In what ways are films today better than those twenty years ago? How are they worse? — Quora

Tom Cruise in ‘Mission Impossible’

Twenty years ago was Tom Cruise at his peak as an A-list star — Mission Impossible, Jerry Maguire. This was before the Oprah jumping on the couch and the taint of Scientology. It was the year of The English Patient winning the Oscar. And Tim Burton’s marvelous Mars Attacks! So, have movies improved since then or not?

The split between summer blockbusters and awards-season Oscar bait has intensified in those twenty years, as the Academy has become more sophisticated and the awards beat has peaked as a traffic generator for online content. And the Academy itself has become more proactive and gained a public face.

The rise and dominance of the comic book movie has also been a big change — blockbusters have been a power to be reckoned with ever since Steven Spielberg made Jaws, but the ubiquity of superhero movies, and anti-superhero movies has taken over here and abroad. Captain America: Civil War was the highest grossing movie internationally this year, and the reviled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and X-Men Apocalypse took three of the ten top global spots.

Perhaps because I have been reviewing movies for twenty years, I am weary of those box-office behemoths: the CGI battles between Marvel superheros, the bombastic car chases, the lame romantic subplots. I have by and large gotten tired of animation, once my favorite genre with its wonders of Fantasia and Dumbo and Spirited Away. But I remain a sucker for a good emotional story and, only last week, I saw Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic and wept frequently because I found it so emotionally moving in its portrayal of a father struggling to create an authentic life for his children in the plasticity of modern America. I live for that.

There were good small movies and literary adaptations in 1996 — and there are some today. They have always been in a minority. If there are ten good movies in a year, it is a good year. There will be ten this year. And there were in 1996.

There have been twin movements that have been good — and bad. There is, at this moment, a radical realization that women and minorities must share in the cultivating and creation of the Hollywood and off-Hollywood story-making machine. Let’s see if this comes to fruition and truly changes the movies that we see. I hope so and am a loud voice in calling for a change in the gatekeepers and greenlighters to reflect America’s gender and ethnic diversity. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also profitable. [1]

At the same time, with the consolidation of corporate power — the big fish gobbling the little fish, non-entertainment corporations dictating to studios — we have seen a homogenization of cultural content. Superhero movies dominate because they sell. As in the world of newspapers, magazines, television and radio, this has not been an altogether positive trend.

And, another trend that may be less good for theatrical movies, but certainly fantastic for those who love movies and video storytelling, the rise of HBO, Netflix, Starz, Amazon Studios and the rest have seen a renaissance in narrative forms, epitomized by Game of Thrones, Peaky Blinders and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and the ability to watch international long-f0rm shows like Spiral, The Bridge and The Thick of It.

This variety just wasn’t available to home viewers in 1996 — and that might be the most radical change of all. The question now is: how will theatrical movies respond to the challenge of the home theater, and will they be able to compete?


[1] Female-Driven Movies Make Money, So Why Aren’t More Being Made?

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