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Screenshot: The Last Samurai/Warner Bros.

There’s been a sea change in the way Hollywood makes theatrical movies.

COVID has altered the landscape in ways I’m not sure we can foresee, but also might only have accelerated trends already underway: shorter release windows, simultaneous streaming debuts, and a general erosion of the theater as the place to see new movies.

But the market has been in flux for more than a decade—the rise and global reach of Marvel Studios, in particular, has cemented the four-quadrant blockbuster as the dominant mode for Hollywood studios. There are fewer mega-movie stars these days—at least outside of the worlds of franchise IP. The sheer volume of quality television (and the decreasing price of enormous TVs) has certainly made me think twice about going out to the movies—even pre-pandemic.

In the broadest sense, these factors and more have led to the death of mid-budget films made for grownups, at least theaters. The prevailing trends are to go ultra-cheap (in Hollywood terms, anyway) a la Blumhouse, or with a big-budget would-be mega-blockbuster, with not much in-between—studios just aren’t looking to spend big money on a question mark. Movies are expensive to make, and people need a reason to go to a theater: it’s hard to build audience enthusiasm around a quieter film that you’ll be able to watch at home, with much cheaper popcorn, in a month or two.

This isn’t a screed, or an argument that movies used to be better. When we look back, we only think of the best and most memorable movies, which skews our perspective. Lots of crappy stuff got made in every era of filmmaking—there are great movies being made today that would never have had a chance 30 years ago, and vice versa.

Some of the sorts of movies we don’t see anymore feel like losses, others we’re better off without. Some of this is cyclical: A few years ago, I’d have said we’d never again see a big-budget, all-star whodunnit of the kind that used to be popular—but that was before Knives Out and Murder on the Orient Express, both of which have sequels on the way (though admittedly the latter is being funded by Netflix). That aside, and for a variety of reasons, the following 25 movies could certainly never be made today.



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