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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

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Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
By James Carter, Staff Writer • June 20, 2024
Opinion | NHL needs to bring specialty jerseys back
By Jameson Keebler, Senior Staff Columnist • June 19, 2024
Opinion | Hold your elected officials morally responsible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 18, 2024

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Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
By James Carter, Staff Writer • June 20, 2024
Opinion | NHL needs to bring specialty jerseys back
By Jameson Keebler, Senior Staff Columnist • June 19, 2024
Opinion | Hold your elected officials morally responsible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 18, 2024

Meaning at the Movies | Ballads and Barbies: What We Can Learn From Some of This Year’s Biggest Hits

Meaning at the Movies is a bi-weekly blog that analyzes the depth and beauty behind different films.
Meaning+at+the+Movies+%7C+Ballads+and+Barbies%3A+What+We+Can+Learn+From+Some+of+This+Year%E2%80%99s+Biggest+Hits
Carrington Bryan | Staff Illustrator

I am drowning in a sea of content. Waves of media crash over me and threaten to overwhelm me. There is no longer any waiting, any anticipation or any break, there is only more and more and more. We live in a world that values cash over content, with relentless cash grabs from various studios resulting in increasingly terrible movies. Yet, time and time again, these efforts seem to fail — fail to deliver on content, fail to deliver in economic gain for the studios.

In my opinion, Marvel is the biggest example of this. Their success has plummeted as they continuously roll out content, no longer allowing for anticipation to build or for many projects to reach their full potential. Marvel has smothered their own fans with content, pushing upon them a mass of content that they would rather flee from than consume. Franchise alone is no longer able to sustain them — and even being the reason for which many fans are no longer watching. 

But then, every once in a while, a movie like “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” comes along, which is part of a franchise and is also incredibly successful. This is because the movie — and the book — has something to say, a statement to be made that greatly contributes to the world in which it exists and also to our world at large. Why wait so long? Why now? Suzanne Collins’ patience is something many more writers and directors should be emulating. 

Collins has said on multiple occasions that she won’t write more Hunger Games material unless she feels like there’s truly a story to tell there. In other words, content isn’t being created for the sake of just having more content or for the sake of cash — it’s being created for the sake of building on that franchise’s world in a true and meaningful way. 

There was a period of ten years between “Mockingjay” and “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” being published, and eight years between the conclusion of the original group of movies and the release of the prequel film. In this gulf between films, Suzanne Collins didn’t publish anything else in the Hunger Games canon, and no other films were made in that universe. “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is better for it.

The dedication, attention to detail, and the honoring of the original story is evident in “Ballad” which contributes in meaningful and important ways to “The Hunger Games world.” The development of President Snow and Tigress’ backstories, as well as the clear parallels drawn from Lucy Gray and Sejanus to Peeta and Katniss, are chief among the contributions “Ballad” offers. If Hunger Games stories were to be relentlessly churned out, they would begin to lose their novelty and interest, and the nuances of its social commentary would likely be lost in rapid reproductions. “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is a lesson in what it means to meaningfully and thoughtfully contribute to a franchise and the ways in which that can lead to success at the box office. 

Another of this year’s biggest films, “Barbie,” which broke into the one billion dollar club at the box office and has become the highest grossing movie made by a female director, can also be viewed through the lens of the risk of franchise. Mattel specifically saw the success of “Barbie” as an opportunity to capitalize on some of their other products, including Polly Pocket, Hot Wheels and Barney — all of which now have projects in progress.

Ultimately, its success, while due in part to the iconic figure of the doll, was also due in large part to Greta Gerwig’s writing and direction, the incredible cast and the ways in which it commented on life as a woman and served as an intro to feminist ideals. “Barbie” was successful because it used an iconic figure as a vehicle for telling a larger, more meaningful story. Movies are more successful and more well-loved when they actually have something to say and important ideas to contribute to conversations rather than being churned out for profit with half-baked plots, bland dialogue and hopes of a franchise’s sustaining power. None of these other projects will be successful unless they can find a kind of deep emotional resonance, which seems unlikely. 

I love movies because they teach me more about the world, they let me see more diverse perspectives, feel seen, and to see the world in new ways. And franchises can do it — “Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is a great example of this — but they only do so when care and consideration is placed into the story, when stories are produced because there’s something new to say, not simply because there’s profit to be made. 

Franchises can provide wonderful and incredible storylines full of masses of amazing stories when they are given care and consideration and the space to grow in meaningful ways. And often, when that happens, the movies are wildly successful. People like to return to worlds and stories they love, and when those stories are made with intention, they can not only be a pleasure for the fans but also bring in lots of cash and sales. 

Ultimately, it’s hard for studios to recognize that meaningful, timely sequels can be more beneficial in the long run when studios are often setting out to make fast cash. But I hope that as we go forward and begin to see a rise in meaningful sequels and intentional franchises and their successes, studios will begin to value the true beauty of a story being celebrated and create spaces that allow for even more of that to come in the future.