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Literature Review – Blockbusters
Word Count: 1,010

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Academic Journals

Acland, C. R., 2013. Senses of Success and the Rise of the Blockbuster. Film History, Vol. 25, 11-18.

In this text Acland takes a step back to discuss the specific definition of the term ‘blockbuster’. He provides a concise yet detailed history of its usage, while also questioning why it can be applied to ‘describe many different film styles and uses, yet still be understood as relatively coherent’. The traditional meaning in the 1950s was a marker of a certain film’s box-office success. However, the author comes to the conclusion that the phrase’s use implies an understanding of not only financial gain and budget figures, but also of the themes and tropes encompassed by the film, as well as its cultural success and impact upon the audience.

Lee, F. L. F., 2006. Audience Taste Divergence over Time: An Analysis of U.S. Movies’ Box Office in Hong Kong, 1989–2004. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 83, 883-900.

In this case study on how culture affects audience valuation of foreign media products, Lee provides a quantitative analysis of predicting box-office performance of Hollywood blockbusters in Hong Kong cinemas. The author finds that foreign audiences may not ‘share the norms and background knowledge needed for appreciating the product’, and backs this conclusion up with extensive data. Despite this, the study does have a number of limitations; the assumed linear relationship between time and box-office performance oversimplifies the many factors involved in an audience’s changing tastes in film. Moreover, solely analysing box-office revenue isn’t a sufficient method of finding how an audience enjoys or values a movie.

Moulton, C, 2014. Midnight in Middle Earth: Blockbusters and Opening-night Culture. New Review of Film and Television Studies, 12, 1-23.

Moulton assesses societal reception of Hollywood blockbusters, with the phenomenon of midnight openings as a focal point. He argues that ‘while film may be the centrepiece of cinema-going … it’s not film that’s a cultural event, but cinema-going’. The idea of cinema-going as a cultural practice, as a means to fit in, and as an act of ‘togetherness’, demonstrates the impact that blockbuster franchises can have on certain groups. While Moulton includes financial statistics and multiple statements from forums and social media to back up his claims, by attempting to encompass such multi-faceted subject matter, which includes the motivation, advertising, and participation of such events, the extent of his analysis lacks a certain degree of depth as a result.

Books

Buckland, W., 2006. Directed by Steven Spielberg – Politics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Warren Buckland is Reader in Film Studies at Oxford Brookes University (!) and is also the editor of the quarterly journal ‘The New Review of Film and Television Studies’. In this book, the author provides a detailed, in-depth exploration of Spielberg’s use of editing, camerawork, and mise en scène. shying away from creating a biography or any kind of overarching narrative in favour of academic insight into Spielberg’s creative techniques. The widespread appeal of Spielberg’s blockbusters illustrates what popular Hollywood cinema is capable of achieving, and thus this book is a valuable case study on the impact of blockbusters.

Elberse, A., 2014. Blockbusters: Why Big Hits – and Big Risks – are the Future of the Entertainment Industry. Faber & Faber.

Elberse is Harvard Business School’s expert on the entertainment industry; for more than a decade she has researched television, music, and film. Through statistical scrutiny, the author delves into the strategies studios utilise to ensure the success of high-budget blockbusters, and also discusses how these strategies are beginning to be adopted not just in the entertainment industry, but also the business world at large; large brands are picking up on the idea of a brand ‘story’, and more importantly, capturing an audience’s attention, and convincing them to view, read, or listen to these stories. Elberse can be commended for avoiding a subjective style, stating her aim “is not to pass judgment on what makes ‘good’ or ‘bad’ products, or to question purely creative decisions; there’s no arguing about taste.”

King, G., 2017. New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction. I.B.Tauris.

Geoff King has published numerous books, mainly focused on Hollywood and American independent cinema. This book offers a very useful introduction to the ‘post-classical’ period, along with concise analysis that discusses corporate Hollywood and the blockbuster film. King provides a comprehensive examination of the rise of the American auteur, as well as the popularity of massive blockbuster films and the dominance of multi-media conglomerates. The author’s decision to approach the subject matter from three angles – style, industry, and social-historical context – means that the resulting text provides a well-rounded context for blockbusters, giving the reader a sense of the scale of the industry involved in producing these films.

Online Resources

Bennett, B. (2015) ‘The Cinema of Michael Bay: An Aesthetic of Excess’, Senses of Cinema, June.
Available at: http://sensesofcinema.com/2015/michael-bay-dossier/cinema-of-michael-bay/
(Accessed: 25/10/2017)

At the start of this text the author claims that Bay’s films ‘epitomise contemporary Hollywood cinema’. However, rather than dismissing them as simplistic and inarticulate, by  studying the director’s style and thematics the author considers the ways in which Bay’s films tell us a great deal about emerging mainstream aesthetics of modern digital cinema. Bennett argues that Bay’s filmography is a case study, an example of how modern Hollywood blockbuster cinema – with a focus on spectacle – remains attractive to a huge global audience. The only drawback is that the author bases their argument on only one of Bay’s films, which at points makes their case seem limited; to reinforce the validity of his argument, Bennett could have drawn from the rest of Bay’s work too.

Lavik, E, 2009. New Narrative Depths? Spectacle and Narrative in Blockbuster Cinema Revisited. Nordicom Review.
Available at: http://www.academia.edu/4672461/New_Narrative_Depths_Spectacle_and_Narrative_in_Blockbuster_Cinema_Revisited
(Accessed: 25/10/2017)

In his article Lavik discusses the notion that ‘Hollywood narratives have somehow changed since the classical period’, and that storytelling standards have fallen following that era. The author considers whether this is due to a shift in audience’s genre preference (eg. Westerns, biopics, and literature adaptations have been overtaken by science fiction and action-adventure films in terms of prevalence), an increasing reliance on digital special effects, or a number of other factors. Although well-argued and researched, Lavik clearly possesses some degree of nostalgia for a previous time in cinematic history, consequently causing the article to feel somewhat biased.

Thomas, A. (2004) ‘Anatomy of a Blockbuster’, The Guardian, 11th June.
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2004/jun/11/3
(Accessed: 26/10/2017)

In this article, the author focuses on the second-highest grossing film of 2004, Spider-Man 2, breaking down the movie’s budget and providing insight into how the colossal figure of 200 million dollars will have been divided up for the various departments involved in making such a film. The layout of the article makes it easy to visualise the amount of work and money that is poured into an average summer blockbuster hit, presenting a glimpse into the Hollywood machine. Thomas’ article gives us insight into how corporate Hollywood views big-budget blockbuster films as merely a business venture, or an investment.