Is Spielberg only successful because he makes films with ‘happy endings’ ?

Does Hollywood prefer to make films with ‘happy endings’ ?’

Is this ideological ?

Here was a discussion I’d just had about ‘happy endings’ in Hollywood films that ended rather unhappily.

My point was this, Spielberg is more successful and bankable because he makes studio blockbusters which have ‘happy endings’ (or in which the good guys win), whereas during the late 1980s and 1990s filmmakers such as Coppola and Scorsese were less successful at the box office and with critics since these films were not commercial, were more artistic, and often lacked the ‘happy ending’ indicative of Spielberg, although they’d still worked for the studios. Scorsese would eventually make commercial films showing HEs after 2000, whilst Coppola had previously made Godfather part 3 that did not show a HE, but was a commercial success despite the poor reviews.

It’s my theory the Hollywood studios insist upon HEs since these are palatable to its target audience, and that the studios may have adopted a formula based on a correlation of commercial failures by Spielberg, Scorsese and Coppola during the eighties and nineties.

During the eighties and nineties, following the demise of mogul-era-studios in the sixties and seventies, audiences and studios were looking for ‘feelgood’ films that would attract audiences; hence the ‘happy ending’ (a term apply in which the good guys/hero win) which can be observed in Saving Private Ryan, Cape Fear (1990), Schindlers List, Gangs of New York, Bringing Out the Dead, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Empire of the Sun, Always, The Colour Purple, Terminator 2, Casino, Goodfellas, and even Titanic, and all the mainstream commercial films from this period, but I do not refer to every Hollwyood since 1914, and there are some obvious exceptions.

Here’s a very brief chronology of the Hollywood studios:

1930s Hollywood was all about genre, sound technology and editing and the Star System.
1940s the Hays Code, Film Noir and Communism.
1950s Musicals, Youth culture, 3-D, Television, melodrama, Colour film, Hitchcock, John Ford and the auteurs.
1960s Demise of the studio system, arrival of the counterculture revolution, sex and violence in cinema, B-movies and drive-ins.
1970s Blockbusters, New Wave cinema, Vietnam.
1980s you can probably guess the rest for yourselves

My point is this, studios and audiences prefer these endings which represent a clear resolution because this is an idealogy based on commerce not art. Godfather 3, Goodfellas and Kundun were all studio productions which did not show an HE, but one had a huge budget and the other was an artfilms and both were moderately successul at the box office. Jaws, The Godfather, Star wars, were blockbusters from the seventies, these made money and this was when the studios were discovering what made money and that audiences responded to blockbusters more then they did to art films without HE. Apocalypse Now, Papillion, Lawrence of Arabia, Dirty Harry, Patton, Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid, and Bonnie & Clyde (68) were also big hits of this era  that did not contain HE.


 Several  of Spielberg’s films are dark, especially Munich and Schindler’s List, but my point is why Speilberg do these also have HEs (and by this I mean in which the hero  is shown triumphing over adversity) and whether this makes his films commercial and more successful, or if this is an idealogy of Hollywood which both Coppola and Scorsese gradually came to adopt?

When I discuss Hollywood ‘blockbusters’ I refer to medium-to-large budget films are like Forrest Gump, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, George Lucas films, Peter Jackson films, James Cameron films, Bridesmaids, Bridget Jones, Revenant, Castaway, American Beauty, Cape Fear, Scream, 10 Things I hate about you, Road to Perdition, most big budget films (20-100million) that were successful at the box office and made more than a 100 million profit worldwide. Not just action superhero movies or Harry Potter children’s films. Blair Witch Project and Pitch Black were both produced indepentantly for less than 20 million but were huge box office hits, and therefore this makes the term ‘blockbuster’ confusing…/Blockbuster_%28entertainment%29

 It was during the eighties and nineties that studios became aware of this, and was when Spielberg, Coppola and Scorsese began making these types of ‘blockbusters’, a term which came out of big budget films from the seventies after Jaws and Star Wars. Although Jaws was not the first, actually Cleopatra, Earthquake, Towering Inferno, and many films before that could be called ‘blockbusters’,  which Deer Hunter, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Godfather were not since they did not have huge budgets.

Those films had low budgets compared to Jaws and Star Wars, which had a much lower budget than either Cleopatre and Earthquake. This is part of how the studios changed in the seventies since they could no longer afford to made big budget films. I’d believe that fromt he seventies onwards, after so many box office failures, the studios must’ve have felt extremely weary of big budget films, especially ones without audience friendly HEs.

A short clip from the film Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002) satirises Hollywood and its storytelling techniques, in this video Brian Cox gives plays scathing cameo as the real-life screenwriter guru and teacher Robert McKee. Interestingly, the film is an adaption of a non-fiction book about rare Orchid flowers, which is gradually transformed into a typical Hollywood melodrama/thriller after the film’s real-life writer Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) has a breakdown.

A bestselling book about the Hollywood screenwriting process and storytelling can be found here, while William Goldman’s book Adventures in the Screenwriting Trade also discusses popular cinema of the seventies and eighties, and whose film The Princess Bride recieved great reviews but failed at the box office.