If the viewer wants to pay a higher premium to do that, then they can do that.
HOW WILL THE IDEA OF A MOVIE STAR CHANGE OVER THE NEXT DECADE?
Joe: I think there’s less room for people to be annointed stars, and the public attention span is much shorter. If you haven’t done something within a three- or four-year window, they don’t perceive you to be of the same stature as someone who’s done something very recently. I don’t think that was true 10 years ago, where once you were a movie star, you were a movie star. Now, I think if you’re not in front of this audience in some way – either visibly on social media with a high follower count, or in something that’s culturally important to them – then you can’t qualify as a star in this environment.
Anthony Russo: What we saw very close-up, especially over the last couple Marvel movies, is that there’s a very high level of attachment with those actors who are playing those characters. There’s still a very high level of passion there.
BUT IS THAT PASSION FOR THE STAR, OR FOR THE CHARACTER? PEOPLE LOVE TOM HOLLAND AS SPIDER-MAN BUT THE CURRENT MOVIE CLIMATE OFFERS HIM FEWER CHANCES TO MAKE FILMS LIKE CHERRY.
Joe: It’s a very good point. Look, our gamble here with Cherry is that it’s difficult material – it’s about the opioid epidemic, not necessarily something that makes you race out of your house to rush to the theatre. What we’re hoping for is that the energy generated through the appreciation of Tom as Spider-Man and the appreciation of Endgame allows a moment where we can grab some attention.
I think Cherry only works because it’s Tom. A movie-star personality could drive viewership a decade ago, and that’s no longer the case. A character or a concept drives viewership now, and if a trailer isn’t great, then the movie star can’t save it.
Anthony: One other dynamic that’s kind of feeding into this is to look at the sheer number of movies being made these days. There were 350 more movies released theatrically in the United States last year than there were when Avatar came out in 2009. That’s a lot of movies, and the same thing’s happening on television. There just used to be fewer of everything – fewer movie stars, too – and when the numbers start to get up this high, you start to lose the trees for the forest.
By Kyle Buchanan © 2019 The New York Times