Steven Spielberg has predicted a “meltdown” in the film industry as more Hollywood blockbusters flop at the box office, which will lead to increased ticket prices and less choice for cinema-goers.
The director suggested that audiences would end up paying different prices for each film, perhaps more than three times as much to see a superhero blockbuster as a political epic.
He was speaking at the University of Southern California alongside George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, who also suggested that the industry was facing huge changes.
Lucas said Hollywood would evolve to become more like Broadway with fewer films being released, each of which would stay in cinemas for a year and cost more to see.
The pessimistic outlook from two of the industry’s most successful directors follows criticism that studios are investing too heavily in movies based on comic book superheroes, and have shown a lack of commitment to original ideas.
By one count, a record 31 sequels and 17 remakes of previously filmed concepts are expected this year.
In a so-called “tent pole” strategy, studios increasingly pour more of their resources into a small number of films which are expected to make a large proportion of their profits. These releases are accompanied by massive marketing budgets at the expense of releasing more innovative projects.
Spielberg and Lucas, whose movies have made billions of dollars since the 1970s, said that even they were now having trouble getting films made.
Spielberg disclosed that his critically acclaimed biopic Lincoln, for which Daniel Day-Lewis won the best actor Oscar in February, almost ended up as a television movie without a cinema release.
It came “this close”, he said, adding that he had to part-own a studio to ensure it reached cinemas.
The director said ideas being put forward by young filmmakers were now considered too “fringey” for Hollywood.
He added: “That’s the big danger, and there’s eventually going to be an implosion, or a big meltdown. There’s going to be an implosion where three or four, or maybe even a half dozen, mega-budget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.”
Audiences would eventually see varying ticket prices and “you’re gonna have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man, you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln,” he added.
There have been several major Hollywood flops in recent years, led by the science fiction epic John Carter which led to Disney taking a $200 million writedown and the departure of the studio chairman.
Universal Pictures’ Battleship, based on the board game and starring the pop singer Rihanna, also bombed last year after costing $220 million to make. More recently, another science fiction film After Earth, starring the usually highly bankable Will Smith, recorded disappointing results when it opened in the US at the end of May.
Lucas said productions on cable television were now “much more adventurous” than those released by the film industry.
He added: “I think eventually the Lincolns will go away and they’re going to be on television. You’re talking about Steven Spielberg and George Lucas can’t get their movie into a theatre. The pathway to get into theatres is really getting smaller and smaller.”
The two directors were speaking to students at the University of Southern California, where Lucas studied. Spielberg was rejected from the university’s film school as a teenager.