Hollywood Blockbusters Film Course

BUY TICKETS 11am – 5.30pm Saturday 22 February

A film course which examines the history of Hollywood’s biggest films, why some succeed and some fail, how their genres fail and what they offer their audiences.

Since the 1950s, the term ‘blockbuster’ has been used to refer to Hollywood’s most expensive and most commercially successful movies. It is well known that in recent years these have tended to be Science Fiction and fantasy films, which are often based on bestselling novels or on comic books; many are sequels to previous movies. But what were Hollywood’s biggest productions and biggest hits in the past? Why do blockbusters change over time? Why do some expensive movies succeed at the box office while others fail? Which pleasures and meanings do the successful films offer to their vast audiences? Who are the people and companies making such films?

The day school approaches these questions from a range of perspectives, including reflections on our own movie experiences (in the cinema as well as on the small screen), the examination of (US and global) box office charts, and the analysis of particular film sequences. Going back all the way to the late 1930s, we will be dealing with animated features, historical epics, international adventures and musicals, with taboo-breaking films and disaster movies, and most especially with the impact of Star Wars.

Tutor: Peter Krämer
Friends Meeting House

About the tutor:
Peter Krämer (p.kramer@uea.ac.uk) is a Senior Research Fellow in Cinema & TV in the Leicester Media School at De Montfort University (Leicester). He also is a Senior Fellow in the School of Art, Media and American Studies at the University of East Anglia (Norwich) as well as a regular guest lecturer at Masaryk University (Brno, Czech Republic) and at the University of Television and Film Munich (Germany). He is the author or editor of ten academic books, including The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars (Wallflower, 2005), The Hollywood Renaissance: Revisiting American Cinema’s Most Celebrated Era (co-edited with Yannis Tzioumakis, Bloomsbury Academic, 2018) and  Grease is the Word’: Exploring a Cultural Phenomenon (co-edited with Oliver Gruner, Anthem, 2019).

11.00 Introduction
We will introduce ourselves and explain why we have chosen this day school and what our specific interest in Hollywood blockbusters is.

11.15 Discussion of key terms
How can we define ‘Hollywood’? And what is a ‘blockbuster’?
We will also discuss film examples that are of particular importance or interest to us (including perhaps expensive productions that failed at the box office).

11.30 Reflecting on Disney
Disney’s animated features have often played an important role in people’s childhoods, which is why we are going to watch key scenes from Bambi (1942) and The Lion King (1994). Both films feature hugely traumatic moments, and the latter film is also the starting point for one of Hollywood’s biggest franchises (which includes sequels, spin-offs, remakes, a stage version, merchandise etc.).
What have been our own experiences with these films?
How could we describe what these films are about?

12.30 The biggest hits at the US box office since the 1930s
We are going to look at an inflation-adjusted chart of the fifty top-grossing films in American cinemas since the 1930s, broken down into several periods (before 1949, 1949-66, 1967-76, since 1977).
What do the films in each period have in common?
Do these commonalities change from one period to the next?
And if they do, what might be the reasons for such change?
What can we say about the Disney films in this chart?
In what ways does Star Wars (1977) stand out?
What have been our own experiences with Star Wars (and everything associated with it)?

13.00 Lunch break

13.45 Analysing Star Wars
We are going to watch and discuss the first few minutes of the film:
What kind of story is being set up at the beginning of the film?
And how does this relate to the story that is being told in the rest of the film?
What kinds of attractions are being offered?
How does the opening try to appeal to a range of audiences (young and old, male and female, American and non-American etc.)?
We will also take a look at the film’s marketing (its poster, its release pattern in the US, pre-release research on the potential audience etc.).

14.45 The biggest hits at the global box office since the 1970s
We will examine a chart which lists the ten biggest hits in cinemas around the world for each five-year period since 1977.
What do the films in each period have in common?
Do these commonalities change over time?
And if they do, what might be the reasons for such change?
In what ways do many of the films refer back to Star Wars?

15.30 Coffee break

16.00 Analysing Titanic
How could we characterise Titanic (1997)?
And in what ways does this film differ from the other global hits in the surrounding decades?
We are going to examine the film’s poster, and then watch and discuss the first few minutes of the film and also its ending.

16.45 Analysing Avatar 
If we could adjust global box office revenues for ticket price inflation, then Titanic and Avatar (2009) would still be the biggest global hits of all time. Intriguingly, both films were written, directed and produced by the same man: James Cameron.
We are going to examine the poster for Avatar, and then watch and discuss the opening and the ending of the film.
How does this film relate to Titanic, to Star Wars and to the hit patterns we have identified across the preceding seven decades?
How does it relate to real-world issues today?
What, if anything, does it have to tell us?

17.30 The End