The entertainment industry is constantly evolving and the decade from 2010 - 2019 is no exception. More than any other decade in recent history, this one has had major fiscal, technical, and social advancements that significantly changed Hollywood and had ramifications on the global entertainment industry.
This decade also marked the official arrival of the future, in reference to iconic films Back to the Future and Blade Runner. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t appear exactly as it did in those films – instead of droids and the ability to travel through time, the 2010s saw us master video-on-demand viewing at home and begin to tackle major social issues that have been underlying in Hollywood and society in general. The decade will be remembered as a revolutionary one; here’s how the 2010s drastically changed the entertainment industry.
Streaming went mainstream
Netflix first began offering streaming in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2010 that they’d gone from the “fastest-growing first-class mail customer of the United States Postal Service to the biggest source of streaming web traffic in North America during peak evening hours,” according to The New York Times. By the following year they were operating in 45 countries before expanding to virtually the entire world in 2016. Netflix’s global domination and pioneering foray into the world of streaming is directly responsible for the video-on-demand boom today, which gave rise to the cord-cutting revolution.
Beyond creating an area of distribution that essentially didn’t exist last decade, Netflix’s release strategy has impacted not only how we consume entertainment but how it’s made in the first place. By dropping entire seasons of shows at once, plot lines no longer needed the dramatic cliffhangers we were once accustomed to with network television.
So what’s next for streaming? The so-called streaming wars, where due to an increasingly saturated landscape, platforms are vying for audience membership, while audiences are inadvertently having to subscribe to ever more services in order to access the entertainment they want.
Greater diversity and representation of minorities
The 2010s will go down for finally bringing greater diversity to both big and small screens. However, as with many things in Hollywood, the change came about late and not without scandal. After 2015’s #OscarsSoWhite campaign – where all 20 acting award nominees were white, while people of color were also overlooked in other key categories – the Academy once again announced a similarly homogenous lineup for 2016.
The issue raised the point that a much more inclusive and diverse slate of films needs to be green lit by studios to begin with, confirming the problem is systemic. Since then, a number of films have brought much-needed attention to diverse narratives, including Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, the blockbuster domination of Marvel’s Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and critical acclaim for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma to name a few. But despite all these landmark moments, it’s easy to forget that only two years ago Scarlett Johansson played a historically Japanese character in Ghost In the Shell; needless to say, there’s still a long way to go.
A study by UCLA titled the "Hollywood Diversity Report" was released this year, confirming that progress has been made but the numbers still don’t accurately represent the US population. People of color make up about 40% of the population, but only 12.6 percent are employed as writers and 7.8 percent as directors in the industry. The study summarizes that “Diversity is essential for Hollywood’s bottom line,” as audiences want to see themselves represented onscreen, and that has been made very clear this decade.
Strides towards gender equality
One of the decade’s watershed moments was The New York Times’ report detailing multiple accounts of alleged sexual abuse by producer Harvey Weinstein. One of the most influential men in Hollywood at the time, the news and further outpouring of allegations against him and others in positions of power – dubbed the “Weinstein effect” – revealed a much bigger systemic problem with abuse of power in Hollywood and related industries. The aftermath resulted in various movements campaigning against sexual harassment and sexual assault, including #MeToo and Time’s Up.
Gender equality was increasingly becoming a hot topic even before the Weinstein scandal, with figures showing just 8-11% of studio films were directed by women, while female characters were vastly outnumbered by men onscreen. Along with other landmark moments, such as the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman – the first superhero movie directed by a woman – and the pay disparity incident between Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg, ironically on All the Money In the World, there has been positive change for women working in Hollywood, but nonetheless there’s still a long way to go until things are truly equal.
The New Golden Age of Television got even bigger
Television’s most recent Golden Age (the first took place from the late 1940s through the 1950s) showed no signs of slowing down this decade, in fact the proliferation of streaming platforms undoubtedly helped sustain it even longer thanks to more distribution channels. High-quality programming continued, while the globalization of entertainment brought foreign content to US audiences, with everything from Finnish teen dramas to Brazilian dystopian thrillers finding success Stateside.
Game of Thrones, arguably the show that defined the decade, began and ended its run, proving that when television is granted cinematic budgets, it too can astonish audiences. With the arrival of new streaming services such as Apple TV+ and Disney+ in the last few months, as well as Netflix’s continued reign, new series are plentiful, perhaps even too many to get through. Add to that network TV’s bid to remain relevant and premium cable channels like HBO and Starz offering their own content, and the result is a plethora of television viewing to suit the tastes of literally everyone.
The industry fully embraced new tech
The film industry is literally built on adopting new technology, so it’s no surprise that the 2010s were full of changes in regards to tech. Off the back of Avatar’s success in 2009, 3D filmmaking saw a rise in the early part of the decade, peaking by 2012, before audiences made it clear that more isn’t better and lazy 3D conversions weren’t cutting it. More considered 3D films, such as The Jungle Book and two Jurassic franchise films performed well, showing that audiences want 3D but not when it’s forced.
Other significant developments included the widespread rollout of digital projection in theaters, which heralded the end of film projection in many cinemas; and the wide-release of higher frame rate technology in both shooting and projecting, doubling the industry standard from 24 frames-per-second to 48fps. The industry nearly made good on its promise that film is dead when Kodak closed down its Rochester, NY headquarters in 2014. But a wave of interest from auteur filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan generated a boom in movies shot on celluloid in 2015, in turn helping Kodak stay afloat.
Most curiously, there has been a trend especially in the last few years for utilizing computer-generated imagery to de-age actors (most recently seen in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman) or resurrect them from the grave (as with Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). It seems we really are living in the future.
Animation got the respect it deserves
Lovers of animation know that the medium is capable of taking audiences to places that live-action can only dream of, but for any doubters the 2010s confirmed its excellence through critical acclaim, high box-office earnings and thematic depth that touched on the human condition. On the blockbuster end of the spectrum, the decade began with Toy Story 3 becoming the first animated movie to reach $1 billion at the worldwide box office. As of 2019, eight animated movies have hit that mark.
On the niche end of things, animated shows have delivered some of the most profound storylines of the decade. BoJack Horseman and Rick and Morty are just two examples that have amassed cult followings thanks to their offbeat visual style, sharp writing and deep messages about existence. Now that animation is receiving the credit it deserves, who knows where it’ll go in the 2020s.
TV programming became more niche
One of the many positives of the streaming era is the proliferation of varied television content. While shows were once rated by viewership numbers and often cancelled quickly when ratings didn’t satisfy TV networks, now video-on-demand has allowed shows to find their audience organically and without time pressure. This has resulted in more niche stories being green lit instead of relying on plot lines with mass appeal. For example, LGBTQ+ shows like Orange Is the New Black and Pose have thrived, while genre shows depicting true crime or supernatural stories have also boomed.
Without the need for mass appeal, as well as the slow demise of network television, the traditional sitcom – a hallmark of American TV – also fell out of favor this decade. Make no mistake, the format still exists, but after long-running sitcoms Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory all finished their runs in the 2010s, there haven’t been any major contenders to fill their shoes.
Parallel to this shift is the rise of auteur television, particularly in comedy. Comedians and actors that are also writers have been creating their own content, with shows like Atlanta, Fleabag, Broad City, Insecure, and Girls dominating the last few years of TV.
Cinema scaled up
While TV made room for all kinds of unique stories, the film industry funneled more money and pressure into blockbusters in the hopes of larger returns, thereby leaving less resources for smaller projects. It’s said that in Hollywood nowadays you can make a movie for $150 million or less than $10 million, but anything in between is deemed too large a gamble for studios. Directors such as Terry Gilliam and Paul Thomas Anderson have spoken about how it's harder for their films to find financing, as studio executives attempt to follow formulaic methods in an attempt to increase profits. The outcome has been a steep rise in blockbusters, particularly superhero movies, while derivative formats such as sequels and non-original stories dominated the decade.
There are of course anomalies in the way of small studios that are attempting to keep the art of filmmaking alive, but in large part Hollywood has fallen prey to the "bigger is better" ideology. This is echoed in box office earnings of the last 10 years: 2010 marked the first time two films earned over $1 billion dollars at the box office in the same year. Subsequently, the number of films that reached over $1 billion increased steadily until 2019, when six films earned as much, while a handful of films have now earned over $2 billion in box office gross.
When money is such a motivating factor in Hollywood, it’s no wonder that Martin Scorsese compared Marvel movies to “amusement parks” and that “it’s creating another kind of audience that thinks cinema is that.”
Popular genres changed with the times
Genres in film and TV come and go in popularity and the 2010s saw a major switch up. While banal bro comedy dominated the 2000s thanks to Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, and the like, this decade saw superhero movies take over as mass-market fare.
More interestingly, however, is the rise and validation of horror by the mainstream, both among audiences and critics. Once relegated to teens looking for a thrill, the last few years have seen horror become the domain of sharp-witted writer-directors eager to make lasting comments on society in all its dysfunction today. Films such as Get Out, Hereditary, The Babadook, The Witch and others are part of the horror renaissance that looks set to continue into the next years.
Documentary films and series also enjoyed wider popularity in the 2010s, bringing much needed attention to social and political issues currently plaguing humanity. This was especially felt through nature documentaries, particularly Netflix’s Our Planet, which sought to highlight the catastrophic effects of climate change that we’re facing and the repercussions if we don’t act soon.
The business of Hollywood is fundamentally changing
Hollywood’s hierarchy has remained steadfast for over 100 years, with major studios and networks dominating the film and TV landscape. But this decade caused more than a few shifts, most obviously with the rise of video-on-demand and the streaming platforms that offer it. What’s more, these platforms became studios themselves, offering a competitive edge against the traditional gatekeepers of the industry. Netflix is still ahead of the rest, but Amazon Studios, Hulu, and recent entries from Apple and Disney will ensure the streaming wars continue into the next decade.
Another development came with the rise of crowdfunding through sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe. Cult show Veronica Mars made history when it raised $5.7 million in crowdfunding, becoming the largest amount raised by a film project and prompting other filmmakers to try the same approach.
Additionally, a boom of small, independent studios including A24 and Annapurna Pictures began to crop up, helping to keep arthouse films alive. On the other end of the spectrum, Disney grew even larger in stature when it bought up Marvel in 2009 and LucasFilm in 2012, as well as its acquisition of Fox this year. Similarly, CBS and Viacom merged together once again after 13 years as separate entities. For now, it’s unclear how this slow monopolization of the industry will continue into the new decade, especially when considering the mass growth of streaming platforms and their foray into production as well.