By Samuel M Acosta
As long as entertainment has existed, fans have existed. Nowadays, with more entertainment content than ever before, there are seemingly infinite fan bases, all of which are extremely passionate. Yet, in recent years, this passion has become a weapon that fans have wielded countless times. Through frequent successes, this has turned the fanbase into a looming mob. While there are some benefits to this newfound power, there is also a significant danger that has the potential to harm the industry and stunt its future.
The film industry is one of the largest platforms for this demonstration of power. One of the most popular ways fans influence films is through fan-casting. Several times, when a role is rumored to be in a film, people will begin to rally behind a specific actor or actress to take up the mantle.
This happened in the case of 2016’s “Deadpool” where Ryan Reynolds was offered the title role after a huge campaign by fans got the studio’s attention. More recently, John Krasinski’s portrayal of Mr. Fantastic in “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” came from a fan who edited a picture of the actor as the character, which then became incredibly popular on social media.
Even actors themselves understand the power of fan casting. After the successful run of “IT,” the 2017 horror film based on Stephen King’s novel of the same title, Finn Wolfhard, who portrayed Richie Tozier, was asked who should play the older version of his character in the upcoming sequel. Wolfhard named Bill Hader as his ideal choice. This was picked up by fans and amplified by their agreement with the choice. Bill Hader would go on to receive the role in 2019 for “IT 2.”
Their power goes beyond casting. In 2017, the long-awaited “Justice League” came to theaters. While the film was originally directed by Zach Snyder, he stepped down after the death of his daughter, and Joss Whedon stepped into the role. After rewrites and reshoots, the final product ended up a box office flop, leaving DC Comics fans incredibly upset about the film. Rumors started to surface about how much Whedon had changed the film from Snyder’s original vision.
This led to a fan campaign that swept the nation, including buying billboards in Times Square, all crying out for the studio to #releasethesnydercut. In early 2021, the Snyder cut was finally released on HBO Max, coming in at a staggering 4 hours long. The fans once again had won the day.
One of the most famous examples of the fan’s power over production studios was when Paramount released the first trailer for “Sonic the Hedgehog” in April 2019. Fans were furious at the rather uncomfortable appearance of the beloved video game character and demanded the design be redone. The threat of a boycott loomed over Paramount’s head, who estimated that it would cost an additional $35 million to redo the character design. Still, the pressure was too much and Paramount redesigned the character to more resemble his video game counterpart. The film would go on to make around $320 million at the box office and the fixes went significantly under budget.
What makes this event so unique is that this was one of the first major cases of a fanbase practically bullying a movie studio into compliance. With the other examples we looked at, it was simply a matter of fans garnering support for something or someone. Here, we saw them gather against something.
This new approach is something that is slowly dawning on all fans. We are seeing it with shows such as “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law,” “Ms. Marvel” and even the beloved “Kenobi” series. Fans are seeing things that they don’t like and going after the creators and actors with their dissatisfaction, instead of just critiquing and then leaving things alone.
While this in itself is not new, the level of aggression is. The reason behind this is that it is now being seen as a legitimate way to see things change things in media. This is a dangerous tone to set in the entertainment industry.
Instead of an era of artistic freedom, we are suddenly entering a new era of fan appeasement. Sean O’Connor, a professor in the Broadcast and Digital Media department here at Cedarville, talked about how destructive this can be.
“When a fan base that doesn’t make movies starts telling filmmakers how to do their jobs, you end up with entitled fans and burnt-out producers.”
Whatever the fans want, the fans get. If they don’t, they will review bomb and revolt, no matter what the quality of the content might actually be. This takes away from the studio’s creative range, limiting them to other people’s ideas rather than creating something unique and surprising.
Not only this, but now fans are beginning to divide among themselves. As opinions get more diverse but also more entrenched, fans are beginning to war with each other, making it even harder to please them. Suddenly, you have to pick sides and the opposing side is almost automatically guaranteed to and cut your profits. The more profits get cut, the less content you can make. The less content you can make, the less you are able to please the diverse desires of the fanbase. Then the circle continues.
The only way to mitigate these losses without toeing the middle line is going all in on one side and flooding that side with content. You have to release double the content to make up for not being able to sell to both sides. This will lower the quality of the content, leaving us with an entertainment industry filled with more low-quality content than ever before. This is the opposite of the direction that we should be going in.
While I do love that studios want to appease the fans, I worry that the fans are getting too greedy. They will always want more. And since the studios are on their heels already, I have concerns that they might not be able to find their footing before this new fanatical power of the community washes over them.
Samuel M Acosta is a Senior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an Arts and Entertainment writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper and writing plays.
Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures