American Film Industry Driven by Profit and Consumption


Marcella Barneclo

It’s no secret that our society is highly motivated by achieving the largest profit. But what happens when this driving desire begins to uproot creativity? In the world of American movies, film, and television, large corporations are now dominating and controlling the outpour of media dispersed to the masses. The issue with placing money-driven institutions at the head of the American film industry is the unfortunate creation of often meaningless entertainment . Movies and television shows are simply viewed as monetary investments and sacrifice quality in favor of selling a wider quantity. 

While the American film industry wasn’t always so capitalistic, it’s important to understand when and how the shift away from innovation and artistry took place. Prior to the 1900s, American films were essentially unrestricted by laws. The industry was mainly composed of independent filmmakers who required only the proper funds and tools to carry out their visionary projects. However, in 1908, Thomas A. Edison pushed for the formation of the Motion Picture Patents Company (also known as The Movie Trust, Edison Trust, or The Trust) in order to monopolize the American film industry by removing independent filmmakers and distributors by generating unreasonable limitations. For example, The Trust created a contract with the Eastman Kodak Company, the largest manufacturer of film stock at the time, to regulate the distribution of film and guarantee that it was only given to licensed members of the company. In response to this, independent filmmakers and producers abandoned the east coast — which was home to The Trust — and moved to Hollywood, California, contributing to the origin of America’s present-day film capital. 

Eventually, The Trust was terminated under court order in 1917. Though, a similar pattern of domination began to appear in Hollywood as major film studios like Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, and Columbia Pictures grew in size. They became known as the “Big Five” and, as of September 2021, own 81% of the movie market. These studios are subsequently responsible for the industrialization of film through large-budget, mass-produced, generic entertainment that is carefully curated to appeal to as many audiences as possible. By pandering to the masses, these film studios can raise their profits and continue the cycle of investing in meaningless material with high rewards. 

For instance, Walt Disney Pictures, among other studies, has recently become attached to the idea of recreating pre-existing “classic” Disney films in live-action format. However, films like “The Lion King” that offer nothing substantially new or demonstrate anything particularly creative (with the exception of improved animation and image rendering that wasn’t available during the time of the original movie) contribute almost no artistic value since they are being used as money-making tools. Disney set aside around $180 million, on average, for these live-action remakes, drawing on a wide audience by appealing to their main market audience as well as adults who grew up watching the older Disney films. The studio also casted popular and well-known actors to increase their marketability. 

Crown Media Holdings is not classified as one of the Big Five, but they are responsible for the production of Hallmark movies, notoriously known for their repetitive Christmas movies that feature almost identical plots, tropes, and unoriginal style. The company sets small budgets for these films, under $2 million on average, and makes a considerable profit. From Christmas films alone, Hallmark makes an annual ad revenue of $350 million while contributing nothing particularly new or unique to the global film industry itself..  

In contrast to American films, Soviet films are completely free from the binds of commercialization. Independent filmmakers have the unrestricted ability to revolutionize film and create meaningful art in the absence of an unrelenting desire to profit off of their work. Intellectual montage, poetic visulas, film psychology, etc. all originated from great independent Soviet filmmakers like Lev Kuleshov and Dziga Vertov. George Lucas, creator of the infamous Star Wars series, said himself that freedom from commerce aids in technical innovation, when referencing the ingenuity of Soviet filmmakers. If the American film industry were to adopt a similar mindset of placing artistry above money, perhaps they too could contribute to the global world of film in a more purposeful manner. 

Independently produced films created by American film directors like Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Greta Gerwig, or Richard Linklater, are all prime examples of the artistic potential the American film industry holds. Each film presents its own unique cinematography, soundtrack, visuals, and overall feel that exudes creativity and thoughtfulness. Independent films aren’t compromised by greed or concerns about profit. They are simply driven by the director’s desire to produce meaningful art which — at the risk of sounding slightly pretentious — is what films should be.  

Photo by Myke Simon on Unsplash.