Lost in Translation: Predicting 2023

Predicting over the past couple of years has become difficult. A wise Muppet once said, “Always in motion is the future.” At this point, 2023 makes a tsunami look calm. COVID-19 is still around, and current indications are that there will be another wave. Box office grosses are still recovering from their peaks in 2019, pre-pandemic. Every studio, network, and independent channel has a streaming service now, so there’s competition for subscription dollars.

The pre-pandemic normal isn’t going to return in 2023, if ever. There is no indication of a new normal yet, though. This is the sort of uncertainty that will drive an already risk-adverse industry to back away from risk altogether. Discovery’s takeover of Warner Bros. has already seen a number of projects cancelled, some complete and ready for release. Budgets may be reduced for even the biggest of the blockbusters in the coming years; spending a billion dollars on a movie, including advertising and marketing, to see a return of $800 million doesn’t make fiscal sense.

For the silver screen, 2023 will be a rebuilding year. Audiences are starting to return, but studios will have to work to get them in. At the same time, people are tired of being cooped up at home in isolation. Humans are a social species, even when being social can lead to death and disease. However, a return to lockdown because of a more lethal mutation of COVID-19 is still a possibility. Most people want out, but not at the cost of their lives. Assuming no major outbreak, expect theatres to be screening adaptations and sequels, comfort viewing that studios can bank on. Original films may not have the space in the top ten but could gain a significant audience during the slower months.

Marvel movies will still happen. They’ve been a constant and have always gained an audience. The main concern Disney and Marvel should worry about is continuity lockout, especially when the characters from the big screen headline their own Disney+ series, like Hawkeye. So far, it hasn’t been a problem, and thanks to the nature of streaming, catching up is a matter of finding the time to watch the relevant series.

The Distinguished Competition, however, may be in trouble. The DC Cinematic Universe has had problems. That’s not to say the DC movies have flopped. However, most of the success comes from Batman. The attempt to bring the Justice League to the big screen fell short because the showrunner couldn’t understand Superman or work outside Batman’s shades of grey. Wonder Woman and Shazam avoided the mess, but the damage may already be done.

With the Discovery merger, Warner Bros. will fall behind in the competition with Disney’s Marvel movies. The head of Discovery rode to success with Discovery’s reality shows. Reality TV is cheap to make compared to scripted television. Compared to an effects-laden superhero film, a season of reality television has a better return on investment. What reality television doesn’t have are residuals, home video sales, streaming revenues, and tie-in merchandise, not on the scale of a superhero movie and especially not with some of the most iconic comic book characters in history. The DC Cinematic Universe may lie fallow in 2023.

Warner Bros. does have Barbie coming out summer 2023. The teaser shows a sense of humour and a sense of the movie not taking itself seriously and could be another movie taking the same tack as The LEGO Batman Movie. Mattel should do well with the film, with the inevitable line up of dolls and playsets. Warner should have a solid hit with the movie.

Lower budget films do have a chance to shine outside the blockbuster months. People want out again. Make something that intrigues enough of an audience, and they will turn out. The problem is knowing what an audience wants. If any studio ever figures that out, it will have a trade secret to be kept secure.

Streaming services should come into heavy competition with each other. Netflix is the long-established service, but studios are starting to create their own. Disney is the best known, but Paramount has joined the fray. Netflix’s subscription numbers may be starting to plateau; anyone who wants an account may already have one. Netflix also doesn’t have the clout or back library of films and series that Disney and Paramount have. Disney’s spate of acquisitions over the past decade leaves it with a number of high-profile works, including the Marvel movies, the Star Wars movies, and the entire run of The Simpsons. Netflix is getting into creating its own original works, but Disney and Paramount have the expertise already.

Broadcast TV will be the main source for original works. Sure, the series will be subject to restrictions such as format and length, but some series may break out of the mold. Again, audiences are difficult to predict, but 2023 may be a time for networks to throw ideas up against the wall to see what sticks. It worked in the Eighties.

Again, adaptations aren’t going away anytime soon. In a risk-averse industry that is even more averse to risks, adaptations represent the safe path. If it works, don’t fix it. There is a slim window for original works to make a splash, if the right audience can be found.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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