If you want to talk about the experience of the average moviegoer in 2014, you need to talk about blockbusters. Boyhood might be the recipient of cascades of praise from critics and award bodies alike at the moment, and stands a solid chance of picking up the Best Picture at the Academy Awards. And yet, its box office take in Australia – just shy of $1.5 million – suggests that the majority of multiplex attendees are unlikely to have seen the film. What are they watching instead? Well, as of writing this article the top four films at the 2014 Australian box office are The Lego Movie, Transformers: The Age of Extinction, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy. Outside of the animated category, these films aren’t serious awards contenders (despite Paramount’s dubious campaigning), but they are the films that people are actually watching.
It’s easy to mischaracterise the blockbusters that dominate said box office takings as mindless pablum spoonfed to the masses, geared for financial success and little else. But while the millions of dollars poured into these behemoths might limit truly idiosyncratic artistic expression, there’s plenty worth unpacking in the money-making movies of 2014, which provide insight into our modern approximation of a monoculture. For all the ubiquitous complains about sequels, remakes and adaptations, there are original stories and perspectives to be found in this mass of blockbusters.