Mandatory Movie Battles: 2009 vs. 2019 in Film
Rewind to Dec. 31, 2009. Barack Obama was still in the first year of his tenure as president, Kanye West had famously interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs, and most importantly, Avatar had just arrived in theaters and was in the process of becoming a worldwide phenomenon. As the current decade comes to a close and a new one begins, 2009 seems like an eternity ago. The years that followed these seemingly trivial events saw a great deal of change, from the way that technology infiltrated society to the way that people interacted and everything in between.
In the realm of movies, the disparity between 2009 and 2019 has grown even bigger. Movies seem different now when compared to the ones from a decade ago, but why? Naturally, this also begs the question: are movies better now than they were 10 years ago? That’s what we’re here to examine. So without further adieu, let’s jump into this special Mandatory Movie Battle where we pit 2009 vs. 2019 in the film industry!
Cover Photos: Disney
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In terms of storytelling trends throughout Hollywood, 2009 almost feels like a bygone era. Nowadays, it seems that just about everything being released is based on some sort of pre-established property. With that in mind, the singular biggest filmmaking trend is the full pivot from singular, self-contained filmmaking to primarily serialized storytelling. Even though the television sector of the industry has benefited the most from this ideological shift, Hollywood has changed its entire mentality about how to execute long-term storytelling on a massive level.
Simply put, the entirety of the industry has struggled to replicate the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Although storytelling trends have changed throughout the decade, diversity and inclusivity in Hollywood are leaps and bounds ahead of where they were 10 years ago. In essence, the future in Hollywood is shaping up to be diverse and female-driven, which is why it wins the first round.
While the 2000s will be remembered for ushering in the birth of the technological revolution, the 2010s will be remembered for the way the technological revolution came to prominence. While storytelling itself is universal and largely timeless, the digital tools available to filmmakers have vastly improved over the past decade. While visual effects are a natural beneficiary of the digital revolution, there is a far more interesting battle that took place – that of 3D vs. virtual reality. Although 3D held it’s own throughout the past 10 years, it has once again proven to be a bit of a fad. On the other hand, VR seems here to say, with far more lasting practical applications in filmmaking. Just as the digital revolution has impacted the way that the world operates, so has it affected the filmmaking tools that are available to tell stories.
Distribution and Exhibition
One of the most significant changes throughout the decade within Hollywood is the way that movies are distributed and exhibited. While this past decade saw a rise in digital distribution models, the theatrical exhibition model has also drastically changed. In short, the 2010s was the decade streaming went, well, mainstream. Although the theatrical experience isn’t nearly dead yet, prices for movie tickets significantly rose, while streaming options have also vastly increased as a result. In essence, the movie-going experience has changed drastically – and probably not for the better.
Awards Race (Best Picture)
The 2009/2010 movie awards season was an interesting one. At the Oscars, the Best Picture race had been expanded from five nominees to 10 for the first time since 1943. However, the Best Picture for 2009 came down to a two-horse race that pitted audience favorite Avatar against critical darling The Hurt Locker. While The Hurt Locker ended up taking home the gold, in addition to giving us our first female Best Director winner, both movies ended up having a limited cultural footprint a decade later. Even though the 2019/2020 awards race is just getting underway, it has the potential to be one for the ages. With that in mind, the Academy is far better off in terms of the variety of members that make up its voting body, which is ultimately the tiebreaker in this category.
Home Video/Physical Media
Although the HD DVD/Blu-ray wars had come to a close the year previous, Blu-ray was still a relatively young format in 2009. In the years since, two different home video formats have been pushed upon consumers: 3D Blu-ray and 4K UHD Blu-ray. While the former is more of a trend that has pretty much come and gone by 2019, the latter is surely here to stay. Interestingly, Frozen still remains the highest-grossing home video release of the decade. Unfortunately, the near decimation of the home video market as a result of the rise of streaming is bad news for the future of physical media.
Box Office ('Endgame' vs. 'Avatar')
As it turns out, both 2009 and 2019 happen the feature the top two grossing movies of all time. Avatar came out in late 2009, only to stay in theaters for seven months and gross $2.789 billion, ultimately holding the crown of the highest-grossing film worldwide for nearly 10 years. Conversely, Avengers: Endgame was released this year, quickly surpassing the previous gross with $2.797 billion worldwide. In many respects, both films represent the end of an era, albeit in equally different ways. Whereas the latter represents the culmination of not only the MCU and serialized storytelling as a whole throughout the decade, the former resembles the last vestige of Hollywood betting big-budget original ideas. Aside from this, 2019 was a banner year for the worldwide box office, which makes it an easy winner for this category.
Hollywood Business Model
While Hollywood has been increasingly reliant on established intellectual property since the eighties, the 2010s were undoubtedly the decade of franchise filmmaking. There were certainly plenty of huge franchise films that were released in 2009, and yet there was a far better variety of original movies a decade ago. There will always be smaller, original movies out in the world for people to discover, it’s just that they’re harder to seek out in 2019.
With that in mind, the 2010s were undoubtedly the decade of Disney. In 2009, it had just bought Marvel and was still years away from purchasing Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. While the mouse house has surely put out some great content throughout the decade, its dominance in the industry over the past 10 years has shrunk the theatrical marketplace for filmmakers and audiences alike. In summation, a Disney monopoly is a troubling prospect for the future of the current Hollywood business model.
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Although it’s easy to be nostalgic about the past, 2019 proves that it’s also possible to be optimistic about the future. With international markets like China growing in prominence, the future of the movie business is trending to worldwide grosses rather than just domestic profits. In this and many more respects, the medium of film is changing right before our eyes. And the gap is only widening. Not since the advent of sound have we gone through such a radical shift in the way that not only movies are made, but the way that filmmaking is approached as a whole. Ultimately, the 2020s have great potential to be a great decade for film, far better than the one that preceded it.
Overall Winner: 2019