A film reel on its side, ready for projection.Every day, it is very possible that you frequently hear about the decline of the middle class that is occurring in the United States, and how the disparity between the rich and the poor continues to grow larger and larger. Eventually, we will come to discuss some of the economics behind this continuing trend on this blog. However, such an immense topic would need to be a well-planned series. Today, though, we are going to examine how this trend has been mirrored in an industry that America dominates: the film industry. Over the past decade, we have seen a destruction of the “middle class” film, in a very similar way that we have seen the destruction of middle class incomes. Here’s some things to note about the shifting dynamics of this business...

Budgets shifting larger and smaller

In the mid-90’s, studios produced a wide variety of different films from different genres. Most of these films would range from $20 million to $60 million, which was a range where studios could expect at least modest returns from each film, despite having some bombs and some major hits in there as well. This created a slate of diverse films that each appealed to a specific audience. While each film, itself, didn’t aim to sell itself to everyone, this goal would be accomplished for a studio by having project diversity. Today, though, it is getting rarer and rarer to see a film produced in this budget range. More and more, studios are hedging their bets on films that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make, while independent production companies have produced more films for less money, often below $2 million.

Rise of artistic television

Due to this trend, the subject matter that most studio films are able to tackle is seen as repetitive, by many. However, there is still an audience that is left unfulfilled by this marketing strategy of tentpole blockbusters. Despite this, there is a place that is beginning to meet this need for the more adult-oriented or risky storytelling that was present in many of the middle class films of the 1990’s. This slice of the industry is called television, and it has experienced a major shift in the paradigm of how people view it. Nowadays, television has more of an air of prestige about it than making major motion pictures, because the cable networks are more willing to put forward the resources to make stories that are more innovative and testing.