There are many encouraging effects of Sony Pictures' decision to allow theaters to screen The Interview on Dec. 25, but perhaps one of the least acknowledged is the fact that it brings the last original studio movie of 2014 to screens nationwide. It's probably a minor consideration for Sony (if one at all), but in a year in which all top 10 grossing films stateside were either sequels or based on pre-existing creative properties, the addition of any original creative work born solely from its filmmakers' imaginations is a significant one.
As Grantland contributor Mark Harris recently laid out, Hollywood's entire business model — and therefore, the moviegoing diet of the vast majority of Americans — has been overtaken with sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, reimaginings, and adaptations. As a point of contrast, 15 years ago, six original films cracked the top 10 domestic grossers of the year. But even prestige-y, awards-y movies that largely don't bother to compete with major studio releases have also become dominated with telling pre-existing stories: Just this year, Selma, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Wild, Foxcatcher, Unbroken, and Mr. Turner are all based on real people and real events (and all but Selma, Foxcatcher, and Mr. Turner were adaptations of books).
Of course, movies based on other things are often quite good — occasionally, even great — but they shouldn't be the only kind of movie. More and more, however, as far as Hollywood is concerned, they are. Original films do still get made, but they are fewer and farther between — of the top 50 grossers of the year in the U.S., just 12 of them are wholly original productions. Last year, that number was 15.
As you'll see in the list below, some of that drop could be chalked up to quality — namely, a lack of it. But as Harris noted in his essay, Hollywood's resources — both financial and creative — are finite. If the best minds and the most money are being invested in shepherding a suite of franchises scheduled through the rest of the decade, there is that much less oxygen for purely original creativity to thrive.
All box office data courtesy Box Office Mojo, and as of Sunday, Dec. 21.