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Genres and industry trends
- Ask nearly any British film critic what they think was the defining Dork Age of the nation's film industry at large, and they will return with one simple answer: the 1930s.
- It was the height of The Golden Age of Hollywood, and British film was trying to respond... and flailing in the wind. In 1927, the UK passed a quota on foreign (i.e. American) films that, far from protecting British studios as was intended, merely led the Hollywood studios to establish British and Canadian subsidiaries to crank out "quota quickies" for the British market. These films were dirt-cheap, and often downright dreadful; an Urban Legend claims that British cinema houses used the quota quickies as time to clean and even vacuum the theatres, as they so often showed to empty seats. British studios in turn had to cut costs if they hoped to compete.
- As for the law's effects on Canadian cinema... well, it wasn't the harbinger of a Dork Age so much as it was a Genre-Killer. The entire Canadian film industry, already reeling from the high-profile flop of Carry on, Sergeant!note , was overgrown by Hollywood studios churning out quota quickies for British consumption. Unlike British film, which soon recovered after the repeal of the quota in 1938, Canadian film took until the '70s to recover, and required direct government sponsorship of the arts to get the shot in the arm that it needed to do so.
- That said, not all critics view the '30s as a Dork Age for British film. For some recent revisionists, while many of the quota quickies were indeed crap, the era also allowed many aspiring British filmmakers like Michael Powell, Alfred Hitchcock, and David Lean to cut their teeth, using low-budget films to gain experience that they would later put to use in much greater masterpieces. Furthermore, the decade also saw a boom in comedies, particularly with the importation of music-hall talent into cinema. Indeed, some have argued that, without the experience gained during the "Dork Age" of the '30s, the Golden Age of British cinema that began in the late '40s and lasted through the '60s could never have happened!
- In any case, the British got their revenge when Hollywood plunged into a Dork Age of its own in the 1950s and especially the '60s, during the Fall of the Studio System. Hollywood spent the '50s struggling to keep up with mounting pressures from television, independent filmmakers, foreign (especially British) cinema, changing cultural norms, the Red Scare, the collapse of the star system, and antitrust actions, and while they were still turning out quality films, a vast gap was emerging between the epic movies that they hinged their box-office success on and the rest of their output. By the '60s, these pressures had collectively overwhelmed them and had started to impact the quality of their films. For every smash hit like The Longest Day or The Sound of Music, there were a slew of copycats like Doctor Dolittle and Tora! Tora! Tora! that bombed, while old standbys like Westerns and Sword & Sandal epics were hitting diminishing returns due to audience burnout. The Dork Age ended with Hollywood's creative renaissance in the '70s, though it wasn't until the Blockbuster Age in the '80s when the studios fully turned themselves around from a business standpoint.
Again, though, what seems like a Dork Age later gets revised. Today, the '50s is seen by some, such as James Harvey (author of Movie Love in the '50s), as one of Hollywood's best periods. Changes like Method Acting (popularized by Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Paul Newman) first came from this time. Auteur directors like Samuel Fuller, Nicholas Ray, and others came to prominence in this decade. Douglas Sirk's melodramas, initially seen as typical of '50s kitsch, are today seen as Deconstruction avant-la-lettre, or rather pendant-la-lettre (since it originated in the same decade as Sirk). This was also the great period for Film Noir, The Western, and B-Movie science fiction and horror, and the end of Hollywood's monopoly on owning theatres paved the way for the rise of independent and avant-garde films. It's worth noting that this revisionist take was being made even at the time, as French film critics in the '50s were pointing to Hollywood as an unsung hotbed for innovation and True Art in film, leading them to start making their own, American-inspired films in what became known as the French New Wave — a movement that in turn influenced the New Hollywood period in American film.
- A big part of the reason why the auteur critics of the French New Wave lavished so much praise on Hollywood was because they famously held it up as a counterpart to their native film industry at the time, which they castigated as being trapped in its own Dork Age. Later historians have argued that the likes of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were being unfair, and made French cinema into a strawman to bolster their points. But even a revisionist like Bertrand Tavernier admits that the '50s were a low point for French cinema, with largely forgettable films, poorly-thought literary adaptations that the screenwriters themselves disliked, and the best work being done in the French independent scene of Jean-Pierre Melville, Jacques Tati, Jean Cocteau, and Robert Bresson (all of whom were championed by the New Wave).
- French cinema would enter into another Dork Age during The '90s and the Turn of the Millennium, a scene described in Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep where post-New Wave filmmakers and other independents felt so marginalized that they felt no reason to expect any audience for their films.
- The '80s are seen by both American and British film critics and historians as a major low point. This period of neoliberalism (Reagan and Thatcher) saw many of the great New Hollywood directors out to lunch or in exile (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman), as well as a great many now-forgotten mainstream films that attempted to copy the success of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Films that are celebrated today, like Blade Runner, Raging Bull, and The Thing, were flops early on that would only later be Vindicated by History. In general, critics note that this was the first decade in American cinema in which the most exciting filmmakers came from the independent scene rather than the mainstream (before, it was at least a case that both Hollywood and the indies produced excellent films, and the former kept a window open for the latter to climb in), with Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, Richard Linklater, and Abel Ferrara rising to prominence in this era as cult directors.
In the UK, meanwhile, the era of Thatcherism and reduced spending saw the elimination of tax credits designed to facilitate foreign productions filming there, leading to a growing dependence on the home video and television markets. Goldcrest Films briefly became a major player in the British film industry, winning Best Picture Oscars in 1981 and '82 for Chariots of Fire and Gandhi, only to crash and burn mid-decade with a string of flops. A few cult films by Terry Gilliam, Stephen Frears, and Withnail & I punctuated what was otherwise a dry decade.
The leading exception to this view is with the comedy genre, with the '80s often seen as a Golden Age for Hollywood comedy. Relaxed censorship combined with the end of the New Hollywood era (with its focus on gritty dramas) allowed Lighter and Softer fare to reenter theaters, this time with far more edge than would've been permissible in the '50s or '60s. At the same time, Saturday Night Live and SCTV had been important training grounds for young comedic talent since the mid-'70s, and the former would continue to be so even as it recovered from its own Dork Age in the 1980-81 season. '80s stars like Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Rick Moranis, and John Candy are now seen as icons, with films like Ghostbusters (1984), Groundhog Day, Stripes, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Beverly Hills Cop, and more acclaimed as classics. Speculative Fiction films were also robust during the decade; the science fiction boom that Star Wars kicked off lasted into the mid-'80s (and arguably never truly went away, even to this day), the horror genre saw the slasher wave, and there was a revival in fantasy films led by the likes of Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Dark Crystal, and The NeverEnding Story. 1982 in particular is a high-water mark, with the Hugo Award nominees from that year all still seen as classics decades later - Blade Runner beat out The Dark Crystal, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
- For American horror fans, two periods of time are often remembered as low points in the history of the genre. One thing they both had in common was that they were periods of unparalleled prosperity and security in the United States, the conventional wisdom holding that the success of the horror genre is inversely proportional to how well the rest of the country is doing, since people are less primed to be scared when they feel safe and happy. This explains why the genre boomed from the '60s through the '80s (a time when people were afraid of declining moral values, a crumbling economy, and nuclear war) and from the mid '00s into the present (when fear of terrorism, bigotry, and economic malaise ran high).
- The first era is the late '40s through the '50s. The Universal Horror cycle was sputtering out around this time, with only Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, and quite tellingly, the parodies by Abbott and Costello being all that fondly remembered nowadays. The rest of the genre, meanwhile, was descending into drive-in B-Movie hell as a slew of cheaply-made sci-fi and monster movies tried to copy the success of hits like Them!, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and It Came From Outer Space. Overall, the era provided quite a bit of material for Mystery Science Theater 3000, and with the exception of the undisputed classics, most '50s horror cinema is remembered as kitsch. As noted above, this era is remembered nowadays for being the height of American middle-class prosperity, and while the Soviets were a menace, the specter of World War III still seemed remote until the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. While Hammer Horror, Roger Corman, and (on television) The Twilight Zone would provide the beginnings of a comeback, the genre isn't usually held to have fully gotten out of its Dork Age until the late '60s, after which it's often seen as have entered a Golden Age that lasted for roughly two decades. After that...
- The second era is The '90s. With the "Big Three" Slasher Movie franchises (Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street) all falling into their own Dork Ages in 1989 that are detailed below, the genre as a whole went dormant in the first half of the decade. Very few horror films had much success between 1989 and 1996, and the few that did (such as The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en) were typically closer to the Psychological Thriller or "horror-adjacent" end of the spectrum. The sudden success of Scream in 1996 made horror popular again in the mainstream, but the wave of Follow the Leader teen horror flicks that followed is often held in hindsight to be a continuation of the Dork Age, with many horror fans seeing it as little more than a half-hearted, sanitized recycling of '80s slasher tropes — especially given how Scream had mercilessly skewered and discredited many of those same tropes. (Wes Craven had intended for it to be a Genre-Killer for slashers; one could argue that, in a roundabout way, it wound up being so in the long run.) Julia Alexander of Polygon refers to the '90s as the "WB period of horror" due to the fact that many horror films from the decade looked like pilots for a Teen Drama on The WB, filled with good-looking young people getting (bloodlessly) hacked to death by generic slasher villains.
Much like how the late '40s and '50s were the height of post-war prosperity, the '90s are remembered as the age of the Pax Americana, the time when America was at the height of its power and the only serious problems in society were mostly felt by groups who were already on its margins. It's not for nothing that Scream and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, two works that are now often held up as high points of '90s horror, are best known as parodies of the genre, looking back on the films of the '70s and '80s with a great deal of snark. There are, of course, films from this decade that are still acclaimed today, but they tended to be diamonds in the rough, such that the horror website Bloody-Disgusting devoted a series of articles to unearthing those hidden '90s horror gems so as to demonstrate that the decade wasn't all bad. The Dork Age ended around 2002-04 with the success of the American adaptation of The Ring, the boom in the zombie genre (kicked off by 28 Days Later), and the rise of the "Splat Pack", a group of ultraviolent horror filmmakers that included James Wan, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth, and has maintained a decent place ever since.
- For slasher movies specifically, the latter Dork Age started a fair bit earlier than the '90s. While the biggest franchises remained successful until the end of the '80s, 1985 saw the slasher genre as a whole start to succumb to Sturgeon's Law as the rise of home video led to a slew of Direct-to-Video copycats and, with it, a general fatigue among both casual moviegoers and genre fans. They turned to more adult-oriented horror films and/or action thrillers which offered their own exciting thrills and kills — sometimes with the bonus of higher production values and sophisticated direction, scripts, and acting. (In 1986, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives was the highest-grossing slasher of the year, but only ranked 46th overall. The Fly (1986) ranked 23rd and Aliens 7th — and both won technical Oscars!) Many newer slashers, trying to follow in the footsteps of Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees and A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger, focused less on the scares and more on the larger-than-life personalities of the killers in the hopes of building a franchise around them; inevitably, these new series would only get out one or two good films, at most, before sequelitis set in. Tellingly, this was also around the time when a number of major slasher parodies started coming out, such as April Fools' Day and Evil Laugh, and even franchise slashers like Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives were not immune to poking fun at the genre's cliches. By the end of the decade, even the big franchises had gone off the rails, taking the entire American horror genre with them (as detailed above).
- At the Turn of the Millennium, the Romantic Comedy genre was seen as neither particularly romantic nor particularly funny. While The '90s are often remembered as a Golden Age for the genre, the 2000s felt to many fans like a warmed-over retread of what worked in the past, with too many films relying on increasingly contrived Meet Cute setups, forced Cringe Comedy, and outlandish High Concept hooks, all while the characters got less interesting (this was when the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl was coined to critique a particular type of shallow Love Interest) and the actors had less chemistry. By the late '00s, this led to more serious romantic dramas coming into vogue, led by the Twilight films and the adaptations of Nicholas Sparks' novels, while films like (500) Days of Summer started deconstructing the genre. The Dork Age ended in the late 2010s with Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I've Loved Before, which heralded a revival of the genre by hearkening back to its '90s golden age.
- American action movies fell into one from roughly 2005 to 2015. Many action fans like to blame The Bourne Supremacy, which, despite being a good movie, has been argued as a Genre Original Sin for action movies due to its popularization of Jitter Cam, leading to a slew of films that copied its style without recognizing what made it work in that film. Others blame the success of Michael Bay's body of work, which employed the Jitter Cam technique extensively. Whatever it was, the result was that many action scenes were hard to follow to the point of incoherence, with the Expendables franchise often cited as an especially egregious offender given that its All-Star Cast (particularly writer and, on the first film, director Sylvester Stallone) came mostly from the '80s Golden Age of Hollywood action. To many of its critics, this style was being used as a lazy substitute for proper action choreography that let filmmakers turn anybody into an Action Hero, without actually requiring much complicated stuntwork from them or effort to conceal their stunt doubles. The nadir for many was a scene in the 2014 film Taken 3 where Liam Neeson's character climbed over a fence, a seemingly ordinary action beat that the film nonetheless felt required fourteen cuts in six seconds. In the latter half of the 2010s, films like Mad Max: Fury Road and the John Wick franchise that favor long, stable takes have signaled a backlash against the style.
- Moviegoing in India, especially in Mumbai, became truly oppressive in the 21st Century. In most democracies, you saw loosening of censorship over a period of time, but censorship in Indian cinema and Bollywood is comparable to dictatorships and theocracies in terms of restrictions on political content, showing sexuality or bringing anti-authoritarian sentiments. While the latter three loosened somewhat recently, conservatives decided to combat it by putting anti-smoking and anti-alcohol sentiments, this they did by adding messages that came on the screen in big letters any time a character smoke and drank on-screen. Indeed, Woody Allen removed Blue Jasmine from Indian screens for these very reasons.
- Many Japanese moviegoers feel that their film industry has gone into this territory - especially during the 2010s. Even though certain movies have earned critical acclaim, such as the Oscar-winning film Departures, Confessions, ShinGodzilla, Your Name, and Palme d'Or-winner Shoplifters, many Japanese people feel that most locally produced films have cheap cinematography, cliched plots, low production values, and a general lack of ambition. Adding to this, most live-action movies produced are either based on manga series or light novels and have received backlash from fans of said series (especially from North American fans). Big names in Japanese filmmaking have expressed their dissatisfaction with the drought of original movies, and Takeshi Kitano in particular claims that the industry is in "a state of demise". Here are a couple of reasons why the industry is going downhill:
- There are too many locally produced films. According to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, the annual number of domestic films has more than doubled since 2000. While this may be seen as positive, producers and distributors are either uninterested in or unwilling to export most of them worldwide.
- Not many investors are willing to gamble on young directors with original ideas. Instead, they generally decide to fund live-action adaptations of manga series or light novels, since they are less of a financial risk and pull in greater audiences. Even some big-name directors like Hirokazu Koreeda have admitted to the difficulty in finding funds for their movies despite past box-office hits, and have ended up looking for investors abroad.
- On a related note, television has played a big role in this well. In 2019, the top three highest-grossing live-action Japanese films in the country were Bayside Shakedown, its sequel, and Antarctica, all produced by Fuji Television. The Bayside Shakedown films are spin-offs of a popular television show at the time, which is stuck in No Export for You hell and as such has no real foreign audience. Moreover, Japanese TV is largely made for distracted viewing, meant to be watched while doing housework, homework or eating dinner. As such, most of the story is told in a simple, easy-to-digest manner, with actors giving melodramatic performances as they would on stage, rather than in a film. Even these tend to suffer from poor working conditions and low budgets.
- The New '10s saw adult comedy films fall into this territory. Throughout the 2000s, comedies were one of Hollywood's most dominant genres, with the works of Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, and Todd Phillips often being some of the highest grossing films of their release years. 2010 however, marked a turning point, as stricter MPAA guidelines made it harder to portray borderline-vulgar material, particularly prominent in these films. Social attitudes towards humor in general also shifted early in the decade, especially regarding the constant use of certain actions and language that had come to be considered offensive. The Hangover sequels, Bad Teacher, Ted, 21 Jump Street (and its sequel), and Neighbors were among the few bona-fide comedic successes for the succeeding years. The rise of movie ticket prices and growth streaming services also caused many people to save their movie theater experiences for event movies and blockbusters. With the exception of the superhero comedy Deadpool and the animated film Sausage Party, modestly budgeted female-geared comedy films pretty much became the only commercially-viable type films during the 2010s, beginning with the success of Bad Moms.
- Horror movies in Hollywood fell into one in the 2000's. Most of the iconic horror films of the decade were British (Shaun of the Dead and The Descent) or Hispanic (The Orphanage and Pan's Labyrinth). There were some good films such as Film/Saw, The Ring, and Dawn of the Dead, but most other horror films were either slashers, or were trying to cash in on the success of the former two films. The critical and commercial successes of Drag Me to Hell and Film/Zombieland in 2009 ended the dry spell, and while 2012's Cabin In The Woods was a well received hit, it wasn't until The Conjuring in 2013 that this Dork Age officially ended. The following years saw an exponential rise in the popularity of horror films, especially in 2016 and 2017. Helping in this resurgence was the indie studio A24 (behind The Witch, It Comes at Night, Hereditary), and the production company Blumhouse (behind Get Out, The Purge franchise, and The Invisible Man).
- Depending on your opinion, either Alien³ or Alien: Resurrection is this to the Alien series.
- While in popular culture, Alien³ is considered the turning point, many fans of the franchise appreciate the Assembly Cut's greater focus on character drama and its return to the themes and atmosphere of the first film, attributing most of its problems to its infamously Troubled Production and seeing a buried auteur project underneath the rubble of such. For fans of Alien³, Resurrection, which they see as a subverted gung-ho action flick, was the point where the series truly crashed. Prometheus, a 2012 Stealth Prequel to the original Alien, saw Ridley Scott return to the franchise, but met a divisive reception and came to be seen as part of Scott's own continued Dork Age (as described below), as did its follow-up Alien: Covenant (also directed by Scott) in 2017, indicating that the series is not quite out of the woods yet.
- The Alien vs. Predator films are considered the nadir of both franchises. While the two have crossed over before, the films were considered inferior to previous team-ups and both films have the two lowest Rotten Tomatoes scores of all the films. note While AVP: Alien vs. Predator was criticized for its watered-down PG-13 rating, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem was panned for trying too hard to go in the opposite direction. Both the Aliens and the Predators underwent severe Villain Decay, and later films in both franchises have rendered the spinoffs non-canon.
- Many DC superhero movies largely thanks to Executive Meddling and questionable decisions made regarding the characters.
- Batman was in it deep during the late '90s. After Batman Returns, Tim Burton left the franchise, as did leading actor Michael Keaton. Executive Meddling caused Batman Forever to be campier and more toyetic than its predecessors. Following that film, the new lead actor Val Kilmer left as well, and then the camp factor went Up to Eleven with Batman & Robin. That film killed the Batman movie franchise for eight years until Batman Begins came out.
- The Superman series had it worse, as unlike Batman, the series never really escaped the hole it fell into. The series' decline initially comes off as a direct parallel to what happened to Batman—an increased focus on camp, spearheaded by producer Alexander Salkind. This led to long-time director Richard Donner getting replaced with Richard Lester for the poorly received Superman III, which had a heightened focus on comedy, both in script and through the introduction of Richard Pryor into the casting fold. Not helping matters was the Salkinds' attempt at a spinoff film for Supergirlnote turning out to be a critical and commercial dud. But things truly went off the rails when the Salkinds handed the film rights to The Cannon Group, who cheaply churned out the notorious Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which bombed heavily with reviewers and at the box office. Development Hell ensued for a fifth film —which was mostly delayed by frequent Executive Meddling, as famously detailed by Kevin Smith— that finally emerged as Superman Returns, decades later after Superman IV's release. Returns received decent reviews from critics, but it didn't gross as much as the studio expected and split the fanbase (no thanks to it being both an indecisive reboot and a sequel to the old films). Warner Bros. then decided to reboot the character with Man of Steel, which also doubled as the start of the DCEU.
- The beginnings of the DC Extended Universe were widely considered to be a Dork Age for DC superhero films as a whole, for what many perceived to be Warner Bros. trying to replicate the success of The Dark Knight Trilogy. The first three films released, despite receiving decent commercial grosses, had less-than-stellar receptions. The first entry, Man of Steel, received mixed reactions, and the subsequent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad (2016) were both critically panned. Batman v Superman, which was intended to launch several DC solo movies, was heavily criticized for trying to tell several stories at once, making no sense to non-comic book audiences and having unlikable characters and an excessively dark tone, which led to unfavorable comparisons to The Dark Age of Comic Books as well as to the previous year's Fantastic Four (2015) and the movie falling short of Warner Bros.' expectations. Suicide Squad was criticized for clearly being reworked in an effort to avoid the excessively dark tone of Batman v Superman, with terrible editing, tonal issues, a soundtrack whose placement of songs throughout the film was clearly an attempt to emulate Guardians of the Galaxy, and underdeveloped characters. The fallout resulted in Warner Bros. trying to course-correct the initial direction taken with the DCEU; a process which included hiring new producers to try re-working later films to be Lighter and Softer, and causing a majority of the planned films within the universe — The Batman, Flash, Cyborg, etc.— to see their development stalled.
The DCEU would later score its first real triumph in Wonder Woman (2017), which became the first critically-acclaimed DC film that wasn't centered around either Superman or Batman and performed far beyond expectations at the box office, but Justice League (2017) would prove that the DCEU wasn't out of troubled waters yet. A toxic combination of lackluster marketing, lackluster reviews, a notorious Troubled Production (which included a rushed production, a change in directors following a tragic death in the family, and costly reshoots that resulted in massive Special Effect Failure), some people involved (most notably producer Brett Ratner) becoming implicated in several sexual harassment scandals that started with Harvey Weinstein getting exposed as a sexual predator in that year, the negative reception of previous DCEU films (as well as following after the well-received Wonder Woman and competition from the MCU's acclaimed Thor: Ragnarok) as well as the fanbase that was onboard since Man of Steel feeling betrayed ultimately crippled the film's box office intake, which opened under $100M domestically and made a total of about $650 million worldwide, about the same as Man of Steel. For a film that has a estimated budget at $300 million reshoots included (which easily makes it one of the most expensive films ever produced), it was an outlook that spelled potential disaster not only for the film, but for the entire cinematic universe as a whole.
However, things have improved for the franchise, with several changes in management. In 2018, WB appointed Walter Hamada (producer of the acclaimed The Conjuring films) as president of DC Films, and fan-favorite comic book writer Geoff Johns took a more hands-on approach as a writer and creative consultant. Under this new management, the films would avoid the studio interference and excessively dark tones, while also providing a proper plan for the franchise. The first film released under restructuring was James Wan's Aquaman (2018), which received relatively positive critical reviews and grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. Likewise, David F. Sandberg's SHAZAM! (2019) was a moderate financial success but was critically acclaimed with a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Since Hamada had previously worked with Wan and Sandberg on the Conjuring movies, production on their DC films went smoothly with none of Executive Meddling that plagued previous DCEU movies, allowing the franchise to regain goodwill.
- The Crow went into one after people realized that there was money to be made after the first film was successful (even though Brandon Lee had died). The Crow: City of Angels was poorly received by most, which was not helped by the fact that Dimension cut out at least 20 minutes' worth of character development and important plot points, causing the film to feel rather disjointed at times. (And, of course, there's the atrocious performance by Lee's replacement, Vincent Perez, which, to paraphrase film critic Leonard Maltin, will cause you to wish his character had stayed dead.) The Crow: Salvation was considered a definite improvement, while most people see The Crow: Wicked Prayer as So Okay, It's Average. And now there's a remake in the works, and most people have very low expectations for how it will turn out.
- Friday the 13th:
- The fifth film, A New Beginning in 1985, was widely considered a disappointment by series fans, especially coming right on the heels of a film that had been subtitled The Final Chapter. The Plot Twist that the killer this time was a Jack the Ripoff of Jason Voorhees went over particularly poorly, and while it was still a hit, it was easily the lowest-grossing film in the series since the second one; the franchise would never again reach the box-office heights it did before this. Notably, the following film, Jason Lives, retconned various elements of this one and only took it as Broad Strokes canon, and met a much better reception for it.
- The series really lost its edge when the seventh film, The New Blood in 1988, was butchered by the MPAA to avoid an X rating, though the film itself is still regarded as pretty good in spite of it. The ultimate point of no return came with the eighth film, Jason Takes Manhattan the following year, which was a Franchise Killer that convinced Paramount (who had always been ashamed of the series' success) to offload the rights to the first film's director, who in turn sold them to New Line Cinema. New Line proceeded to churn out two very poorly-received installments that are viewed as So Bad, It's Good at best — one where Jason turned out to be a demonic entity capable of body surfing, and another where he went to space — before finally getting off their asses and making Freddy vs. Jason, a long-anticipated crossover with A Nightmare on Elm Street that, by and large, ended the Dork Age. The 2009 remake is also generally regarded as acceptable (or at least, better than most other horror remakes), though not great. The only redeeming value that many fans can universally agree on from the Dork Age is that Kane Hodder, who played Jason from the seventh film through the tenth, was pretty damn awesome in the role.
- The franchise is often claimed to have undergone a Dork Age during the Mid-Showa era, starting with either Son of Godzilla in 1967 or (more commonly) All Monsters Attack in 1969, one that lasted through the first half of The '70s. However, one is hard-pressed to explain exactly how the '70s flicks were any sillier or any 'worse' than the films that preceded them, given that Godzilla was already setting King Kong's crotch on fire, drunkenly tripping over buildings, chatting up a storm with Mothra and Rodan, dancing in outer space, and playing volleyrock with a giant shrimp during the '60s. It probably has more to do with the outlandishly low production values for a few of those films coupled with bad direction and poor acting. In fact, only one of the dork age films is considered particularly bad by a significant portion of the fanbase (and it still has its fans), with two films being considered almost on par with the '60s films and three other films falling squarely into divisive territory. Even the aforementioned bad films often fall into the So Bad, It's Good category for some people, with Mothra vs. Godzilla actually often considered the best Showa-era Godzilla film out of all of them. As a whole, most fans agree that the Showa era began picking itself back up with the release of Zone Fighter in 1973, which took the 'superhero' formula the Godzilla franchise had adopted and refined it into a much more streamlined yet equally enjoyable theme, by teaming up Godzilla with the show's eponymous Kyodai Hero and giving him plenty of monsters to fight, either with Zone or on his own.
- Lately, the Millennium series seems to be taking over this role, due to a lack of continuity and a perceived overuse of tropes lifted from popular anime of the time, though there is still some contention within the fandom on this.
- John Carpenter and Debra Hill thought that the story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode had run its course with the second film, and so Halloween III: Season of the Witch was their attempt to turn Halloween into a Genre Anthology series, with each film having a standalone story connected to the Halloween holiday. Fans and critics at the time, expecting more Michael, were put off when the new film was instead about witchcraft and an evil toy company trying to sacrifice children, causing the film to be treated as the Black Sheep of the series for years and the next film to return to the plot of the first two. More recent retrospectives, however, have been kinder to it, applauding its unique plot, its atmosphere and music, its satire of consumerism (in keeping with much of Carpenter's body of work), and its icky special effects. A popular opinion now is that it likely would've found its audience much sooner had it just been called Season of the Witch and not Halloween III, and that, given the below-mentioned Dork Ages, the series likely would've been better off in the long run had this film succeeded.
- The Halloween series entered its first real Dork Age with the fifth film, The Revenge of Michael Myers in 1989, and sank further into it with the sixth film, The Curse of Michael Myers in 1995. The common denominator in both films was the Curse of Thorn storyline, which tried to tie Michael to prophecies and an ancient cult that had never been hinted at in prior films; the Troubled Production on the sixth film in particular only made it that much worse. The series only got out of its Dork Age by way of a partial Continuity Reboot with Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later in 1998, which took only the first two films as canon and threw out everything that came after them (even if it meant that they also had to drop the popular fourth film). It was praised as a return to form and the best Halloween film since the first two, and the Dork Age seemed to be over, the series in good hands and back on track...
- ...only for it to fall right into a second Dork Age with Halloween: Resurrection in 2002, which featured a gimmicky (and dated) Internet/Reality TV story, series protagonist Laurie Strode getting unceremoniously killed off in the prologue, and the humiliating sight of Michael Myers getting smacked down (twice!) by Busta Rhymes, resulting in a film that many fans feel to be in the running with The Curse of Michael Myers for the title of the worst entry in the original series. As a result, they hit the reset button for the next film, a remake by Rob Zombie in 2007. That film was highly polarizing among fans, and Zombie's follow-up two years later was a critical and commercial dud and a Franchise Killer. It would be nine years before a new installment, titled simply Halloween (2018), would be made, the longest gap in franchise history. Fortunately, that film, another partial reboot/Revisiting the Roots installment that ignores every film past the 1978 original, has met a broadly positive reception as the best film in the series since at least 1998 if not 1978, seemingly ending the Dork Age once and for all.
- Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is universally ignored since its take on the series ended up being more or less a generic horror movie of the era, although there is more debate over Hellraiser: Bloodline, which is either seen as at least a good step back to the spirit of the first two films despite its troubled production (which resulted in the movie getting the Alan Smithee treatment) or as just Hellraiser IN SPACE!!!. Interestingly, the franchise's own creator Clive Barker has put both movies in a Dork Age on his own. His Hellraiser comics for Boom Studios serve as a direct sequel series to the first two movies, but so far have completely brushed aside the continuity from the other sequels.
- Then there's the straight-to-video sequels. Well, as always YMMV, but generally when Hellraiser fans recommend the series to someone they're usually only talking about the first two films - and maybe, possibly Bloodline. It is worth mentioning that with the exception of the latest, all movies after Bloodline were Dolled Up Installments where the studio slapped Pinhead onto unrelated horror scripts they had bought. In addition to often making Pinhead's inclusion in the stories feel disjointed, this also results in the problem of turning him into a generic Always Chaotic Evil slasher villain to fit him in better, while he started out much more complex and nuanced.
- Highlander II: The Quickening started a Dork Age from which the Highlander film series would never recover. The TV series did all right for a time, until the end of the fifth season alienated many fans by introducing a demonic entity into the series (when no previous episodes foreshadowed it, or implied that such things existed in the Highlander universe), and killing off a popular character abruptly and anticlimactically in an Idiot Plot.
- James Bond:
- While many fans consider Sean Connery to be the definitive Bond, his last two films, Diamonds Are Forever and Never Say Never Again, are considered a step down from prior ones. Connery initially left the series after You Only Live Twice, but when his replacement George Lazenby met a poor reception in his lone Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Connery was very quickly brought back as Bond for Diamonds Are Forever, which was widely panned as campy and boring. Connery departed the series for good afterwards, but came back years later for Never Say Never Again, a loose remake of Thunderball which, due to some complex copyright tangles, was made by a different production company than Eon Productions and was positioned as a dueling movie with the official Bond film Octopussy in 1983. The resulting film received a mixed reception; some liked the world-weary cynicism that the 52-year-old Connery brought to Bond, while others thought he was over-the-hill (though to be fair, the same complaint was lobbed at Roger Moore around the same time; see below).
- The Roger Moore era is often considered a Dork Age among Bond fans, especially in comparison to the Connery films. Detractors argued that the plots became weaker and campier, with less focus on characterization and action and more focus on gadgets, locations, and chasing popular trends in film and pop culture. Connery himself famously stated that he regarded the Moore films as a Self-Parody of Bond, and even Moore believed that both Connery and Daniel Craig's takes on the character were superior. Although this era did have its highlights like The Spy Who Loved Me, it also had its dark abysses like A View to a Kill and Moonraker. Of particular note was Moore's age; he was actually older than Connery by three years, and by the end of his run as Bond in the mid '80s, it was obvious. (He was genuinely squicked out when he learned that he was older than the mother of his female co-star in A View to a Kill.) The Man with the Golden Gun is divisive, with some considering it on par with Moonraker and other fans feeling it to be Moore's equivalent to Goldfinger and much better than made out to be. For Your Eyes Only is unique in that it was a Roger Moore Bond film without gadgetry — it was given a mixed reception in 1981, but thirty years later, even fans who didn't like Roger Moore seem to like it. For music fans, on the other hand, the era is most often fondly looked at as the golden age of Bond theme songs, from "Nobody Does it Better" (Carly Simon) to "Live and Let Die" (Paul McCartney and Wings) to "A View to a Kill" (Duran Duran).
- For a long time, the Timothy Dalton movies were seen as a Dork Age, with Licence to Kill being so gory and violent that many felt it barely resembled a Bond film. Nowadays, however, the Dalton movies are seen as prototypes for the Daniel Craig era, having had the bad luck of hitting about twenty years too early. In addition, the Bond that Dalton portrays is much closer to the Bond that Ian Fleming wrote: a stone-cold killer with a hinted-at lust for violence whose womanizing, used to paint him as a playa during the Connery era, made him come across as a sexual predator.
- The consensus on the Pierce Brosnan age is that it got progressively worse as time went on. GoldenEye, the first film with Brosnan as Bond, is the only one with a Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes (even Moonraker has a Fresh score on RT, although just barely), and is Brosnan's equivalent of The Spy Who Loved Me or For Your Eyes Only as the film that even his critics tend to enjoy. (It also had an absolutely kick-ass video game adaptation, which makes it nostalgic for a whole generation of '90s kids.) On the other hand, it ended with Die Another Day, which fan consensus views as a rival to Moonraker as the worst film in the series. The fact that, around the same time, the Austin Powers series was parodying Bond to great success didn't help matters. Even Brosnan doesn't seem to think fondly of his tenure as James Bond. In a documentary made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the franchise, Brosnan said he can only remember filming GoldenEye, and that the rest "blurred together."
Whether or not the era as a whole was a Dork Age depends on one's opinion of Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough, the two films in between GoldenEye and Die Another Day and the first ones made after the death of longtime producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli. Detractors argue that they were too over-the-top and had some questionable casting choices (most notably '90s bombshell Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist), while their fans argue that they were fun, stylish, and successfully brought Bond into The Blockbuster Age of Hollywood. Tomorrow Never Dies in particular has been reappraised for its Harsher in Hindsight plot, which turned out to be fairly prescient of the power of agenda-driven media (both traditional and online) to shape current events, as well as Britain's national soul-searching over its declining place in the world.
- A large chunk of the fanbase was expecting this when Daniel Craig was announced (there was a "Bond's Not Blond" movement after his announcement), but was averted when shown that Craig was actually pretty awesome. Like Dalton, his films hewed much closer to Bond's characterization in the novels, with the first three films acting as something of an origin trilogy for him. That said, some Moore and Brosnan fans consider the Craig era to be a Dork Age, arguing that Craig-era Bond has taken so many pages out of Jason Bourne's book that he no longer resembles Bond at all. Specifically, the plots are heavily toned down from past films, with few of their over-the-top villains, gadgets, or science fiction elements.
Within the Craig series, fan opinion tends to look favorably on Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall as his best films, while Quantum of Solace and Spectre are generally seen as falling into this trope. Quantum is frequently criticized for poor direction and a plot that tried to marry the Darker and Edgier style of Casino Royale (2006) with a more conventional Bond Super Villain, with mixed results (stealing Bolivia's water just doesn't measure up to past Evil Plans). Spectre, meanwhile, is disliked for a poorly-received attempt at Canon Welding with the prior Craig films, as well as for giving a backstory to Ernst Stavro Blofeld that many fans felt cheapened both the character and Bond himself.
- The third of the "big three" '80s slasher franchises (after the aforementioned Friday the 13th and Halloween), A Nightmare on Elm Street, reached its commercial peak with the third and fourth films, Dream Warriors in 1987 and The Dream Master the following year; Dream Warriors is generally regarded as the better film, but The Dream Master still has its fans. However, decay set in hard with the fifth film, The Dream Child in 1989, a Franchise Killer that convinced New Line Cinema to end the series with the next film. That film, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991, was the point at which the series became completely impossible to take seriously. While the non-canon spinoff Wes Craven's New Nightmare in 1994 didn't restart the series, it was very popular among fans and, at the very least, restored its pride, while Freddy vs. Jason in 2002 also got a decent reception. The poorly-received remake in 2010, on the other hand, seems to have put Freddy to sleep for good.
- The RoboCop franchise has been stuck in one since 1993 with the release of RoboCop 3, where the once famously ultraviolent series went for a PG-13 rating and shifted its target audience towards children. It continued with RoboCop: The Series, which likewise was targeted towards children and featured RoboCop using Non-Lethal Warfare against his enemies. The animated series RoboCop: Alpha Commando also hurt the franchise, turning the title character into Inspector Gadget. RoboCop: Prime Directives tried and failed to move things back to the first two movies, featuring what many considered a nonsensical plot and a miscast RoboCop in the form of Page Fletcher, who moved awkwardly in the suit and was significantly shorter that most of the cast. The reboot was met with mixed reactions, mostly due to it being PG-13, a decision to make RoboCop's suit mostly black, and a scene mocking the original design. It too bombed, keeping this franchise stuck in a Dork Age.
- Saw fans feel that the series fell into one with the fourth and fifth films, where the Jigsaw killer became a Legacy Character whose identity was taken up by a new killer, who was retconned into previous films as having been Jigsaw's accomplice all along. While the sixth film is generally considered a Surprisingly Improved Sequel and a bright spot among the later films (as long as one focuses on the film's standalone story rather than the series' Myth Arc), by that point serious box-office attrition had set in, and Saw 3D (intended as a Grand Finale) was polarizing enough that fans who didn't like it will happily declare that there were only three films in the series. The reaction to the years-later eighth film Jigsaw ranged from mixed to positive and wasn't nearly as divisive as Saw 3D had been, though only time (and further sequels) will tell if the series is truly out of the Dork Age.
- The Star Trek: The Next Generation-derived Star Trek films are seen as this to the Trek movie series. The Star Trek: The Original Series films were mostly critical and commercial hits, and at worst moderately profitable despite poor critical reactions, but most of the TNG films were critical and/or commercial disappointments, ultimately culminating in Star Trek: Nemesis, one of the most notorious franchise-killing Box Office Bombs in history. The only one regarded as being especially good was Star Trek: First Contact, and even then a number of fans blame it for laying the seeds that would ultimately help doom the franchise in the years ahead (namely an increased focus on action at the expense of thought-provoking stories, over-use of the Borg and other familiar enemies, and in the case of the remaining TNG films, an emphasis on Picard and Data to the exclusion of all the other characters). The rebooted film series, while still very divisive among fans, has nonetheless been far more critically and commercially successful than the TNG films.
- Star Wars, due to a Broken Base, and having so many different projects going at one time, goes into a constant rotation of Dork Ages.
- In the mainstream media, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were polarized in how they were received, and even the much more acclaimed Revenge of the Sith was divisive. It was only when Star Wars: The Clone Wars re-established a cool factor that the franchise has managed to recover. With Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm, the trend continued, with Rebels, The Force Awakens, and Rogue One all being commercial and critical successes. The divisive nature of both The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker and the box office under-performance of Solo combined with friction between Lucasfilm and the fanbase have created concern of another one. Disney/LFL appear to be acknowledging this, as they have officially put further cinematic installments of the franchise on hold to focus on streaming series like The Mandalorian.
- There's also a true "Dark Age" between 1986 (when the comic was published by Marvel, and the animated series Droids and Ewoks were finished) and 1991 (when Heir to the Empire was published). George Lucas was uninterested in making new films, and both merchandise and the Expanded Universe stalled (notable during the period are only the Star Tours ride at Disney Theme Parks, the Star Wars RPG... and Spaceballs).
- Likely the most unanimously agreed-upon Dork Age for the Star Wars franchise is the period where Troy Denning was head writer for the novels, spanning nearly nine years from July 2005 to April 2014. Denning's work was noted for being far Darker and Edgier than most other stories in The 'Verse, with a level of gratuitous sex and violence unusual for the franchise, most infamously a scene in Legacy of the Force where a grown woman sexually tortures a teenage boy for information. Denning and his contemporaries also built up a bad habit of using characters created by other writers for their own books as C-List Fodder. When it was announced in 2014 that the franchise would have a Continuity Reboot, the response from Denning's considerable hatedom was a resounding "Meh."
- As mentioned above, the Universal Horror films are generally held to have gone downhill in The '40s, with The Wolf Man (1941) often seen as the last great movie in the cycle. Universal, running out of ideas for sequels, started making crossover films in which the various monsters did battle and teamed up, and when that well ran dry, they hired Abbott and Costello to make parodies of their films. The actors were growing tired of their roles, with Lon Chaney Jr. getting let out of his contract after House of Dracula in 1945 as his alcoholism made him increasingly unreliable. The Dork Age reached its nadir in The '50s as the studio struggled to adapt to the new wave of sci-fi horror, with It Came from Outer Space and Creature from the Black Lagoon being the only Universal horror films from that time that are all that fondly remembered nowadays.
While Universal's own monster movies never returned to the heights of the '30s and early '40s, the monsters themselves returned to the popular consciousness in the late '50s and '60s for two major reasons. First, in 1957 Universal released the Shock Theater syndication package, containing fifty-two of their classic horror films, to television stations, leading to a proliferation of late-night Horror Hosts on television and a surge in geek enthusiast magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland. Second, that same year Hammer Film Productions started remaking many of Universal's horror films, adding new levels of sex and violence that made them edgy again for a whole new generation. By The '70s, Universal's monsters were once more recognized as screen legends and the foundation of American horror cinema. Since then, Universal has often returned to the well, remaking and re-imagining many of their classic monsters over the years with varying degrees of success.
- The X-Men Film Series went through this with both X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, both of which came in a period less-than-affectionately called "Rothman's reign of terror". Referring to Executive Meddler Tom Rothman, the chairman and CEO of 20th Century Fox when those two filmsnote were made, he was responsible for Bryan Singer's departure for the third movie, as well as the many woes faced in the Troubled Production for the first spin-off. Both movies are widely considered to be the worst out of the entire series, and the entire bunch of movies that followed (The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, and X-Men: Apocalypse especially) were specifically written to right the wrongs that had happened under Rothman's watch (as he had been let go by the company in the middle of 2012).
- However, the franchise suffered a second and final Dork Age in 2016 until 2020, though it was more specifically on the main installments as Logan and Deadpool 2 was well received with Apocalypse dividing fans and critics and Dark Phoenix ending up being a critical and commercial failure to the point of becoming the lowest-rated film in the franchise, which didn't help the fact that Fox had been bought by Disney weeks prior to the release, thus unfortunately scrapping future films for the franchise due to plans for the team to become part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and while the final installment The New Mutants was better received than Dark Phoenix, it still wasn't a critical success and was seen as So Okay, It's Average owing to the fact that the film was postponed several times from its original spring 2018 release to finally coming out in August 2020.
- Spike Lee went through this from the mid-2000s through the early '10s. She Hate Me in 2004 earned the most scathing reviews of his career, and while his 2006 follow-up Inside Man was a hit with both critics and moviegoers, many critics noted that it didn't particularly feel like a "Spike Lee joint" and that Lee felt more like a hired gun on the film (it was the first film of his since 1996 that he had no hand in writing or producing). After that, only his documentary work received much positive notice, as his next four fictional films (2008's Miracle at St. Anna, 2012's Red Hook Summer, the 2013 American remake of Oldboy, and 2014's Da Sweet Blood of Jesus) all received mixed-to-negative reviews and flopped at the box office, and Lee became better known for his controversial public statements than for his films. This losing streak would end in 2015 with the positive reception to Chi-Raq, with the near-universal praise for 2018's BlacKkKlansman (which won him an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay) suggesting that Lee's Dork Age is well and truly over.
- Some argue the Marx Brothers went through this after their switch to MGM. Zeppo got tired of acting, and the studio forced the brothers to go from completely anarchic Rapid-Fire Comedy to more good-natured characters helping out a forgettable romantic lead between increasingly tedious musical numbers (Groucho called The Big Store's "Tenement Symphony" "the most godawful thing I'd ever heard"). Granted, there was still plenty of Funny Moments, but it was more restrained than during their years at Paramount.
- Eddie Murphy had one starting with his 1989 flop Harlem Nights that lasted into the early-mid '90s, with many unsuccessful movies including The Distinguished Gentleman, Boomerang, Beverly Hills Cop III, and Vampire in Brooklyn (Boomerang has been Vindicated by History, while he's disowned the others), before he made his comeback with his 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor. He entered another one in the 2000s, where, with the exception of the Shrek movies, Bowfinger, and Dreamgirls, his films like The Adventures of Pluto Nash, The Haunted Mansion, Norbit, Meet Dave and Imagine That were all massive failures (Pluto Nash has become one of Hollywood's biggest flops, and many feel Norbit torpedoed Murphy's Oscar hopes with Dreamgirls). He got praised for starring in 2011's Tower Heist, but his 2012 follow-up A Thousand Words (although it was filmed in 2008) was universally panned, receiving a Tomatometer score of 0%. He did star in the critically acclaimed Dolemite Is My Name, which earned him a Razzie Redeemer Award, so only time will tell whether he'll recover.
- Filmmaker Ridley Scott has gone through two in the course of his career:
- The first was in the '90s. After the success of Thelma & Louise, his next film after that was the Christopher Columbus epic 1492: Conquest of Paradise, which was a financial and critical flop. His other two films that followed were White Squall and G.I. Jane, and while they had their own wins (the former got good reviews while the latter made money), Scott didn't fully recover until Gladiator years latter.
- The second started in 2010 with Robin Hood (2010), a Gladiator retread in the form of the Robin Hood legend. The films after that (Prometheus, The Counselor, and Exodus: Gods and Kings) were divisive at best and downright hated at worst. However, things are looking bright for Scott again, with his adaptation of Andy Weir's The Martian receiving some of the best reviews he's had in a while, so time will tell if he's out of it or not.
- Mae West lost a good chunk of her sex appeal when The Hays Code was imposed, but her movies remained passable. Myra Breckinridge and Sextette, made after she was convinced to come out of retirement in old age, are not. Myra Breckinridge (loosely based on a novel by Gore Vidal, for whom this is a Disowned Adaptation) was a terrible film in its own right and only featured Mae in a single scene — basically playing herself — as a man-hungry talent agent-type who gives the eponymous heroine (a transgender woman who's just had her sex change) lessons on mistreating the menfolk. Frankly, Mae is not the grossest thing in it — not after you see the strap-on scene. Sextette had West as a sex symbol... which was one thing when she was in her 30s and 40s and quite another when she's a frail, overly made-up 84-year-old woman paired with men young enough to be her grandchildren (such as 32-year-old Timothy Dalton, for whom this is a major Old Shame). Most people's reactions to the film are somewhere between a Primal Scene reaction and profound Squick.
- Terrence Malick's post-Tree Of Life films have been decidedly less well-received than his earlier work, with critics feeling that he's become increasingly self-indulgent and pretentious. As of 2020, his recent work, A Hidden Life, was garnered some positive reviews and might able to pull him out of Dork Age.
- It's generally agreed that the 80s was a complete dry spell for Clint Eastwood. With few exceptions, most of his films, whether he acted in them, or directed them, were critical and commercial duds that failed to spark much interest or acclaim. Movies like City Heat, The Dead Pool, Bronco Billy and Pink Cadillac were critical and commercial bombs, while movies like White Hunter Black Heart and Bird got critical praise, but failed at the box office. During this time period, Eastwood had a "one for me, one for them" relationship with Warner Bros. where he would do a more commercial studio film while in return he can do a film he had an artistic interest in. Once these films weren't doing any business, Eastwood started to rethink this mentality and end up making Unforgiven in 1992, which was a return to form that won him 4 Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director) and helped relaunch his career, ending his decade-long Dork Age. However, many critics noticed that he fell down into another one during the 2010s as his recent works don't share the same quality and spirit with his previous acclaimed works, beginning with the divisive reception of American Sniper and The 15:17 to Paris.
- The Disney Animated Canon, in its 83-year history, has gone through three distinct ones:
- Package Age/Wartime Era (1942-1950): Following the then-failure of most of the studios early 40s output and a bitter strike from the studio that affected production on Dumbo, production on further animated features was halted due to World War II drafting many animators to the U.S. armies, leaving Walt Disney only able to produce Anthology Films, which, as for themselves, despite having been fairly well-received by critics, they, with the exceptions of The Three Caballeros and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, havent with fans, and in both cases theyve been deemed mostly forgettable, even the aforementioned ones to a lesser extent. Fortunately, in 1948, production on features returned, starting with the massive success of Cinderella two years later, ending this Dork Age.
- Bronze Age/Dark Age (1970-1989): Following Walts death and the success of The Jungle Book, the studio was said to have lost its way during this period, with production on animated features being sidelined within the Disney company and said films themselves declining in popularity with some notable exceptions such as The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and The Rescuers. This period also saw the departure of key animator Don Bluth due to even him perceiving this time to be a Dork Age, leading to him starting his own studio and affecting production on The Fox and the Hound. However, the lowest point came with the release of the massively expensive The Black Cauldron in 1985, which was expected to pull the studio out of this Dork Age. Unfortunately, management was restructured during production and then-new chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg infamously handled the final cut and marketing. As a result, The Black Cauldron ended up being both a critical failure and such a Box Office Bomb that barely subverted being the entire canons Franchise Killer. Fortunately enough, the new management eventually proved effective with the release of The Little Mermaid four years later, marking the end of this long-lasting Dork Age and the beginning of the iconic Disney Renaissance.
- Experimental Era (Post-Renaissance) (1999-2007): Though the Disney Renaissance was in decline since Pocahontas, not helped by the advent of All-CGI Cartoon films starting with Pixars smash hit Toy Story and Katzenbergs exit to found DreamWorks Animation, there were still mostly critical and financial successes despite not as much as the first half. However, starting with Fantasia 2000, the studio entered a slump with constant critical or financial failures if not both, notably barring Lilo & Stitch. Not helping matters was the success of CGI films from Pixar, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky Studios, further proving that traditional animation is outdated, and Disneytoon Studios began churning out their Direct-to-Video sequels to films from the canon, tarnishing the reputation of many beloved animated classics. The worst part in particular came when Treasure Planet became the biggest Box Office Bomb in the canons history, further convincing Disney to discontinue traditional animation in favor of CGI, which eventually happened with 2004s mediocre flop Home on the Range. The next year saw the release of Chicken Little, the Disney canons first All-CGI Cartoon filmnote , where Growing the Beard was expected but, sadly, was instead subverted: Chicken Little became the second highest-grossing animated film of 2005 and largely reversed the studios financial slump, but proved to be the worst critical failure in the canons history by critics and fans alike. As a result, management was once again restructured with Pixar Regulars, specifically Pixar (which was being bought by Disney at the time) co-founder John Lasseter. Their first film under Lasseter, Meet the Robinsons, despite flopping once againnote , received moderately positive reviews and was widely considered an improvement over their previous effort. Additionally, Lasseter went to unplug further DisneyToon sequels that werent in production yet. The next film, Bolt, their first film fully produced under Lasseter, fared even better, becoming both a critical and financial success and earning the studio its first Oscar nomination since 2003. All this marked the end of this Dork Age and the beginning of whats widely referred to as the Disney Revival, continuing with a brief traditional animation revival and further hits such as Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Zootopia, among others.
- DreamWorks Animation has gone through two:
- The first was from 2004 to 2008, where after Shrek 2 the company had mostly box office successes but harsh critical reception (Shark Tale being one such example) with the exception of Over the Hedge. Things ultimately got worse in 2007, which not only saw the failures of both Shrek the Thirdnote and Bee Movie, but also the collapse of their partnership with Aardman Animations, who eventually moved to Sony Pictures Animation (see below for info on them) for a brief time. By the following year, the Dork Age would officially come to an end when the studio grew its beard with Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon notably becoming critical and commercial hits.
- The second from 2012 to present. After Rise of the Guardians didn't do as well at the box office as they hoped despite good reviews and a cult fanbase, most of their output since then has been wildly inconsistent in quality (ex: How to Train Your Dragon 2 got rave reviews but Home, released the following year, was considered So Okay, It's Average at best). And unlike during their first Dork Age, even their critically-liked works have garnered disappointing box office grosses, with even How to Train Your Dragon 2 grossing less than its predecessor and no film since 2012's Madagascar 3 breaking the $200 million mark domestically. The failures of both Mr. Peabody & Sherman and Penguins of Madagascar in particular lead to a massive restructuring in January 2015, which infamously resulted in studio layoffs, several projects getting either sent to Development Hell or cancelled outright (one of which was later rescued by Sony Pictures Animation and renamed Vivo), and the shuttering of their Pacific Data Imagesnote division, and despite the successes of Home and Kung Fu Panda 3 that came afterwards, the studio was ultimately bought out by NBCUniversal (with Jeffrey Katzenberg stepping down after the deal closed) in 2016, which lead to fears this Dork Age could be permanent. However, after said acquisition was completed, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, despite not reaching the $200 million mark domestically either, was a success due to the low budget. DreamWorks' first film under Universal, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, would also become a critical and commercial success as well, so only time will tell if the studio is out of its Dork Age yet.
- With the rise of the New Hollywood movement in the late '60s, Hammer Film Productions could no longer just compete with their sanitized, Hays Code-era Hollywood horror competition on sex and violence alone. The studio didn't truly start hurting, however, until 1972, as Hammer's Dracula franchise fell into its own Dork Age with Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, before the failure of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires in 1974 drove a stake through production of all future vampire movies at the studio. After that, Hammer spent The '70s going out with a whimper as the Gothic Horror films that used to be their bread and butter faded from mainstream relevance in the face of a changing horror landscape, culminating in the company going into receivership in 1979 after several years trying to keep up with the times. Among other things, they spent their final years churning out feature-film adaptations of British sitcoms. Much like their famous vampire however, they rose from the grave in 2011 with several horror hits like the Foreign Remake of Let the Right One In and The Woman in Black.
- The studio was one of the worst hit by the aftermath of the Paramount case, which forced the studio to divest itself of their prized movie theater chain, and the subsequent collapse of the studio system. In an effort to fill the void left by the loss of the chain, they invested in the DuMont network while operating their own TV service in the West Coast. This resulted in frequent clashes with the FCC, and both networks eventually collapsed. Having failed to establish a foothold in TV, Paramount plunged into turmoil throughout the '50s and '60s, releasing all of their performers under contract, cutting its film slate, and selling portions of their film and cartoon library just to get by. Their only notable hit, a remake of Cecil B. DeMille's silent film The Ten Commandments, managed to come out just several years before DeMille's death. The losses continued to accelerate as more flops hit the market, and eventually the studio was sold to a car bumper company, Gulf and Western Industries, in 1966. Only then did they start to find a way out of the hole, buying Desilu Studios to get into television the proper way and with The Odd Couple, Rosemary's Baby and Love Story being critical and commercial hits. Paramount finally returned to prominence with Francis Ford Coppola's crown jewel, The Godfather.
- Suffice it to say, 2016 was not a good year to be an executive at Paramount, with such "highlights" as getting the business end of the Summer Bomb Buster (which hasn't really been kind to the rest of Hollywood, either) with 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Zoolander 2, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Everybody Wants Some!!, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Star Trek Beyond, the Ben-Hur remake, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Allied and Silence (though 10 Cloverfield Lane, Arrival, Office Christmas Party, and Fences were moderate successes) and an internal power struggle at parent company Viacom that ended with Philippe Dauman leaving on bad terms, the latter especially which may foreshadow that they're not out of the mire yet. And that's not even scratching the surface—you know you're all but waist-deep in the big muddy when your own parent company urges you to get back together with the very sister studio you had split up with about a decade before. This ended up happening in 2019.
- 2017 hasn't been much better, with the studio suffering from huge critical disasters and commercial flops such as Monster Trucks (which was notorious for not only being delayed for a year and a half since its original release, but also causing the studio to writedown a $115 million loss on the project four months before the film was released before firing studio head Brad Grey), Rings, the Ghost in the Shell Live-Action Adaptation (which was also hit with controversy of people accusing the film of whitewashing characters from the source material), Baywatch (2017), mother!, Suburbicon, and Downsizing, with the only major box office success being the moderately-received xXx: Return of Xander Cage, which did poorly domestically but was saved by overseas gross. Even Transformers: The Last Knight, which had belonged to a series that had been widely accepted as Critic-Proof (with the previous two films grossing $1 billion despite negative critical reviews) couldn't save the studio's summer, as poor word-of-mouth and franchise fatigue finally caused audiences' attitudes to match the reviewers (helped by the film being the worst-reviewed Transformers film yet); resulting in the film largely underperforming its predecessors, being the lowest-grossing film in the series since the original film, and losing Viacom over $100 million in the process. The end of that year's summer saw Paramount once again drawing the shortest straw of the lot, having been hit with so many commercial flops that Lionsgate, a mini-major studio, saw better financial success. Making matters worse, the studio failed to gain a single nomination for the 90th Academy Awards with all of its contenders getting shut out.
If there's any reason to be optimistic, it's that Paramount's new head, Jim Gianopulos, is hoping to pull off a studio revival similar to what he did at 20th Century Fox following Tom Rothman's disastrous run. Additionally, the studio is partnering with Hasbro to set up a promising cinematic universe featuring ROM: Space Knight, G.I. Joe and the Micronauts, among other Hasbro toys, expanding those plans by signing an exclusive deal with Hasbro Studios to gain access to other Hasbro franchises and co-produce films and shows based on them. Furthermore the studio managed to poach both producer Neal H. Moritz (best known for The Fast and the Furious and Prison Break, among others) and the film rights to Sonic the Hedgehog away from Sony, giving that series multimedia franchise potential (and marking a major reunion for both Paramount and Sega since Gulf+Western's spin-off of the latter in 1983). Only time will tell whether or not Paramount will dig themselves up out of this hole.
- 2018 was a good start, albeit still mixed, for them with the critical acclaim and box office success of the John Krasinski and Emily Blunt horror film A Quiet Place, as well as Mission: Impossible Fallout, so Paramount's fortunes are certainly improving. Paramount's flagship franchise still showed signs of life, considering that the sixth film not only became the first film in the franchise to get a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but got better critical scores than the last four films put together. However, most of their other films were either critical and financial bombs (Sherlock Gnomes, Action Point, Nobody's Fool), or were critical hits, but still bombed (Annihilation, Overlord), so they didn't get out of their dork age just yet.
- 2019 was less successful than 2018, as the studio had only one solid critical and financial hit in Rocketman, and the rest of their 2019 output were either slight to moderate financial successes of varying reception (Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Crawl, Pet Sematary (2019), What Men Want, Playing With Fire) or straight-up bombs (Wonder Park and the back-to-back megaflops of Gemini Man and Terminator: Dark Fate).
- 2020 had a rocky start, with January having the underperformance of Like A Boss and the record-breakingly bad run of The Rhythm Section, but the following month Paramount finally rebounded with Sonic The Hedgehog, which was decently received by critics (which meant "acclaimed" by videogame movie standards), and was a hit with audiences, becoming the highest-grossing videogame movie ever domestically and grossing over $300 million worldwide... but unfortunately, as with the rest of the film industry, Paramount's success was undercut by the worldwide closure of theaters due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, with the rest of their 2020 slate being either pushed back (A Quiet Place Part II, Top Gun: Maverick) or moved to streaming services (The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, The Lovebirds). Time will tell if Paramount will be able to get out of its Dork Age, for real this time, with their future releases once theaters reopen again.
- Pixar went through a minor onenote from 2011 to either 2015 or 2017, possibly related to corporate owner Disney's current obsession with extending established franchises as opposed to creating original concepts for films. Eventually, John Lasseter acknowledged that the studio had entered an awkward transitional period as the original creators were training up-and-coming filmmakers to succeed them, but the successors weren't turning out the kind of films they were looking for (Lasseter being the then-head of both Pixar and Disney also undoubtedly put a strain on his own contributions).
- After the massive success of Toy Story 3, the studio's next effort was Cars 2, by far its weakest film, the first to earn a Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the first not to receive a nomination for Best Animated Feature Academy Award since that category's inception.
- Brave won the Animated Feature Oscar in 2012, but it did so over competition that were received considerably better, which included sister studio WDAS's Wreck-It Ralphnote and Brave is one of the most divisive films in the canon, suggesting to many that the Cars films weren't just aberrations in the company's output.
- Monsters University in 2013 was received rather well — if not quite as rapturously as previous Pixar movies had been, and again went without any Oscar nominations.
- While Inside Out received a near-rapturous response and ultimately won the Animated Feature Oscar for that year, their other film for 2015, The Good Dinosaur, has been mostly regarded as So Okay, It's Average, as well as being a divisive film like Brave although better than Cars 2 (its extremely Troubled Production probably doesn't help). In addition, it actually became Pixar's first Box Office Bomb.
- Finding Dory in 2016 was well-received (if not considered quite as brilliant as its predecessor) and grossed over a billion dollars (while also breaking numerous box office records in the process) but once again failed to earn a single Oscar nomination; it was then followed by 2017's Cars 3; which was seen as average by many and while it was profitable worldwide it didn't attract as many audiences at the box office like the two previous Cars films (though it was admitted to be a clear improvement over Cars 2).
- Later in 2017 studio head John Lasseter took a leave of absence from the company after admitting to sexual misconduct, with the news breaking out only a few days before the studio's next film, Coco, was released. Lasseter would ultimately resign a year later. On the bright side, Coco avoided being Overshadowed by Controversy and ended up a critical and box-office smash, also winning both the Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Song that year. This, followed by the successes of both Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4 as well as Pixar's loss of interest in new sequels, suggests that they're finally out of their Dork Age.
- RKO Radio Pictures fell into a bad one in 1948 after it was bought out by Howard Hughes, whose mismanagement of the studio was described by film historian Betty Lasky as a "systematic seven-year rape", and never recovered. A lifelong movie buff, Hughes demonstrated that just being a fan of cinema does not prepare one for actually creating it, let alone overseeing one of Hollywood's "Big Five" film studios in a time when the entire Hollywood studio system was in flux. The quality of RKO's output dropped precipitously, with multiple expensive bombs that, on their own, each would've been black marks on the balance books of any other studio, and Hughes seemed more interested in trolling the Hays Office (even hiring fake Moral Guardians to protest his "shocking" movies), purging suspected Communists from the studio's ranks, canceling movies whose politics he disagreed with, and pushing the careers of actresses he favored than in actually making good movies. Production chiefs Sid Rogell and Sam Bischoff, the Only Sane Employees at RKO ensuring that decent movies were still getting made, eventually got fed up and quit due to Hughes' penchant for Executive Meddling. By the time Hughes sold the studio to General Tire in 1955, it was practically bankrupt, and while the new owners made a valiant effort to right the ship, it was well past too late by that point. The final straw of The Conqueror in 1956 (filmed in 1954 when Hughes was running the studio), which led General Tire to shut down film production at RKO early the following year, may as well have been a Mercy Kill after what Hughes had done to the studio.
- Sony Pictures has had two of these:
- The first one began around the early 1990's and lasted until 2002, when The Coca-Cola Company sold Columbia Pictures to Sony following a series of flops that included Ishtar, Leonard Part 6, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in 1989. Since Sony dumped billions of dollars into the studio, spending even more in order to move into the former MGM lot in Culver City, California (Columbia had been renting half of Warner Bros.' backlot up until that point) and to hire WB executives Jon Peters and Peter Guber, Sony would've had to have tons of major box-office successes in order for the acquisition to pay off. Alas, it didn't come to be. Most of the movies released during this period under-performed or flopped outright, with high-profile bombs like Radio Flyer, Last Action Hero, Geronimo: An American Legend, North, Immortal Beloved, and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within costing Sony millions, and it got to the point where Sony took a $3.2 billion dollar writedown on the studio in 1994, and considered selling it altogether two years later. Sony Pictures also entered a partnership with The Jim Henson Company in 1995, which collapsed in 1999 after the Muppet films Muppets from Space and The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland bombed despite mostly positive reviews. Fortunately, things started turning around in 1997 with the release of Men in Black, one of the biggest summer blockbusters of the 1990's (and a critical success to boot), and ultimately this Dork Age came to an end in 2002 with the release of Spider-Man, finally giving Sony a franchise they could be confident in to be a top player in Hollywood.
- The second and current one began in 2014, after North Korean hackers obtained and distributed tons of damaging and highly controversial information about several then-upcoming movies. This prompted a management shake-up which resulted in the controversial Tom Rothman becoming head of the company. What's followed since then has been multiple years of box-office duds and critically-mauled disasters such as Pixels, Holmes & Watson, and The Emoji Movie. Sony also lost the rights to James Bond and was briefly entangled in a dispute with Marvel Studios over the rights to Spider-Man. While the company has been able to retain some goodwill with releases such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Sausage Party, The Angry Birds Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the misfires have more than outweighed the accomplishments, and it's unclear if they'll be able to definitively turn things around or face the same fate as the last studio Rothman oversaw.
- 20th Century Fox had two, the second of which played a major role in its sale to Disney.
- The first one, from the early '60s to late 70's, nearly sank Fox as a whole. The studio was already disproportionately affected by the aftermath of the Paramount case, which ended the studio system that Fox greatly benefited from. But the departure of co-founder Darryl F. Zanuck as head of production (and the death of his successor after only a year on the job) left the studio without any creative direction, resulting in much of their early 60's output suffering from backstage strife, the most notorious being Cleopatra. Not helping matters was the sudden death of their biggest star, Marilyn Monroe, leaving Something's Got to Give unfinished despite millions already being poured into it. The losses from those flops became so heavy that Fox had to significantly downsize their massive backlot (leading to the creation of Century City) in an effort to stave off further losses. Eventually, Fox rehired Zanuck, who in turn, installed his son Richard as head of production. The Sound of Music was able to help the studio recover from past losses, but Richard created new ones by bankrolling more expensive musicals in the wake of Music, leading to the box-office disasters Doctor Dolittle, Star!, and Hello, Dolly! These commercial disasters, along with an aborted attempt to merge with MGM and a battle between Darryl and Richard over control of the studio which led to the latter being fired, led many Hollywood analysts in the 70's to write premature obituaries for the studio. Then, in a twist of good luck, Fox (albeit reluctantly) agreed to back an ambitious project from a young filmmaker named George Lucas. The project in question? Star Wars, which gave Fox enough confidence to stay in the business after its unexpected success.
- The more notorious second one lasted from 2000-2012, when Tom Rothman was promoted to the studio.* During his tenure, Rothman made a number of questionable decisions to certain movies, notably screwing the theatrical runs of Fantastic Mr. Fox, 127 Hours and Borat despite high critical praise, taking many films away from their directors and questionable demands (he especially gained notoriety among X-Men and Fantastic Four fans, who blame him for the reviled X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, particularly the latter's In Name Only version of Deadpool). He eventually resigned in September 2012, allegedly because of a spat with News Corporation executives over his tenure, and he would join Sony Pictures the following year. That said, there were a few bright spots for Fox under his tenure, like his launching of their critically-acclaimed Fox Searchlight unit and his attempt to repair the damage he caused to the X-Men film franchise by green-lighting X-Men: First Class and The Wolverine. Unfortunately, Fox never fully recovered from Rothman's shadow despite having subsequent successes like Deadpool (and its sequel), Logan, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (along with its sequel), and The Martian. Just five years after Rothman's departure, 21st Century Fox (News Corporation's later incarnation, after the conglomerate's print and magazine assets were spun-off to a co-owned entity bearing the shortened name News Corp) announced the sale of its entertainment properties, Fox included, to Disney.