Overview for films in 1970-2000
(Digital History ID 2966)

During the mid- and late-70s, the mood of American films shifted sharply. Unlike the highly politicized films of the early part of the decade, the most popular films of the late 1970s and early 1980s were escapist blockbusters like Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)-- featuring spectacular special effects, action, and simplistic conflicts between good and evil--inspirational tales of the indomitable human spirit, like Rocky (1976)--or nostalgia for a more innocent past--like Animal House (1978) and Grease (1978). Glamorous outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde were replaced by law and order avengers like Dirty Harry and Robocop. Sports--long regarded as a sure box officer loser--became a major Hollywood obsession, with movies like Hoosiers, Chariots of Fire, Karate Kid, and The Mighty Ducks celebrating competitiveness and victory. Movies which offered a tragic or subversive perspectives on American society, like The Godfather or Chinatown, were replaced by more upbeat, undemanding films, and especially by comedies, featuring such actors as Dan Ackroyd, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, and Bill Murray.

Critics partly blamed the trend toward what Mark Crispin Miller has called "deliberate anti-realism" upon economic changes within the film industry. In 1966, Gulf and Western Industries executed a takeover of Paramount and the conglomerization of the film industry began. In 1967, United Artists merged with Transamerica Corporation; in 1969 Kinney Services acquired Warner Brothers. In one sense the takeovers were logical. Conglomerates wanted to acquire interests in businesses that serviced Americans' leisure needs. The heads of the conglomerates, however, had no idea how to make successful motion pictures. Too often they believed that successful movies could be mass produced, that statisticians could discover a scientific method for making box office hits.

A trend toward the creation of interlocking media companies, encompassing movies, magazines, and newspapers, and books accelerated in 1985 when the Department of Justice overturned the 1948 anti-trust decree which had ended vertical integration within the film industry. As a result, many of the major studios were acquired by large media and entertainment corporations, like Sony, which purchased Columbia Pictures, Time Warner (which owns Time magazine, Simon & Schuster publishers, and Warner Brothers), and Rupert Murdoch, whose holdings include HarperCollins publishers, the Fox television network, and Twentieth Century Fox. At the same time that these large entertainment conglomerates arose, many smaller independent producers like Lorimar and De Laurentiis, disappeared.

Nevertheless, important issues continued to be addressed through film. Many films focused on problems of romance, family, gender, and sexuality--aspects of life radically changed by the social transformations of the 1960s and early 1970s. Certainly, some films tried to evade the profound changes that had taken place in gender relations--like An Officer and a Gentleman, an old-fashioned screen romance--or Flashdance--an updated version of the Cinderella story--or 10 and Splash--which depict male fantasies about relationships with beautiful, utterly compliant women. But many other popular films addressed such serious questions as the conflict between the family responsibilities and personal needs (for example, Kramer v. Kramer) or women's need to develop their independence (like An Unmarried Woman, Desperately Seeking Susan, and Thelma and Louise).

At a time when politicians and news journalists were neglecting racial and urban issues, movies like Boyz in the Hood, Grand Canyon, Do the Right Thing, and Jungle Fever focused on such problems as the racial gulf separating blacks and whites, the conditions in the nation's inner cities, the increasing number of poor single parent families, police brutality, and urban violence.

Copyright Digital History 2016