In the run-up to today’s release of Super 8, there’s been plenty of hand-wringing about the movie’s potential weekend gross, with pundits pondering whether Paramount’s don’t-show-too-much campaign will backfire. After the box-office figures start coming in later tonight, though, expect the hand-wringing to continue, albeit with a different question in play: What will Super 8’s grosses mean for the future of original studio movies? Even before we know how big the J.J. Abrams film will open, we’re pretty sure we can already answer that new question: It’s not actually going to mean that much.
It’s always been hard to get a big-budget summer tentpole made when it’s based on an original property, and even if Super 8 is a hit, that’s not going to change. That said, an A-list director like Abrams — or Christopher Nolan, whose Inception moved the needle on this debate much further than Super 8 could ever hope to — can still get his original property green-lit if the budget and package is attractive enough. Sure, if Super 8 bombs, executives might be wary of the next Abrams pitch that costs $200 million without a clear hook, but if he budgeted that picture under $50 million and had a big star committed, there isn’t an executive in town who wouldn’t be competing to snag it.
Besides, the hopes that are riding on Super 8 because it’s the summer’s only “original movie” are misplaced. It’s true that this season is filled with sequels and comic-book movies, but it’s also fully loaded with original comedies, including the recent smash hit Bridesmaids and the upcoming movies Crazy Stupid Love, Bad Teacher, 30 Minutes or Less, Larry Crowne, Horrible Bosses, and Friends With Benefits. (An unusual amount of those comedies are R-rated, too, thanks to the lucrative precedent set by The Hangover.) When online wags whine that Super 8 is the year’s major original hope, their bias in favor of big-budget sci-fi is coloring their perception.
If you’re worried about the lack of original studio movies, in fact, there are two genres that could really use your concern: animation and dramas. For the last decade, animated movies were big-budget endeavors almost always inspired by an original concept, thanks to the pioneering creative minds at Pixar. Now, though, the Shrek series is no longer an oversequelized outlier, and Pixar, DreamWorks, and the rest have turned a genre once known for its originality into yet another avenue for franchise incubation. At least they’re still making those movies, though: Meanwhile, original dramas have all but disappeared. J.J. Abrams will be just fine after Super 8, and anyone would be happy to take a meeting with him for his next project — unless he decides to pitch a movie with Super 8’s emotional textures but without its alien. Though critics have said that they would have preferred that straight-ahead movie to the sometimes ungainly hybrid Abrams made, there’s no question that in today’s market, a simple original drama is the toughest sell, indeed.