The Death Of Cinema: Why Television Is Disney’s Future For ‘Star Wars’ And Marvel
Last year was one hell of a time for Disney, right? Moving past juggernauts like The Lion King and Frozen 2, 2019 was the fifth straight year that saw a Star Wars film: The Rise of Skywalker. It was also a year that saw three new additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (although one of those wasn’t a Disney film), including the top-grossing movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame.
But as we enter 2020…there are no Star Wars movie planned. And we’re only getting two Marvel movies, one of which is a comic book most of us have never heard of ( The Eternals). Pretty much the only thing we know for sure about Disney is that season two of The Mandalorian will be back by the end of 2020.
As we enter a new decade, that last revelation shouldn’t be too shocking. Although it earned over $1 billion, The Rise of Skywalker was a rather underwhelming box office experience when you dig into the numbers. And despite its $275 million budget, Solo: A Star Wars Story pulled in less than $400 million internationally. Films can sometimes be a gamble, but—as movies continue to cost more and more, as the competition grows, and as digital streaming slowly takes over—television has become lucrative than ever. In many ways, TV is a much safer bet.
Even back in 2014 when Variety detailed the rise of television, the move away from cinemas made sense. It’s difficult to build up a continuous audience for a movie; people can’t binge films like they can binge multiple seasons of a TV show; and compared to film, television shows are a relatively small investment. What was once an idealistic view of television six years ago became a prescient sign of our current time: television is the future of storytelling.
And Disney knows it.
Seriously: Bob Iger, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company, said that “the priority in the next few years is television.” Not long after Solo bombed, The Mandalorian became an undeniable hit with a cult-like following. And soon after that, people clearly lost interest in The Rise of Skywalker, which made approximately $1 billion less than The Force Awakens. So why not invest in television?
Yes, the financial incentives are undoubtedly there. Why spend $200 million-$300 million on a movie like The Rise of Skywalker when a show like The Mandalorian can bring in people (28.6 million people, to be exact) who will spend money on Disney+ for the rest of their lives?
But really it goes beyond that. Because it’s not just about the rise of television.
It’s about the death of cinema.
And don’t think of “death” as the end. Really, it’s a new beginning; a different way of telling stories; a revolutionary way of inserting movie watchers into a cinematic universe.
For years, film scholars have written about a movement known as “ post-cinema.” Pushed by authors like Lev Manovich, Steven Shapiro and Patricia Pisters, this study concerns the next wave of storytelling in movies. Spearheaded by filmmakers like Michael Bay, movies that are part of the post-cinema movement are less concerned with continuity and logistics, and more concerned with basking in the tension of the moment. Whereas a traditional film like Citizen Kane would give you plenty of clues from the past so you could piece together Charles Foster Kane’s future, a post-cinema film like 6 Underground makes you feel like you’re playing catch-up the entire time. Instead of analyzing the plot of a Michael Bay movielike you would for any book, you instead ride alongside the story as you bask in the outrageous action and root for the compelling characters. You are not told why you should care—you simply care because you must, because you’re there.
There are many components to what makes a film part of the “post-cinema” movement. The Michael Bay example is a small piece of a much larger whole—and in my opinion, Disney now represents a big part of that whole.
If you need proof, look no further than The Rise of Skywalker. While the film was a disappointment at the box office, it was revolutionary in the way it told its story. Many people complained about the rapid pace of the narrative, about the side characters who didn’t receive enough screen time, about the wacky logistics of the movie’s plot—but that’s because those people came to see a movie as they knew movies to be. The Rise of Skywalker was, in fact, part of the death of cinema; it was a transitional shift in the way we understood the Star Wars universe. For Disney, movies are no longer about telling a single story effectively in the way stories have always been told—it’s about fitting that movie into a much larger whole.
The same goes for Marvel as it does for Star Wars. In addition to The Mandalorian and an impending Obi Wan series, Disney+ is also giving us ten live-action and animated series from Marvel Studios. Several years ago, the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” was contained to cinemas. But now the most profitable filmic universe on the planet is producing way more content for television than it is for movie theaters. The world’s biggest film studio has slowly started to piece together a cinematic universe where the cinema is only a small part of the storytelling aggregate—and if you had any doubts about it, Bob Iger made it 100% clear that television is the future for Disney.
Film purists will decry this death, but those more optimistic will recognize the potential of this path. Post-cinema isn’t the end of “cinema” as we know it, but instead simply a shift. “Post” doesn’t indicate a beginning or end, but instead a subtle transition or transformation that reflects culture. The old guards only see change as a bad thing, as a diversion from what makes movies great—as opposed to what these new avenues can offer. Disney isn’t just moving to television because it makes financial sense, but because it opens several doors of possibility for both Star Wars and Marvel.
The way we understand cinematic universes is changing day by day, and Disney is way ahead of us. They aren’t just witnesses to the death of cinema—they are the cheerful instigators of it.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.