In a cinematic world awash in reboots, remakes, and franchise films, it might seem that original movies are a thing of the past. However, recent successes of independent and specialty films demonstrate that the appetite for cinematic offerings other than big blockbusters and nostalgic sequels is on the rise. Specifically, films like Poor Things, American Fiction, and The Zone of Interest have all performed well at festivals, awards ceremonies, and the box office.
Though original movies have hardly been the fare released by most studios recently, the success of A24 Films in particular, for whom The Whale and Everything Everywhere All at Once cleaned up at last year’s Oscars, demonstrates a shift in contemporary filmmaking. A24’s latest film, The Zone of Interest, is the first feature directed by Jonathan Glaser in nearly 10 years. The foreign language film has opened in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles and has done better than any such film with that type of opening since Parasite.
The Zone of Interest continues to make the case for original movies as it prepares to open across the country next month. A Holocaust drama, the film has been collecting praise and prizes since premiering at the Cannes International Film Festival earlier this year, winning that festival’s Grand Prix as well as its FIPRESC award. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association awarded Glazer its prize for Best Director while naming the movie the Best Film of the Year ahead of three Golden Globes nods, including Best Motion Picture – Drama.
But more than critical acclaim, original movies are drawing in audiences, with Poor Things from Searchlight Pictures pulling in $1.3 million across 82 theaters over the weekend, bringing it in at number 10 in the box office rankings. Amazon’s MGM Studios is also seeing success with its new film American Fiction, following its other hit specialty film Saltburn and the edgy comedy Bottoms, which pulled in $12 million following its March release.
This trend toward original movies is, according to Amazon MGM’s head of theatrical distribution Kevin Wilson, the result of a kind of “chicken and egg” effect, with audiences swinging back toward smaller films. This is, according to Wilson, the first real resurgence of adult audiences in movie theaters following the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the responses Wilson and others are seeing, those adults are looking for something other than big, special-effects-laden blockbusters, a trend Steven Spielberg himself predicted years ago.
Call it franchise fatigue or just the Marvel Phase 5 effect, but there is a significant and growing number of adult movie ticket buyers who are interested in smaller, original movies that represent more unique and personal films. From horror to comedy to historical drama, these movies bridge a number of different genres, but all share a general disconnection from the machinery of sequels and the spectacle of big studio movies. As Disney and Marvel, Warner Bros and DC struggle to right their ships, these less bedazzling but clearly beguiling films will likely continue to surge at the box office.