Should Film Studios Reward Fan Pressure?
It’s an unfortunate truth that nearly every long running film, TV or video game franchise will eventually tell a story that its audience – or parts of it – hates, no matter how much of a fan they were of the previous stories.
Game of Thrones was one of the most popular TV series in the world for seven years, only to be lambasted by fans after a disappointing and unsatisfying eighth season. Iron Man 3‘s villain plot twist proved divisive among fans, and nearly every Star Wars film has received sharp criticism from different generations of fans.
Most of the time, fans are left to stew on how the latest set of story decisions proceeded to ‘ruin’ their favorite franchise. Either that, or they accepted the decisions as they were and learned to appreciate them, or move on entirely.
Every now and then though, someone in a position of power will listen to fan outcry and decide things have gotten bad enough that something must be done to rectify the mistake in the storytelling. Back in 2012, gamers were livid when the final 10 minutes of the highly anticipated Mass Effect 3 fell flat on its face, so they started a petition to change the ending.
It gained so much traction that the creators decided to release a ‘director’s cut’ that expanded on their story decisions and gave fans a little of what they’d been asking for. Much was written back then about the wisdom of bowing to the whims of fans, fearing that all creative projects would be endlessly rewritten if fans didn’t care for it.
But nothing really came of it. There was no domino effect feared by so many critics, and fans went back to the familiar experience of bemoaning poor story decisions and living with them, unable to change what had happened. Recently however, there have been a few examples of fans finally getting their way, with studios finally bowing to constant pressure on social media.
The biggest example is undoubtedly Warner Bros’ (WB) decision to make the Justice League ‘Snyder Cut‘ available for public consumption next year, after three years of relentless social media campaigning for the cut to see the light of day. Where most fans had given up and accepted the poor story choices made in the Whedon-ified final version, hardcore DC fans said ‘no’ and kept banging on WB’s door.
Now, it seems they have finally gotten what they have been begging for after all these years. It remains to be seen if the campaigning will have been worth it, but they have convinced a major film studio to change their mind about an already released production, which is a very hard thing to do.
It’s no surprise that some are now beginning to wonder that if fans can get a studio as big as Warner Bros. to go back and redo a Hollywood blockbuster, what else can they achieve?
We already saw last year that Sonic fans were able to convince director Jeff Fowler to completely redesign the hedgehog speedster after an incredible public outcry when the initial trailer was released.
Now, fans are wondering if we can get a director’s cut for 2016’s Suicide Squad in the wake of the Snyder Cut victory.
This is a good question. My cut would be easy to complete. It would be incredibly cathartic for me. It’s exhausting getting your ass kicked for a film that got the Edward Scissorhands treatment. The film I made has never been seen. https://t.co/FkeHAlNoV0
— David Ayer (@DavidAyerMovies) May 25, 2020
Taken in isolation, these are positive developments. Sonic was redesigned to closely resemble his original look, while Justice League and Suicide Squad received poor critical receptions and mixed fan feedback. An opportunity to improve these films should only be seen as a good thing. But does it set a worrying precedent for future film and TV projects, just as Mass Effect 3‘s directors cut threatened to for gaming eight years ago?
The Last Jedi proved incredibly divisive among Star Wars fans, and there was indeed a petition to see the film remade with a story that would satisfy the overall fandom. The petition didn’t get anywhere, and Lucasfilm stuck by director Rian Johnson’s creative vision.
But what if it had, and we were given a Star Wars film where Luke Skywalker didn’t become a recluse shamed by his failure to prevent his nephew’s fall to the dark side, and didn’t hesitate to join the fight against the First Order?
All those people who hated The Last Jedi would sleep a lot better, but what about those who actually enjoyed the film we got? Are their opinions less valid? The Last Jedi was critically acclaimed and financially successful, so it isn’t universally hated – merely divisive. It was the vocal minority that spoke up to increase pressure on the studio. This leads to an important issue here around fan entitlement.
Art is not a democracy. It is fine for consumers to disagree with an artist’s creative vision, but no one is entitled to a version of a story that makes them feel better just because they’ve paid money to see the film and buy the merchandise. Some of the most interesting stories are the ones that prompt negative emotions from the audience.
How many great stories would we lose if every major studio were pressured into remaking their films just because some fans disagreed afterwards? Studios could be inclined to take fewer artistic risks on a product if viewers who aren’t satisfied with those risks will campaign to change it.
Of course, most of these fan campaigns are good natured. Deadpool would never have been made if not for the fan reaction to leaked test footage. Releasing the Snyder Cut is simply about seeing the director’s vision realised, which is undoubtedly a good thing (considering Snyder’s ‘art’ was compromised).
The Resistance Broadcast’s #MakeSolo2Happen campaign is all about rallying passion for a sequel to a Star Wars film that didn’t perform very well after some poor marketing and production issues. I don’t think anyone could honestly say it would be a bad thing if Lucasfilm decided to make Solo 2.
But there is a darker side to this too. Disney fired James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 as a reaction to a targeted fan campaign against him (before another campaign fought to bring him back). We also know that Zack Snyder’s vision for a grim and dark DC shared universe was compromised when Warner Bros. pivoted, after Batman vs Superman performed poorly. WB weren’t even reacting to fan pressure; they just got jittery.
Fans are beginning to realise that their voices hold a lot of power in this age of social media. It’s important that we use this as a tool for positivity and not something darker.