Professional / Visual Arts & Film Studies Essay


History of the film: 1989 – Present


By the end of 80s, the cinema attendance had already started improving, and it stayed so in the 90s as well. The cost of making movies also increased significantly within this period. One might say the film industry made great profits during this period. But the investment was equally significant. By 1998, the average cost of producing a film was about $53 million. Many movies even had over $100 million budgets, and the blockbuster price even more. The recession of 1991 led to a drop in box office revenues during the early 90s, but it picked up by 1993 and continued to rise. At the beginning of the 90s, the average ticket cost was $4, but it was around $5 by the end of that decade. Indoor multiplex theatres continued to multiply across America.

There was a belief that the most successful movies of this period, in terms of quality, were the high budget ones that used costly special effects. However, the low budget independent film movement proved this wrong on countless occasions by competing with Hollywood films critically and commercially. The cost of producing movies during this era put significant pressure on studio executives as they struggle to break even. This turned filmmaking into a purely commercial enterprise with the creative input suffering in the process.

The additional costs for filmmaking increased exponentially in this age. There was the production cost, agency fees, promotional campaigns, digital and high-tech special effects, market research, marketing, etc. One major factor that increased the excessive spending of this age was the high cost of getting actors. This is especially true of the megastars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise, Julia Robert, Mel Gibson, Demi Moore, etc. These stars were not only demanding financially but also in terms of logistics. Many of them requested approval of the script, make casting and directorial choices, set restrictions on film scheduling, had personal entourage and extras, and even went as far as making demands on how their names should be positioned in the film credits. With all of these, the artistry and creativity that has defined filmmaking in previous years were lost in the 90s. It was replaced by demand and pressure on the filmmakers to ensure commercial success. Ironically, the high cost of making a movie and the inclusion of megastars in the film doesn't guarantee the commercial success of the film.

Home Viewing in the Digital Age

The VCR, introduced in the previous era, was still very much in use. In fact, sale and rental of videotapes was a much bigger business than the sale of theatre tickets. The introduction of HDTV, which improved the detail and sharpness, also improved home viewing. HDTV enabled home viewers to enjoy a similar experience to cinemagoers in term of image quality and audio. By 1997, DVD emerged, and it was better than VCR in every imaginable way. It soon dethroned VCR and videotape as the preferred means of recording films in the digital format for home viewers. During this period, many films were released directly to video or cable without any cinematic, theatrical release. For films that first had cinema releases, the period between the theatrical releases and video or cable releases decreased. This was also the age of the internet.

Independent Films

Independent films have long been in existence and existed alongside mainstream Hollywood productions. Most of these films were innovative and visionary, challengingly the status quo and raising conscious social questions. By the end of the 90s, many mainstream Hollywood studios have established independent film divisions through which they collaborated with unknown directors to produce these films. It was also through the independent film movement that the Utah film festival became the Sundance film festival in 1991. The festival is dedicated to the development and support of visionary directors, emerging screenwriters, and the exhibition of independent documentary and dramatic films. One studio that stood out, in particular, was Miramax studios. The company was at the forefront of independent and foreign films production and distribution throughout the 80s and 90s. It recorded significant critical and commercial success during that period. For instance, it has the longest streak for films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars since 1944 with an eleven-year streak from 1992 to 2002.

Black and Feminist Filmmakers

This era also saw more influence from members of societal classes that usually played second fiddle in the past. It saw black filmmakers such as Spike Lee, Mario Van Peebles, and John Singleton make significant impacts in Hollywood. Female filmmakers such as Barbara Streisand, Penny Marshall, and Jane Campion also made major impacts in the industry. While the black filmmakers used their films to depict the ordinary everyday life and experience of an African American in the US, female filmmakers raised feminist consciousness. They produced films with feminist heroines and tell their stories from a female perspective, something that was previously lacking in Hollywood.

The New Millennium

The 2000s brought change and innovation to the film industry. Perhaps, one of the most significant events of this period was the 9/11 attacks. What followed was another war – the Iraqi war. While film studios made feature films about the attack and its effects, many shied away from the war. Many films explored the common concerns during wartime.

It was also during this period that social media became a significant means of marketing films. Film screening tickets were won on social media accounts, and some even went as far as to create an app. The use of social media allowed low budget independent films to make record sales and become box office hits. A perfect example is the horror film Paranormal Activity which was released in 2009. This was also the era of franchise films such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Fast and Furious, etc.


The development of internet technology in this age saw Hollywood studios partner with internet subscription video services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. for distribution. Physical media sales continue to decline. Nowadays, distribution companies such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, etc. have also emerged as movie producersPresent, providing competition for traditional studios.


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