They Sure Don’t Make Movies Like They Use To. Yes They Do!

One opinion that I hear expressed over and over is that movies have progressively gotten worse. This sentiment is often heard from comedians, cynical film snobs and even general movie goers. It is expressed in many different ways, from films have lost their magic to they don’t make movies like they used to.

This take on films and the film industry is something that not only gets on my nerves, but is also utterly false.

One reason why I see this contrarian opinion as being so ridiculous is not that I don’t think the majority of films released now are bad, which they are, but rather because it has always been like this. Just as a large percentage of the films released nowadays are bad, 20-30 years ago we most likely had the same ratio. People will point out the classics and greats from yesteryear but they don’t seem to mention all of the bad films released alongside those classics.

We do not remember the bad or even the mediocre but only the great. Twenty years from now no one will remember Yogi Bear 3D but they certainly will remember Inception. It is simply a matter of perspective as this point of view was certainly also common in the 70’s, when people looked back on the 50’s. Now from our new perch we can see and appreciate all the truly great films released in that decade.

Another reason people hold this view is that when we look back on the films of our childhood we see them through a thick layer of nostalgia. We do not see the films as we would see them today, but rather see them in the same idealized way we see our childhood. Many remember films like The Goonies or Tron as being classics, but in reality are they are in no way great films. This will always happen as we often remember films being much better than they really are. It is important, however, to remember this as we romanticize decades of film.

As we look back on our own golden age of film, we must remember that twenty years from now audiences will be romanticizing about this decade of film. People will often confuse nostalgia for greatness, and I for one am guilty of this, but it is important to remember that behind that layer of great films, lies a graveyard of terrible movies long forgotten. Movies have not gotten worse, we just selectively remember the great films and ignore the bad.

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11 Responses to They Sure Don’t Make Movies Like They Use To. Yes They Do!

  1. John says:

    More often than not, I’m accused of being the “cynical film snob” that you reference there. And I say this as someone who loves the classics, loves the silent era, loves foreign film (particularly from the Art House heyday of the 50’s and 60’s)… It’s entirely probably that movies are BETTER today than they’ve ever been. Over a century of trial and error putting action to celluloid has honed the art. As such, special effects are constantly evolving, actors are learning better methodology, the medium is infinitely larger than it was 100 years ago (and even 25 or 50 years ago). The sheer volume of people making film these days gives a wider path for truly creative (and great) filmmakers to find their niche.

    Maybe I’m overstating the case and I certainly hope I’m not misrepresenting classic cinema as being inferior.

    • I completely understand your point, in fact I had a paragraph that I later deleted discussing your very point. It is a hard topic to discuss just because what some films lacked in technical perfection they made up with other positives.

  2. Univarn says:

    Well said. It’s a common argument I hear to harp on Hollywood’s ‘lack of originality.’ However, if you go through many best of lists you find a good portion of them are book and play adaptations. Not to mention that many of them are remakes in their own right. Over time we’ve started dropping play and book adaptations in favor of more remakes and comic book adaptations…. perhaps not quite to the extent of today.

  3. Gary Pierce says:

    You make valid points. Yes there were lots of bad movies from long ago as there are today. But most of the bad movies of yesteryear were done on shoestring budgets. Now we have multi-million dollar bad movies. My personal opinion is that they spend so much time on the fancy special effects now days that the story take second place (if there is one) special effects should enhance the story not be the story. I think Hollywood puts so much hype on their big budget films to get back what they spent on them and often than not I’m disappointed. I actual find many of the films made by their low budget subsidiaries like Fox Searchlight and others to be much better films on lower budgets. Browsing Blockbuster for these less known films is a film lovers delight.

  4. Justin Brown says:

    This is a fantastic oped piece and reflects the feelings I have on the current state of cinematic affairs. I do not believe that movies were, to the film, better “then” than they are now they have just undergone at least a generation of filtering before the next generations get their hands on them. I do believe that there are a larger volume of movies being created now which leads people to believe that a greater percentage of films overall are worse “now” than they were “then”. Another thing I would like to look into is the need to tailor content to meet the needs of a target demographic and how the needs of the emerging teen and young adult market will be met. In order to ensure your message is even looked at by current teen and young adult users you have to use extremely information dense communications and I’m terrified to think of what that will mean for the future of cinema. Jam packing every instant of a movie sounds unnervingly like a Michael Bay film and I’d hate to think that he is the prototype for the future of American Directors. Maybe in a decade when audiences walk out of a film without an explosion/ murder/ sex scene/ compelling plot exposition in the first 10 seconds of a film we will be wailing the same lament “they sure don’t make movies like they used to”. Maybe not.

  5. Alex says:

    There was an era when comedy was unbelievably good!!! The last great film to come out of that era was Anchorman. I’m talking about movies such as eurotrip, road trip, the first 3 american pies, the first van wilder, old school, dukes of hazard, rush hour 1 and 2 and other non comedy films such as the girl next door, the butterfly effect, action like the matrix, first spiderman, i really could go on. the list is endless. I do agree with you that every year will have some movies worth mentioning, for example the era i was talking about was between the years 1997 and 2006, however other great films have come out since then which were really top draw such as the hangover (will be a true classic) and others. However, there’s not that many that I can think of which were truly great. I guess i’m just tired of all these hyped up bad movies like twilight. btw, the same thing has happened to music. it’s run out of original good ideas.
    in describing the overall situation, I would have to say that the movie ‘idiocracy’ doesn’t look so far fetched now.

  6. Timothy says:

    I agree I have been trying to figure this out because I am taking a film as literature class right now I have been wondering what happened to movies but your absolutely right I cannot assume that all movies that came out were good back then and I cant expect all movies to be good now my only problem that I have however is there seems to be a bit less extreme symbolism and when I say that I say it with the assumption that I am very wrong if I am please suggest some movies that came out recently with a message that you think I should see

  7. Matthew says:

    If you want to consider me one of these “cynical film snobs” feel free, so long as you replace cynical with realistic. I really think that you have a few alright points here, like the ratio aspect. There’s no doubt in my mind that there were as many bad movies then as there are now. Anyways…when I have my own discussions with people about how movies are not the same it’s by COMPARISON. We don’t really have films that are much better than Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, The Snake Pit, Bonnie and Clyde, Vertigo, The Lost Weekend, and the list goes on and on and on. Yes, there have been some good movies over that last several years that will stand the test of time (like Lord of the Rings, No Country for Old Men, and anything that has Scorsese or Nolan’s name on it). Keep in mind too that nostalgia has a whole lot to do with generation and at times age group (insert any Disney movie title here) so their perception is bound to be different. So are movies today going to be considered classics in twenty years? Obviously. No year in Hollywood goes without a classic, everyone knows that. Are they what they used to be? In comparison…most don’t even stand a chance.

  8. Humblechild says:

    I’m pretty sure no one is going to remember Inception 20 years from now either. lol Give me a break, Nolan peaked after Memento.

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