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Age of the Arthouse Blockbuster

Cinema takes a new form every decade or so. We've witnessed the age of the crime drama, spy and action thriller, a sci-fi surge and even the rise of the romantic comedy in the early 2000s. Now we're finally here again, at the edge of an era, awaiting cinema to make the transformation that will dictate the next couple of years of what type of content in media we consume for our ever demanding crave for escapism. I predict this era to be the "age of the arthouse blockbuster", but are movie-goers willing to aid this anomalous take on big screen storytelling?


A blockbuster as we might all know by now is a film that is both a domestic and global box office hit. Though, what I've personally deducted from the evolution of the definition of this term is that the film doesn't necessarily have to be a monetary hit, and instead now depends on its scale and budget, refraining from solely weighing the film by its economic returns. The films are often generic and often shallow means of escapism. The term “blockbuster” also heavily relies on the cultural impact the film has months and years after its initial release. Did it cause waves? Is it a worldwide sensation?

An arthouse film often weighs in on the world and conducts a human study. These are films that investigate the world around us, our values and worldviews, and everything else between the white spaces and often offer commentary on our state of affairs. These films are usually made on a much lower budget than a blockbuster, and are often shot using natural measures. Films such as The Tree of Life, Chunking Express, Dog Tooth, Wild Strawberries, etc. are great examples of arthouse.

In recent years we've gotten to witness these two genres having a slowburn merge that could've not been previously predicted, easily anyway, prior to Christopher Nolan's prolific Inception. Nobody could've imagined that a film with so much on its mind—heavy themes, complex and non-linear storytelling—could spark the interest of so many general audiences.

Of course, it could be argued that Nolan's success with this film was aided by the exceptional work he did adapting Batman for screen to subsequently gain a large following for it. But even with that fact, it is a momentous feat to have gotten the attention of so many general fans and to have lived up to it. Inception in many ways could be considered the nexus of the Arthouse Blockbuster when measuring how it has impacted the notable change in the manner in which general audiences consume films from there forth. They became more open-minded for anything that wasn't action adjacent or fixated. That's of course until the Age of the Superheroes (which is a topic for another day, that I will cover soon, in detail).

The Arthouse Blockbuster fuse slowly came into effect through the following films; Blade Runner: 2049, Arrival, Children of Men, Gravity, Dunkirk, Madmax: Fury Road, the upcoming Army of the Dead, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Denis Villeneuve's long-awaited Dune—as well as a few others both classic or upcoming.

Lately, the only way to get an overwhelming amount of people out of the house to the cinema on a Friday night seems to be if you have a superhero extravaganza to show. Especially if that hero belongs to the comic book movie giant Disney/Marvel. But of course every once in a while you get the Nolan film (Dunkirk) that will spark interest solely from the name at the helm, which is what I believe will happen with the upcoming Villeneuve film (Dune).

The Age of the Arthouse Blockbuster is quietly in full effect and audiences are responsible for the proliferation thereof if and when more directors and studios feel confident enough to take the leap to make more of such movies. These films might not be cashing in the same as superhero movies at the moment, but the emergence is wildly apparent when you go looking. Take a moment to also consider that even our now widely beloved superheroes began on a slippery slope before they got to where they are currently; being able to break a billion during their cinematic circuit. This is something that would've gotten you laughed at had you predicted it back when the Iron Mans and Wolverines were still finding their feet.

The truth is people want to see more of this arthouse/blockbuster merge, but for as long as we only get out of the house only to go watch superhero epics without any compromise, studios will take fewer risks to make these films. And it's not because these films aren't good—trust me everyone who took the time and “risk” to go watch films like Blade Runner: 2049 and Arrival at the cinema actually have nothing but praise for these films. So I challenge us as the audience, when we have the monetary means to, to get out there and support these films that offer more than ass-whippings, cool superpower presentations and things that go boom.

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