Hollywood portrays iron-clad confidence, but right now it is in a state of fear.

The breakdown of a mass culture that we all participate in has marked the nadir of Tinseltown’s influence and its methods to maintain that influence have exposed just how excessive the entertainment money machine truly is.

How to profit from entertainment that appeals to everyone when arguably no such thing exists anymore? Suddenly all the ideas are very familiar, all the eggs are put into one basket and entire corporations hang on the returns of the next billion-dollar franchise.

This year was no different. The industry’s tackling of a post-pandemic world where streaming remained king was a strange and disorienting one, where yet again the well-paid cogs of Hollywood struggled to have answers.

Below is a small selection of Hollywood’s biggest excesses of the year, which shows itself to be increasingly out of step with a rapidly changing world. Insularity was once an asset – now it's their Achilles heel.

Avatar 2 needs to make $2 billion to break even

2009’s Avatar was a success that Hollywood could only dream of: an original IP that went on to become the highest-grossing film globally for the decade after.

Its extravagant fantasy world-building was so effective that the media even ran with the story of audiences feeling ‘suicidal’ from returning to reality afterward, spawning the term ‘Avatar depression’.

Naturally, sequels were always going to be made, with the second and third films now awaiting their rollout.

There was pause for concern when director James Cameron, who also manned the third highest-grossing film globally, 1997’s Titanic, revealed in an interview that the sequel Avatar: The Way of Water would need to make back $2 billion to break even.

Reports claim that the production budget for the second sequel alone was $250 million. Considering that marketing and advertising costs for blockbusters now tend to exceed production costs, it’s easy to see how this $2 billion number adds up.

Cameron remarked that “you have to be the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history. That’s your threshold. That’s your break even” which shows an immense amount of expectation being put into these projects.

But will it bear fruit? The first film came out a whole 13 years ago and audiences have changed. It could be the case that the window to squeeze profit from a sequel has passed.

Or it could make a profit the equivalent of half the world’s GDP. That’s the plan, anyway.

The ten films to top the global box office this year were all sequels

The Herald:

There’s nothing Hollywood loves more than giving audiences what they want. Sequels, franchises, sequels to franchises, prequels, the sequel to the prequel, and so on.

The model in recent years places faith in ideas that have proven themselves already, with studios too sheepish to take on original projects that lack the sure bet to draw in a popular audience.

Besides the sequel to a highly successful Chinese war film, the top 10 global successes for 2022 is a real-life Hollywood Groundhog Day.

The future looks to be much the same, with Marvel already scheduled for 12 more movies from its extended universe. The trend of record-breaking superhero films is not yet over but begs the question of what studios will do with their reliance once audience fatigue well and truly sets in.

Netflix reaches max growth and implodes

Streaming exploded at a time when Hollywood was not ready to change, initially competing with the format for control of the audience. When cinemas shut down and streaming became the only game in town, their prominence easily eclipsed the traditional entertainment machine that had to retreat in the moment.

But streaming companies have not figured out how to be as self-sufficient as the major studios and their mass proliferation has caused a fundamental problem for streaming king Netflix.

After dominating huge swathes of the world marketplace and currently still sitting at 223 million subscribers, Netflix maxed out its growth and began to lose subscribers for the first time, sending the company into a tailspin.

Huge cuts and layoffs were made, projects were cancelled and budgets were slashed. Stocks became worth as much as toilet paper.

Netflix is truly seeing the limits of an endless growth approach. The absurdity of gutting a company with that many paying subscribers garners little sympathy but shows that traditional media institutions still have a certain robustness that their new Silicon Valley counterparts don't.

A $70 million finished film was cancelled just because

Glasgow locals will be more than acquainted with the Batgirl cancellation drama, but it’s certainly worth noting here.

Originally destined for the HBO Max streaming service, it came down the pipeline at an awkward stage of audiences beginning their full return to cinemas, leaving it a lesser priority for Warner Bros.

Despite the $70 million budget (£56m), the number of resources, and the many hours of labour to produce, the studio decided to cut their losses after rumoured poor test screenings.

This strikes right to the problem of the Scottish Government making deals to rent locations to major studios. Financially, Batgirl benefitted Creative Scotland and the crews that were given employment in the filming period, but Scotland ultimately saw no cultural benefit to this.

Hollywood producers were able to take advantage of what is essentially a government tourism drive to then deliver no final product at all, making it a waste of time and effort on everyone’s part. It certainly hurts to be among the excess.

Will Smith’s overpriced slavery film is ruined by a slap

The Herald:

The Academy Awards this year was supposed to be Will Smith’s ingratiation into the critically lauded Oscarsphere, with him set to win Best Actor for his role as King Richard.

Of course, that’s not exactly what left an impression, with his palm whacking the face of comedic legend Chris Rock after a tame joke about his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith’s short hair.

The ‘slap that was heard around the world’ had consequences for Smith’s next project, a film where he portrayed the real story of an enslaved man in 1860s Louisiana. Emancipation was an Apple TV+ production, with a budget of $120 million – an eye-watering amount for a film set to land on streaming with limited theatrical runs.

The plan was most likely to use Smith’s Oscar success to its advantage and prove that the streaming space can create its own path with traditional stars, but the controversy caused the film to be delayed, dashing a moment of serious gravitas for the Fresh Prince’s career.

The film was finally released this month with reviews criticising the overwrought portrayal of slavery and a weak screenplay.

Perhaps if the slap never happened the film could have somehow convinced more people, but it now stands as a footnote to an odd media event. Of course, it’s not just faceless execs behind the scenes indulging in excesses but the upfront personalities too.