NEW YORK – Been there, seen that: That's what audience members might say about the movies this year.
After a slew of disappointing films last year, the industry in 2002 is falling back on old mainstays: wacky spies, ugly aliens and superhuman heroes. No fewer than 20 films based on previous projects or familiar characters such as Scooby-Doo, Austin Powers, Men in Black, and Spider-Man are destined for the big screen.
"Now it seems like all we have are sequels and remakes," said Rosslyn Smith, a public accountant and classic film buff from Chicago. "Movie after movie features characters you can only find in a lazy screenwriter's imagination."
While the films may turn out to be box-office hits, they don't exactly break the mold of moviemaking. Some say Hollywood relies on these age-worn stories because they are safe bets and it doesn't know what else audiences will want.
"[Hollywood] takes only the commodities that are known for the most part, repackages them and gives them back to us," said Matthew Felling, media director for Center for Media and Public Affairs. "It's rare that a story we haven't already seen the model for hits the box office."
And while audiences continue to go to the movies, and box-office records continue to be broken, the experience can leave moviegoers unfulfilled and unchallenged.
"Why do I want to watch a remake of something when I've seen the original?" said Smith. "I know the story. I know how it ends up. Why do I want to spend 3 hours — and after the popcorn $15 — for a story when I already know how it turns out?"
Experts say the lack of original stories can be blamed on executives' focus on the bottom line.
"[Filmmaking] is a very risk-averse business," Mark Harris, assistant managing editor of Entertainment Weekly said. "For audiences and for media, the most fun to be had is like when something like The Others or Moulin Rouge comes out of left field to become a success. But Hollywood would always rather rely on known commodities."
After Sept. 11, there was a lot of hand-wringing in Hollywood over the content of movies. The creative community wondered whether Americans would still be satisfied with a diet of sappy love stories, larger-than-life pyrotechnics, sci-fi adventures, and slapstick comedies. After a couple of weeks the verdict seemed to be: Yes.
And that, said Harris, is the problem.
"It would be nice to say this creative timidity doesn't pay off. But it does pay off," he said. "Hollywood will get more creative when audiences stop going to sequels and remakes."
But there are still those who yearn for more variety onscreen. Some moviegoers say they are tiring of the distasteful and unrealistic imagery in modern movies: Men dating women half their age, sexually promiscuous women a la Sex and the City and dysfunctional families in the suburbs.
"People who live in cities are freakin' neurotic. The happiest people I know are in the suburbs," said Smith. "I'm seeing trite, stale, obvious films [that are] not challenging the audience."
Of course, even films that get critically panned such as Planet of the Apes or Jurassic Park III, still tend to be box-office draws. Only approximately one in 10 independent films end up being sleeper hits, said Felling from the media watchdog group, but when those films do become successful they make big money for studios.
"Films breaking the mold and making it big can be lined up. The Others, The Sixth Sense, all came out of nowhere and kind of bucked the trend," he said. "That's something we should look at before we started making Scooby-Doo and Jason 10."