Understanding Megamovies: The Supermodels of Cinema

Credit Emily Berl for The New York Times

Kevin Tsujihara, C.E.O. of Warner Bros. Credit Emily Berl for The New York Times

A recent New York Times profile paraphrased Warner Brothers C.E.O. Kevin Tsujihara, saying his studio will make J.K. Rowling’s brief tome, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, into a trilogy of ‘megamovies.’

AWESOME!

What’s a megamovie?

Is that when you take a movie and stuff it with two other movies and wrap it all in a skin of fried trailers and then serve it up with CGI sauce? Is a megamovie a film that needs two intermissions just to get you through its backstory and another to survive its closing credits? Or is a megamovie just a movie with extra hyperbole?

I mean, who would want to see a stupid old regular film when we could go see megamovies in 5D with lick-o-vision and free face tattoos? Not me. I’m no sucker, except for megamovies, of course.

Tsujihara is the executive who oversaw production of Man of Steel. He’s following that non-megamovie up with Batman vs. Superman, Justice League, and other D.C. Comics superhero films. He midwived not one but three films from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. This season we’re getting Godzilla, Jupiter Ascending, Transcendence, and Edge of Tomorrow from Warners. Are any of those films megamovies? If so, how come Tsujihara didn’t tell us?

You have to keep us clued in, Kevin.

I need adequate time to prepare my brainparts for a megamovie. You can’t just release a film, let me watch it, and then tell me it was a megamovie. I might not pay enough attention to it. I might not even go see it at all if I don’t recognize its megamovie status in advance.

Today I read a slew of film blogs that regurgitated the NYT’s news about Fantastic Beasts. Most of them, and many traditional media outlets as well, included this new ‘megamovie’ term in their coverage, but no one — not even Brooks Barnes in the original NYT article — bothered to ask Tsujihara to define his nonsense. They just threw it out there and ran with it, like a dog with a dead squirrel.

Heidi Klum. Wonder Twins power activate!

Heidi Klum. Wonder Twins power activate!

This ridiculousness reminds me of when I was a boy. I was fond then of boobs, so I was aware of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. This important guide to impractical beach attire and the physically flawless women who half wear it didn’t coin the term ‘supermodel,’ but it did its part in popularizing the term outside of the fashion industry. The models that graced S.I.’s pages weren’t just any old dame in a bikini: they were world-famous for having breasts. Their boobs commanded international attention and commensurate compensation. Christie Brinkley, Elle Macpherson, Iman, etc. etc.

Do you want to ogle a model or a supermodel? Do you want to see a movie or a megamovie?

What if we just take a regular old model / movie and add an adjective to it? Wouldn’t that make it more so? No? Perhaps you are discounting the value of hype.

But a term without a definition is bupkis. And if Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them can be made into three megamovies, then anything can. We can make a romance version of 1984 into a megamovie. We can watch a quadrilogy of pictures based on your hat size, and they can all be superdupermegamovies.

I have done a thorough job scouring the world for a definition of ‘megamovie’, and I came up blank. (I typed a few things into Google.) This leaves us with a grand opportunity. We can, right here and now, define megamovie. This blogpost will be the sole worldwide source of a definition of the term megamovie. We can stamp that coinage with our picture, and we are not the type to let such a mega-opportunity pass us by.

mega·movie

| ˈmeɡə ˈmuːvi |
noun
noun: megamovie; plural noun: megamovies
  1. 1.
    A film that requires hyperbole in order to justify its existence. Often used to describe one or more of a series of films based on thin source material, i.e. the three planned feature-length films based on J.K. Rowling’s 42-page Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be megamovies.
    synonyms: popcorn movie, blockbuster, bullshit

    antonyms: cinema

Origin

GREEK megas (great) + ENGLISH movie -> megamovie
early 21st cent.: from Kevin Tsujihara

 

And there we have it. Megamovie defined. I cannot wait to see my first one. Unless I’ve already seen a bunch of them, in which case I suppose I’d rather wait.

19 responses on “Understanding Megamovies: The Supermodels of Cinema

  1. I too, was scouring the internet for a definition of “mega-movie” after reading articles about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Thanks for the post, I liked it a lot. Very agreeable.

  2. Well done, sir. I think a movie is to a megamovie as a live fish is to a dead one left out in the sun for a couple of days.

    Take The Hobbit, for example. It could have been a perfectly good movie. But instead, it was left out in the sun, and, as it rotted and filled up with noxious fumes, it bloated up to three times its original size, and hence, three movies.

    I hope that helps further define this mysterious–yet wonderful–new term.

    • Anything we can do to help the public understand what a megamovie may be is surely god’s work. But I think they must have left The Hobbit out in the sun for more than a couple of days? That trilogy is certainly, with respect to the Norse, beyond lutefisk.

  3. It’s just another instance of the generalized overuse of superlatives in media language nowadays. A symptom so widespread and generally accepted and absorbed, that one is being accused of insipid “lingo” when not spicing up any comments, tweets or other social media blurbs with a string of impressive superlatives, starkly contrasting with the otherwise unrecognizable splatter of l33t speech.

    The custom of excessively resourcing to “ubersuperlatives” infallibly leads to a kind of communication, vacated of meaning, blown up with bombastic word-bubbles free of contents but heavy with advertising. It has the same effect on senses and perception of people as a permanent overdose of sugar in an otherwise tasteless diet …

    Media communications have grown aggressively meaningless, inflatedly megalomanic and self-adulating, effectively leading to some form of “Gleichschaltung” in people’s perception and reasoning (if that latter term still implies anything).

    What is the meaning of mega-movie? It’s a tag telling you to steer free of it and watch tiny little gems of non-corporate movie-making instead.

  4. oh and as for the Hobbit: you are spot on! Once they enter the league of mega-movie-makers, they can only overtake themselves from left or right to stand that trial of megamovieness with their next shimmering orb of inflated blah

  5. I can actually suggest a working (and IMO even useful!) definition, though I’d argue that Barnes uses the term incorrectly in that Times article. “Megamovie” can be understood as a major, culminating franchise crossover within a “mega-franchise,” which does indeed have a real meaning. It’s the difference between making a Spider-Man movie (a traditional franchise), and making movies for Thor, Captain America and Iron Man (individual franchises), that then culminate in a “mega-movie” (The Avengers) which crosses over plot-lines and characters from multiple big-money franchises.

    I would agree that Barnes makes the term meaningless by using it to describe any movie a studio thinks will support a couple sequels and bring in lots of cash. That is not a “megamovie,” it’s just a franchise.

    The mega-franchise is a thing, and one that every studio is seeking to replicate after the success of the geniuses at Disney/Marvel. Here is a comprehensive run-down of these efforts from the folks at io9:

    http://io9.com/which-studios-attempt-to-copy-marvels-movie-universe-1555390988

    • I don’t believe it’s Barnes who uses it incorrectly, but Tsujihara, which somewhat negates your attempts to add meaning to the meaningless. Yes. Studios are trying to copy the Marvel universe style of interconnected films, but that doesn’t make The Avengers a ‘megamovie.’ It makes it a film with crossover appeal. There is no way that Fantastic Beasts will have any crossover, since it’s solely a Harry Potter thing (and not even that).

      So nanny-nanny-boo-boo. I’m right and you’re smarter but still wrong.

  6. and that article is talking about megafranchises, another stupid term which has no actual meaning. of the examples they give, only Marvel films could be said to bring together separate series into one megafranchise. x-men movies are x-men movies. spiderman movies are spiderman movies (and both based on marvel characters anyway). if a justice league film happens and doesn’t self-implode, well, then, maybe.

    but i am dubious.

    that Superman v Batman film sounds like a disaster of epic proportions. Ben Affleck? shudder. and it’s hard to build a ‘megafranchise’ out of crumbling, useless blocks like Man of Steel. right now, few people will go to see Justice League because they’re committed to the characters as they’ve appeared on screen recently. who gives a rat’s ass about Henry Cavill’s Superman? they’ll just go to see it for the same reason they’ve gone to see Man of Steel, i.e. they are bored and curious. people go to see The Avengers because they like what Marvel has done with the characters, emphasis on ‘characters.’ people will even go to see Guardians of the Galaxy because they liked Thor 2.

    they aren’t building a ‘megafranchise’, they’re building a brand.

  7. “they aren’t building a ‘megafranchise’, they’re building a brand.”
    Bingo! And since I can’t eat or wear that, I don’t want to watch it either.

    Cinema is dead, long live the Superfranchise!

  8. I concur that Fantastic Beasts is in no way a mega-movie, it’s a traditional franchise. And actually it is Barnes who dubs them “megamovies,” proving once again that not only am I smarter, I also have mad CTRL+F skills, so back the eff off.

    If “megamovie” is to have any meaning at all (and I realize you are staking your reputation as a cinema thinkfluencer on the proposition it does not), a picture of the poster from The Avengers needs to be placed next to the term in the dictionary. While you make a strong case that the word is gobbledygook (and while Barnes obliges in using it in that manner), I’d define megamovie as a particular type of movie within a mega-franchise, wherein all franchises within the mega-franchise are brought together in a single storyline that lays the groundwork for subsequent individual franchise movies and, down the line, another mass-crossover megamovie.

    So in this sense, Captain America 2 is not a megamovie even if there are some crossovers with other Marvel universe characters. It is an installment within the mega-franchise. But Avengers 2: Age of Ultron is indeed a megamovie, in that it will combine all franchises within the mega-franchise in a towering mountain of spandex and cash. Or another example, Warner Brothers’ planned Batman vs. Superman is a crossover. To the extent that Wonder Woman will appear in the next Superman installment prior to appearing in her own film, or that WB makes a Flash film, those are crossovers/franchise installments. After Warner Brothers makes three or four individual franchise installments for these characters and then brings them all together in 2020 or whenever for Justice League of America, that will be a megamovie.

    I do understand that this is my personal proposal for defining megamovie, not a universally acknowledged definition. But my proposal is awesome and anybody who doesn’t adopt it is wrong.

    • Yes and no, but mostly no.

      First, I doubt it was Barnes who came up with ‘megamovies.’ While it is not clear in the NYT, it certainly appears as if the journalist has taken the term from his notes with Tsujihara and used it in paraphrase. Mostly that is clear because the term is meaningless, does not really exist, and there is no reason for Barnes to use it in his article unless Tsujihara said it.

      Then, you’re making a valid point for what a megamovie might be, if one were to assume that the term needed to exist, which it doesn’t. Since we’ve got exactly two examples of so-called megamovies, both of which are/will be Disney/Marvel Avengers films, what we’ve got are not megamovies, but Avengers films. If/when Justice League comes to be, and — big if — it manages to do what Avengers has done, well then sure. We’ll need some word to describe a film that unites standalone franchises into a crossover franchise. I would suggest that word might be, strangely, ‘crossover franchise.’

      Since ‘megamovie’ is a stupid word that means, literally, ‘great movie.’

      The day I let studio executives teach me how to speak is the day I give up all hope.

  9. I left my last comment before your most recent. But I think you are shortchanging the genius of the bean-counters at Disney/Marvel. The reason everyone is trying to duplicate what Marvel has done is that it redefines the idea of a movie brand or franchise in an extremely lucrative way.

    I’d just quote form the io9 piece:

    “The EW article is full of quotes from financial analysts and consultants, discussing the newest buzzword: “megafranchise.” Every studio has to have a megafranchise, or die. (There’s literally a quote from one Sony executive, saying that they have to create a megafranchise in order to live.)

    A regular franchise is like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies: it lasts three or four films (or eight, in the case of Harry Potter) and then ends. After a regular franchise ends, a studio’s box office usually takes a hit and its stock price softens. But a megafranchise can go on and on for years and years, producing a film a year (or two or three per year) because it’s not just one franchise — it’s a franchise of franchises.

    Look at the way that Marvel can put out Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Avengers films every year. If you do it the way Marvel has, your properties all become more and more valuable — just as Thor 2 made way more money than Thor did — and each successive film builds momentum, rather than exhausting the demand.”

    This is a very different model than the way that studios have exploited brands in the past. If you don’t want to call it a “mega-franchise” you can call it something else (though I have no issue with the term), but it’s expanding the use of a brand in films in a novel way. Yes, Marvel lends itself well to that because it’s the model Marvel has used for many years in comics. And yes, DC could theoretically lend itself to that as well, though I am with you on questioning whether the people at WB will produce anything worth watching. But I could envision many other possibilities for mega-franchies. Star Wars, for example. If Star Wars were coming out for the first time now, you would see Star Wars, followed by franchise installments with a film just about Han Solo, a film just about Boba Fett, etc., etc., followed by the next major crossover installment of all of them. (And it will not surprise me at all if the JJ Abrams reboot adopts this model.) Again, it’s a different way to exploit your brand than studios have used in the past, and it makes way, way too much money to ignore it as a phenomenon in its own right.

    • you aren’t incorrect, jason. you are being spoon-fed, though.

      yes. disney/marvel has been very successful in the short term with what you’re calling a mega-franchise, and i’m calling a brand. yes. every studio is trying to find a way to ape that success, so far none remotely successfully.

      i would (and do) posit that this is because Marvel is fairly unique in having such a rich back catalogue of material and, what, 60+ years of effective (and non) crossover between titles. D.C. less so, but then I’m not a D.C. comics guy and never have been. Star Wars… I just don’t see it working in the same way. Same with Harry Potter. Here’s why: people (of age, with money) already know about, care about Iron Fist or Ant Man or The Wasp. It doesn’t feel grubby to make films about those characters. If, instead, Marvel made a spin off film about Agent Coulson… well that might do okay, but it wouldn’t be the same thing. Which is why they are, wisely, making a TV SHOW about him — because people already pay for TV and they can continue to invest in the brand/universe without having to get a sitter.

      but this is all business-speak, depressing, bullshit. the short response is that i don’t care about studio profits or even particularly want studios to make a profit. and i’m certainly not going to start speaking appraisingly of ‘megamovies’ or ‘megafranchises’ as if they’re a wonderful new invention we need to laud. it’s an effective sales tool, that’s all. if they movies — mega or non — are good, well then good. if they aren’t, then they can shove them up their megaholes.

      • “you aren’t incorrect jason…” Something tells me this is the best I’m going to do here.

        I never suggested that mega-franchises are laudable. I noted that they’re becoming an organizing principle of Hollywood studios. To the point that you have a studio exec claiming his studio needs to find one to survive.

        As somebody who is interested in the business of movies–the economic factors that drive what gets made and why–I think this is an important phenomenon to be aware of. (If we’re talking personal artistic preferences, I rarely see any movies at all these days; there is much more interesting work happening in TV–also for economic reasons that are worth understanding. Though I do still enjoy reading movie reviews!)

        I will say I think DC has as strong a catalog as Marvel to sustain a mega-franchise, potentially more so. But the people who own DC properties have for years been idiotic about what they do with them, so I don’t have great hopes for the quality of anything that’s going to come from this effort. I do think Star Wars will be relaunched along these lines, and I’d even be willing to make a gentlemanly wager that that’s what ultimately happens. Say the usual amount?

        • $1? Ok, Mortimer.

          Yes. Star Wars is already planning spin-offs about that one taunton and Gold Leader as a buddy cop thing. But, as you know, that’s also a Disney property. As is your soul.

          Understanding this stuff is worthwhile as long as we remember that studio executives have shorter lifespans than houseflies. And they are reliably full of shit. That exec’s studio doesn’t need to find a megafranchise to survive. He needs to get his name connected to one to keep his job. In order to survive, studios need to pivot to accept a new world order that appears to involve the internet…

          And superheros for the next few years.

          Then it’ll be something else. D.C. will figure its shit out just in time to be irrelevant. Even this Marvel stuff is going to wane. I hope. One can only see so many superhero movies, although I seem to be testing that assumption.

          Captain America: The Giant Explosion opens Thursday and I’ve already got tickets. Damn you, blog, damn you.

          But really, I look at Marvel Films and think of nothing so much as a golden goose. I bet the other studios cut that bastard open within two years.

          Also, I want an oompa-loompa.

          • Ha! I swear I hadn’t seen this before our discussion, but I think you owe me a dollar:

            http://insidemovies.ew.com/2013/04/17/star-wars-movies-2015/

            “Confirming a strategy of aggressive franchise expansion, Disney announced today at CinemaCon that they are planning to release a new Star Wars movie every year, starting with the J.J. Abrams-powered Episode VII in summer 2015. The plan is to release a standalone spinoff the following year — probably one of the projects focusing on Boba Fett or Young Han Solo — and alternate between numerals and spinoffs from there.

            Assuming the films are successful, this means the total number of Star Wars films will nearly double by summer 2019. Presumably, Disney is hoping that each of the spinoffs will form their own franchises, much like X-Men and The Avengers.”

            That’s a low blow about Disney owning my soul, btw. I’ll have you know I stole more office supplies from Disney than any other company I temped for, and relished every one of my ill-gotten pens and staples.

            That Disney/Marvel has won Hollywood right now is not conjecture, it’s a fact. I can appreciate the genius of the people doing these things, and be interested in how they’re doing them and what they mean, without believing that they’re a “good” thing–which I have not addressed here. FTR, I have a long and sordid personal history with Disney, spanning working for horrible people in Disney Consumer Products (my first exposure to the term “synergy” back in 1997), dealing with the development people in Disney Animated Television when they optioned my cartoon, culminating in the all-out assault on my humanity that was the trip to Disney World I took with my kids last month. I’m formulating a long personal diatribe. I’ll send you advance copies.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.