The Vocal Minority and their Detrimental Influence on Film
By: Pranav Padmakumar
In an attempt to assess the detrimental influence of a subset of people on film, it is important to define who they are. Many people are vocal about the films they love, but shouting into the void does not guarantee you’ll be heard. When referring to the ‘the vocal minority’, the people being referred to are those with influence and power, meaning certain sections of fandoms, bloggers, vloggers, and critics. Because their voices carry weight, it does not necessarily matter if their opinions reflect those of the ‘silent majority’.
Through this article I seek to highlight the problems of the ‘vocal minority’ and how the few can (and have) had a damaging effect on filmmakers, actors, and films in general. There was a time before the internet when critics analytically broke down movies and expressed what they thought worked and did not in the film they reviewed. These reviews were meant to be nothing more than a reference point for the general audience. But since the dawn of the internet, the realm of film criticism has expanded exponentially, to now include online bloggers, vloggers, youtubers, podcasts, and online and newspaper critics. These forces, once born out of good intentions have since become malignant. It’s a race to see who gets their reviews and articles in first, and who can be most controversial, and the more negative you are on any subject the more attention you attract. Hence a vocal minority is born and now controls the narrative and in turn the majority.
The motivation behind this article stems from my personal experiences with the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Franchises that I once loved, but I now feel have been negatively affected in one way or another. These are therefore the franchises that I will focus on in this article.
The DCEU began with Man of Steel, based on a story by producer Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy), and directed by Zack Snyder. Nolan chose Snyder for this job because he thought that he was the perfect filmmaker for the project due to his work on comic adaptations Watchmen and 300. Due to his influence at the studio, Nolan was able to provide support and protection to Snyder from studio interference, something that Snyder has publicly praised Nolan for. Snyder set out with a specific plan in mind, a 5 movie arc for his characters, specifically Superman, and a roadmap for the movies to come (Geek Tyrant). He pitched a limited and contained universe with multiple films and spin-offs which would be different from the MCU brand of movies. This would have increased variety in the superhero movie genre and would have given the general audience a real choice in terms of movies to enjoy.
Nolan and Snyder worked together and the movie was released on June 14th of 2013, in its true form, with very little outside influence on the final product. Man of Steel made $668 million (not including the money made from home release, merchandising, product placement etc.) becoming the most financially successful Superman film ever.
However, it was not loved by the vocal minority. Some film critics and certain film bloggers with a large audience either did not enjoy the film or didn’t want to. They refused to identify with the characters or see the film for what it was. They complained about it being dark and humorless and how it was a departure from the Superman movies of the 70s and 80s. Narratives were constructed around a perceived lack of understanding of the source material. For instance, Superman killing Zod at the end of the film caused massive outrage due to Superman’s supposed “no-kill rule” (Sy Fi).
It is obvious in the film why Superman did what he did and he is distraught by it. He does not take it lightly. It is also a concept heavily explored in Superman comic books, TV shows, animated series, and even Superman II. Instead of being open, they clung to nostalgia with no effort to understand the movie or its choices. They wanted more humor, heart, and optimism, and this agenda would only increase following the sequel (CinemaBlend).
The second chapter of the DCEU was Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. As Christopher Nolan departed from the franchise to focus on his personal projects, this film was mired with studio interference. Delays as a result of this interference ultimately resulted in a release date of 25th March of 2016. Despite making $873 million at the box office, the film was panned critically. A new narrative was born that the film somehow failed because it didn’t make $1 billion (The Express), and there were further calls that Zack Snyder does not understand the characters.
In the aftermath, as a result of the critical reception, WB acquiesced to those requests and change ensued. They gave comic book writer Geoff Johns creative control over the cinematic universe, a more palatable face for the vocal minority who have championed his storytelling ability. This led to original plans for a 5 film arc (including a two-part Justice League story) to be truncated, re-shoots and drastic cuts to Suicide Squad, and a change in the third act of Wonder Woman (Movieweb). These changes are very apparent when these films are watched with a critical eye.
As interference grew in Zack Snyder’s third instalment to the franchise – the aforementioned truncated version of Justice League – no more compromises could be made and compounded with a personal tragedy, Zack Snyder left after all principal photography had been completed. Director of the Avengers, Joss Whedon, was brought in and in the space of a few weeks almost completely reshot the film to add the fun and hopeful elements the vocal minority had been demanding all this time. The film was received better critically and the vocal minority were very positive about it, but it made the least amount of money for the franchise to date and failed in almost every technical aspect of filmmaking. In spite of this, WB has pressed ahead with this more hopeful and optimistic path, with Aquaman employing many of the elements that were called for by the vocal minority. Aquaman’s financial success is sure to embolden them going forward, those with influence have wielded it to sway audiences, pushing them towards the type of films they like and away from those they do not, regardless of film quality. The silent majority on the other hand who had a franchise they loved taken away from them are faced with a choice, to either continue supporting that franchise or move on. Moving on from something you love is a very hard thing but that is what I chose to do.
Star Wars Prequel Trilogy
Another example is the Star Wars franchise. I grew up with the prequel trilogy in the early 2000s, and I was blown away by The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. My earliest memory of the franchise was of my dad renting The Phantom Menace VHS in 2001 and me watching it at the age of 6, not knowing about the trilogy before or having ever heard of the franchise. I was blown away by it. To this day I revisit these films and my love for them has not diminished. But growing up, I was in my own bubble and unaware of the hate and turmoil that these films suffered and went through. The sequel trilogy has nothing in it that resembles the prequel trilogy, and has even left original trilogy fans disappointed. They have managed to sanitize these movies of any and all influences from the prequels. There aren’t any fast-paced lightsaber duels. No deeper themes being explored. No mention of Midichlorians anywhere. The franchise looks nothing like the movies that came before even though they are set in the same continuity.
As with the DCEU, a vocal minority, imposed themselves, this time in a more sinister way. They hated those films to the degree that they verbally abused a number of the actors and the founder of the franchise George Lucas. Ahmed Best, who portrayed Jar-Jar Binks, suffered from depression and has recently announced that he has in the past contemplated committing suicide. He had angry fans yell “you ruined my childhood’ at his face on the streets (The Independent). That is something very hard to deal with for a 25-year-old, as a person of similar age currently I know that I would struggle under such circumstances too.
To this day, Jake Lloyd’s life has been damaged. Why? For the crime of being a child and portraying a young Anakin Skywalker. He was bullied in school and describes his school life as “a living hell”. He started hating the camera being pointed at him. He wanted to have nothing to do with the franchise anymore and decided to never act again. (Den Of Geek)
This Vocal minority comprised of some fans, film bloggers and critics. These people were too engrossed with the original trilogy and simply cannot open themselves to appreciating something different. It clouded their judgement and made them act in inexcusable ways. This ultimately resulted in George Lucas selling his franchise despite having further stories to tell, and a subsequent sanitized set of new Star Wars films released since.
Herein should lie the lesson that you simply cannot please everybody. So why do film studios and producers pander to the vocal minority? Surely the greatest aspect of art is that each artist can produce something that is unique to them? Surely we can all find something that we enjoy in any film, no matter how small. As with Batman V Superman, anyone who is vocally supportive of the prequels is publicly shamed, weakening their voice, and thus the voices of those who are heard become even more powerful. It is a cycle that is seemingly impossible to break. But we must try and break it because when it comes to film, everyone’s voice should matter.
We see more and more movies become financially successful these days despite the critical reception. Take for example, Venom, Suicide Squad, Aquaman, Batman V Superman etc. They found financial success despite being in contempt of the vocal minority. They broke through industry projections and pundit analysis of their box office expectations.
These are but two of the biggest examples of where the vocal minority exerted their negative influence and power over film franchises. There are many more examples out there to be found. Maybe it’s a movie you loved but was hated by a small minority so much that your overall perception of it changed. Maybe it’s the body of work of a director you like who has had constant unfair criticism levied against them. The negative influence of the vocal minority is to be found everywhere if you pay close attention.
The influence of the vocal minority is slowly breaking down and it is only possible by making your voices heard. ‘The Silent Majority’ must abandon their silence, and find their voices. The Individual must take precedence over the collective. Hive mentality must be countered with individual expression, intellectual discussion, and debate. For in the individual, lies infinite potential.
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”- Friedrich Nietzsche
- Jackson, M., & Jackson, M. (2016, March 20). Yes, Superman can kill, but Man of Steel is a bad example of why. Retrieved from https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/yes-superman-can-kill-man-steel-bad-example-why
- O’Connell, S. (2018, October 08). Do DC Comics Movies Have A ‘No Jokes’ Policy? Retrieved from https://www.cinemablend.com/new/Do-DC-Comics-Movies-Have-Jokes-Policy-66947.html .
- Orange, B. A. (2019, January 09). Did Suicide Squad Reshoots & Studio Interference Ruin the Movie? Retrieved from https://movieweb.com/suicide-squad-movie-studio-interference-reshoots/
- Roisin O’Connor @Roisin_OConnor. (2018, September 05). Star Wars actor says he considered suicide over character backlash. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/jar-jar-binks-ahmed-best-suicide-star-wars-actor-backlash-twitter-a8430266.html
- Simpson, G. (2016, May 03). Box office flop? DC’s Batman v Superman fails to hit $1 billion mark. Retrieved from https://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/films/666617/Batman-v-Superman-Box-Office-flop-1-billion-mark-failure
- Star Wars’ Jake Lloyd on how The Phantom Menace ended his acting career. (2012, March 05). Retrieved from https://www.denofgeek.com/movies/star-wars/18828/star-wars’-jake-lloyd-on-how-the-phantom-menace-ended-his-acting-career
- Zack Snyder Originally Had a Five-Film Story Arc Planned For Superman. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://geektyrant.com/news/zack-snyder-originally-had-a-five-film-story-arc-planned-for-superman