Movies have always been a collaborative medium. Writers, directors, actors, set designers, and hundreds, sometimes thousands more (you’ve seen credits) come together to create a visual work of art meant to entertain, inspire and connect us as humans. Making a film is a monumental effort, which sometimes turns into something magical, and at other times fails to create anything cohesive. But we’re beginning to see the signs of a new ingredient added to the moviemaking soup that has started to sour the taste, regardless of the creators’ intent: fan feedback.
Twitter, Reddit, and the internet in general are places where people can voice their opinions, laugh at memes, and discuss their favorite entertainment properties. But as we all know, social media has become a pretty toxic environment, fueled by having the hottest take or the sickest burn. It can be cathartic, certainly, but when it gets out of hand, it’s unrelenting. And when that Sonic the Hedgehog trailer dropped, boy, was Twitter unrelenting.
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I’ll admit that I think the new Sonic movie design is a thousand times better than the original. The character looks more friendly, and in the Sonic movie’s case, has a chance to make for better ticket sales. But the artists who designed the original version and the filmmakers who spent months creating the initial version of the character were scrutinized on social media for a week straight before director Jeff Fowler announced a redesign effort. A few weeks later, the movie’s release was delayed to give the animators more time to revamp the character. And while I’ll say again that, in this case, I think it will ultimately work out in Paramount’s favor, this has set a dangerous precedent for artists working in the film industry. Now, storytellers are at the behest of the audience, telling them what to do and how to do it before they’ve seen the final film, rather than letting the artists create their art as they see it and then responding to their efforts.
And fans have begun to notice their newly inherited power. The #ReleaseTheSnyderCut campaign has been raging ever since the film’s release in 2017, with Zack Snyder even getting in on it, posting concept art and photos of deleted scenes to his Vero account. So far, Warner Bros. execs have held out on giving into these fan demands — and indeed, this version of the movie is likely nonexistent. Recent rumors of an HBO Max release of the Snyder Cut and a few more Justice League stars jumping on the hashtag bandwagon might have inched it closer to existence, but if some type of Synder cut ever does come out, it will be the most important and egregious example of fan-influence. For a studio to release a completely different version of a movie set in an MCU-like connected universe, changing canon, would be unprecedented. Admittedly, it would also be interesting to see whether it’s better or worse than the original, and which continuity the DCEU would move forward with. But for now, it’s still just a hashtag.
And then there’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This time it wasn’t ugly CG or any sort of aesthetic issue that needed “fixing.” Instead, two years of outrage over Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi seemingly convinced Disney that they needed to focus on making fans happy and nostalgic, to appease those who hated The Last Jedi, while also wrapping up the Skywalker Saga in a way that would satisfy both. So writers J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Chris Terrio (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) tried to do just that. But when you try to please everybody, you end up pleasing nobody.
Whether you enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker or not, and whether you enjoyed The Last Jedi or not, there are moments in The Rise of Skywalker that feel like they are meant as an apology for The Last Jedi (vague spoiler alert): the big Rey reveal, the complete sidelining of Rose Tico from the plot, and that Luke moment. Rather than continuing on from what The Last Jedi offered them, Disney apparently felt they had to course-correct per what they thought a vocal segment of upset fans wanted.
But now, some fans are calling for their own version of the Snyder Cut with what they call the “J.J. Cut.” An unconfirmed post on Reddit told fans that Disney had made several changes to the script that Abrams didn’t agree with, and that the original cut of the film had 40 extra minutes of footage. What’s ironic, though, is that the same outrage that fuels the J.J. Cut campaign is reminiscent of the reaction to The Last Jedi… which might’ve been what convinced Disney to make the decisions they made on The Rise of Skywalker in the first place. The odds of the J.J. Cut being released are probably even less than that of the Snyder Cut, but only C-3PO would be able to tell us for sure.
Looking forward, Ghostbusters: Afterlife seems to be the next movie to attempt a franchise course-correction based on fan backlash. The trailer for the upcoming sequel gives off a much more serious tone than the 2016 movie starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. Afterlife tells the story of the grandchildren of one of the original Ghostbusters and will see prominent cameos from the original cast. Don’t get me wrong, the trailer for Afterlife does look great, but it feels like another instance where fans get to dictate the path of a popular franchise because the studio is afraid to do something that will anger them.
The Sonic redesign was an aesthetic choice that took time and money, but (probably) didn’t affect the story and ultimately better reflected the iconic character’s look, and the Snyder Cut is still an unknown. But with Star Wars, and potentially Ghostbusters, it seems a vocal minority on Twitter and Reddit were able to influence the creatives behind the art to change their course, and that is a big deal.
The best movies are made by people with a singular vision, and a plan for where the story is going to go. The former is the reason why Marvel movies are often criticized for adhering to a similar formula, as the timeline of what is going to happen in the MCU is determined by committee (albeit one ultimately led by Kevin Feige). But Marvel also has an endgame in mind (literally), with a proven track record of what works for fans, and a willingness to experiment within some set parameters to offer something new that fans might not even realize they want. The best example of this would be Taika Waititi’s incredible Thor: Ragnarok from 2017, which redefined Thor’s character and brought the franchise out of the boring, melodramatic rut it was stuck in.
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Marvel, specifically, seems to have realized (semi-recently) that there are times when listening to fans is exactly what’s needed, and times when it’s definitely not. It was Marvel fans who campaigned for the studio to make their first female-led superhero movie in Captain Marvel, and their first movie led by a person of color in Black Panther, both of which made over $1 billion at the box office. And when the toxic side of the Marvel fandom cried out against them, they didn’t falter, giving us Avengers: Endgame’s amazing A-Force moment, as well as having already slated Captain Marvel and Black Panther sequels.
If the future is to be determined by the fans, the film industry will only make more sequels, reboots, and unoriginal, play-it-safe movies. 2019’s best films came from writers and directors who were able to tell their stories uninhibited by the online echo chamber. Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, or Rian Johnson’s Knives Out were some of last year’s strongest films, all of which were original screenplays with incredible visions from their directors. And the biggest blockbusters (such as the Marvel movies) are at their best when they can have that same freedom.
Studio execs need to realize that Twitter and Reddit are where outrage is easy, where people conjure up the worst adjectives they can think of to get as many likes and retweets as possible, and where measured critique is rare. The biggest blockbusters would often be better movies if the studios behind them would trust the artists they’ve hired to make the best movie possible, and stick to their storytelling guns.