Movies Have Always Sucked
By Bert Ehrmann
May 18, 2012
Over the last few years there's been a lot of talk that the overall quality of films has been slipping from previous decades. And this seems born out by looking at lists like the American Film Institute's "100 Years…100 Movies" of the greatest films of the last century. With the likes of Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Casablanca on that list makes the recent top grossing releases of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 look like relative trash in comparison.
And while the American Film Institute list might truly be a chronicle of 100 great movies, here's a little secret about most other movies; they suck and have sucked since Hollywood first started making films. And the fact that most movies suck is perfectly normal. Think about it, when there are literally hundreds of films being released every year over the last century, the odds are that a few of them will be great, some good but the vast majority are destined to be bad if not terrible.
As an example, let's look at the year 1974, one year before the release of the film Jaws which to some marks the start of the downward spiral in terms of the quality movies from what came before. That year saw the release of classic films like The Godfather: Part 2, Blazing Saddles and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It also saw the release of other movies with nowhere near the quality of those like The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and Benji. (It's interesting to note that both The Towering Inferno and Earthquake were both more successful at the box office than The Godfather: Part 2.)
And that's not counting the hundreds upon hundreds of mostly forgotten films from 1974 like Slaughter in San Francisco, Cockfighter and The Trial of Billy Jack that make even something like Benji seem like a film for the ages in comparison.
The other argument I hear of today's low quality of movies are that they're almost all based on previous works and that films of the past were almost all based on original works. Which actually isn't the case at all. The highest grossing movies at the box office when adjusted for inflation prior to 1975 according to the website Box Office Mojo are; Gone with the Wind (1939), The Sound of Music (1965), The Ten Commandments (1956), Doctor Zhivago (1965), The Exorcist (1973), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) 101 Dalmatians (1961), Ben-Hur (1959), The Sting (1973) and The Graduate (1967).
In fact, ALL of these movies were based on previous works, most novels and one musical. And The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur can both be considered remakes of previous films as well as based on a novel and the bible.
But what about today's Hollywood churning out sequel upon sequel to every successful film? Surly Hollywood being so sequel friendly is a modern concept, right? Not really.
In the 1940s there were 13 different Sherlock Holmes movies, six The Thin Man movies in the 1930s and 40s and nine Abbot & Costello films in the 1940s and 50s. There have been 80+ odd Tarzan movies to date, 12 alone from the 1930s and 40s that all starred Johnny Weissmuller, make something like the three recent Paranormal Activity movies or seven Saw films pale in comparison.
I think when it comes to movies of the past, the public tends to remember the classics and forget the duds. Or, the public tends to believe that great films were always considered great from the moment they were released, which really isn't always the case. In 1994 when The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction were released, critics derided Pulp Fiction as being a vulgar movie that glamorized drug use and The Shawshank Redemption was a certified flop at the box office, only being considered a great film years later after audiences discovered it on cable TV and VHS.
And let's not forget that when those films were released in 1994 movies like The Santa Clause, The Flintstones and Speed were more successful than either Pulp Fiction or The Shawshank Redemption at the box office. So few people went to see The Shawshank Redemption in theaters that it was beaten out by the likes of the Pauly Shore vehicle In the Army Now and Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Can a movie get lower than being topped by Pauly Shore AND Van Damme?