In modern America, it appears that the only strong, uniquely American industry is in Hollywood. Why is this? What makes the movies so important to us? Are we even aware of the reason why we watch and talk about everything surrounding the movie industry. The obvious answers are relatively simplistic; entertainment, distraction, envy, etc… However, I believe at the center of the current theme of successful movies is a clue to the very basic need of humanity that is slowly going unfulfilled.
A Wikipedia search provides a list of the top ten grossing movies of all time. They are in order: Avatar (2009), Titanic (1997), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Jurassic World (2015), The Avengers (2012), Furious 7 (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 2 (2011), Frozen (2013), and Iron Man 3 (2013). The first thing to notice is the only movie made before 2000 was Titanic suggesting more of us are spending more money on certain movies than ever before. The second point, and the most central point to my argument, is that all but 2 of these movies share a very specific trait that I believe is the reason for their success.
Ernest Becker writes in the Denial of Death that the core conflict within the human soul is the realization of death and the resultant distractions we engage in to distract ourselves from this fact. Specifically, he discusses the hero complex that has arisen from the dawn of man as an escape from the terror of our mortality. The hero is defined by an ability to perform, behave, and achieve in a spectacular way. And if you take the hero down to its most fundamental description, the hero is a being that can vanquish any foe, even death. This explains the creation of myth and the shared tendency for humans to strive for greatness.
Which brings me back to the movies. We as humanity crave a balm for our own terror of mortality, and movies are now providing this escape. In each of all but two of these movies, supernatural or superhuman characters interact with seemingly everyday environments and experiences. The goal of which is to portray a narrative where there is either a world beyond our own or an ability to vanquish it. This need to soothe this stress has been ever present in our human condition and until recently, had been the purview of religion. As religious influence has diminished in the modern era, the visual experience of the movies has come to take its place.
In closing I would ask that we only be aware of our true selves, self-knowledge is the key to contentment and happiness. Understanding why our daughters or fathers are so “obsessed” with Harry Potter or Frozen may be about something completely different than the song, “Let it go”.