Is Drama Dead As A Hollywood Genre?

We’re just now heading into the fall season, when Hollywood traditionally serves up “adult movies” (translation: Oscar bait) movies. We’re supposedly done with the summer blockbusters and have moved on to the movies adult like.


This past weekend a drama called The Words opened and did so poorly it helped to make the weekend one of the lowest grossing in the past decade.

Luckily, it didn’t cost too much to make, but it’s still dispiriting to think that it sank so fast and so far. I have no idea if The Words is a good movie, but if it’s not, why is it not?

The majority of dramas released by mainstream studios the past few years have come off as tired, pretentious or both. Many have crashed and burned at the box office.

Of course there are exceptions, like The Blind Side, Black Swan and The King’s Speech. But that’s just it–they are exceptions.

Drama seems to be a dying art–on the big screen. On the small screen, it’s a different story. Like many others, I was riveted by this past season of Breaking Bad and can’t wait for Boardwalk Empire to start again. Many viewers make Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, Suits, Homeland, among others, appointment TV.

Then there are genre TV shows that are given the distinction of also being smart dramas, like The Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones, Fringe and now-defunct shows like The Sopranos and Deadwood.

So it’s not like the talent for creating drama has disappeared. It’s just shifted over to TV.

I love TV dramas, but also miss going to see a great dramas at the movies. I think what’s happened is that blockbuster movie-making has become so much the norm that that’s what we expect at the movies. We’ll make an exception for comedy (though notice most movie comedy now is of the broad variety) but other than that, we want spectacle on the big screen.

I don’t object to spectacle at all. I rather enjoy it. But it does seem like something is missing from movie line-ups today. There are independent films, of course, but I’m old enough to remember when Hollywood made dramas that weren’t stuffy and arty.

A few years ago when I was in New York, I visited the Film Forum to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. I fully expected to watch it with an audience that skewed older. While there were one or two people in the audience older than me, the majority of audience members were in their 20s and 30s.

The audience totally ate that movie up. I can’t recall seeing a movie with a more engaged audience.

I was stunned, and it made me wonder if they made smart, engaging dramas (with adult romantic storylines) if people might actually go to see them. I wondered if they actually might become hits.

Of course, if they don’t, I can always get my fix from TV. But there’s something special about a big screen and having that communal experience. Like the one I had at the Film Forum, watching a movie over 50 years old with a modern day audience loving every minute of it.


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