It’s tempting to think that Hollywood is slitting its own throat with egregiously awful films like Suicide Squad and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. But Evan Puschak doesn’t see it that way, as he explains in a new episode of his web series The Nerdwriter called “The Epidemic Of Passable Movies.” While blatantly terrible movies are frustrating and inevitable, Puschak admits, they’re vastly outnumbered by those adequate, forgettable movies that major studios release every month. “They’re not bad. They might even be better than okay. But they’re a far cry from great or noteworthy or something that you would like to see more than once.” Puschak says that his tolerance for these films has dropped sharply as their numbers have increased in recent years. Hollywood is now drowning in mediocrity, thanks to stuff like The Wedding Ringer or Now You See Me. Films like these don’t upset anyone, and they turn a tidy profit, so studios keep cranking them out.
So what goes into making a passable movie? Puschak says part of it is “a lack of tonal control.” The average movie is an inconclusive jumble of themes, characters, moods, and ideas, anything to keep the plot moving and the audience satisfied. These films don’t really add up to anything. But Puschak says he’s noticed something else happening with passable movies: They’re drawing not from real life but just from other movies. “Great stories are the ones that observe people truthfully,” he says. But there’s almost nothing truthful in passable movies. The characters are simply archetypes, and the plots are cobbled together from secondhand story beats. In fact, the people in these movies have a weird habit of explaining the plot to each other in a way that feels really stilted and unnatural. But audiences are now so used to this that they let it slide. That’s the real long-term danger, Puschak says.