It's gotten so bad that famed director George Lucas no longer thinks that making big-budget movies is even a viable business model.
Edward B. Driscoll explores this at TCS Daily.
As a company town, Hollywood has always tilted to some extent or another to the left, but the studio heads who ran it from the 1930s through the 1950s understood that its product must resonate with the American public as a whole to make money, regardless of their filmmakers' personal politics. Or as Sam Goldwyn is frequently attributed as saying, "Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union".
For Hollywood, the late 1960s began to mark a retreat from that philosophy. In a Wall Street Journal piece a few years ago, Michael Medved used the mid-1960s transition from the Hays Office, which acted as an industry-wide censor, to the G/PG/R/X ratings system we now take for granted, as being, effectively, the end of the golden age of movies. And, as Medved notes, that change influenced not just Hollywood's content, but its box office returns as well. Medved writes that in 1965, "44 million Americans went out to the movies every week. A mere four years later, that number had collapsed to 17.5 million":
Salvation only came with the movies of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
And while there were numerous films made in the 1970s that are now justifiably viewed as classics, for the most part, those films were nowhere near as profitable as the great movies of the past. To make money again, Hollywood needed two men named Spielberg and Lucas to return the industry to escapist, popcorn fare.The biggest film at the Academy Awards? March of the Penguins.
The result was a series of big budget, enjoyable, if often mindless, action-filled movies, typically released in the summer when kids were on vacation, which allowed Hollywood to stay profitable, beginning with Spielberg's Jaws in 1975, and Lucas's first Star Wars movie in 1977. That streak continued all the way through this year's Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, which Chris Anderson, the author of The Long Tail credits with single-handedly preventing yet another year of shrinking ticket sales.
As blogger Charlie Richards noted this past February, "it's a big year for films nobody will see", to the point where March of the Penguins, which won for best documentary, made more money than any of the Best Picture Nominees. And as author and blogger John Scazi wrote at the time, "When Hollywood's best films can't compete with chilled, aquatic birds, there's something going on."