‘American Ultra’ Screenwriter’s Twitter Rant on the Death of “Original Ideas” Is a Tad Disingenuous

Last weekend, the Jesse Eisenberg/Kristen Stewart vehicle American Ultra opened in theaters around the country. It was not very good, and it didn’t do very well. And in the middle of its unimpressive opening weekend, screenwriter Max Landis took to Twitter to ask, in his best Nancy Kerrigan voice, whyyyyyy.

He did one of those obnoxious “series of tweets” situations, so let’s just combine them:

So here’s an interesting question: American Ultra finished dead last at the box office, behind even Mission Impossible and Man From Uncle… American Ultra was also beaten by the critically reviled Hitman Agent 47 and Sinister, despite being a better reviewed film than either… which leads me to a bit of a conundrum: Why? American Ultra had good ads, big stars, a fun idea, and honestly, it’s a good movie… Certainly better, in the internet’s opinion, than other things released the same day. If you saw it, you probably didn’t hate it… so I’m left with an odd thing here, which is that American Ultra lost to a sequel, a sequel reboot, a biopic, a sequel and a reboot… it seems the reviews didn’t even matter, the MOVIE didn’t matter. The argument that can/will be made is: big level original ideas don’t $. For the longest time, my belief was that the 80s/90s were the golden age of movies; you never knew what you were going to get. Am I wrong? Is trying to make original movies in a big way just not a valid career path anymore for anyone but Tarantino and Nolan? That’s the question: Am I wrong? Are original ideas over? I wanted to pose this to the public, because I feel, put lightly, confused. I feel like I learned a lesson, here, but have no idea what it is. I once joked “there’s only so many times people will go see Thor 2.” Sorry to be kind of a downer guys. It’s just a little frustrating to see John Cena squash Kevin Steen. Metaphorically.

Screenwriter Max Landis

A FEW THOUGHTS HERE:

  • While it was certainly better reviewed than its first-weekend competitors, let’s not go over the moon insisting Ultra was some sort of critical darling.
  • “And honestly, it’s a good movie.” He’s got no reason to think otherwise!
  • “Certainly better, in the Internet’s opinion” is a funnier line than anything in American Ultra.
  • “If you saw it, you probably didn’t hate it.” He should talk to a few more people who saw it. Preferably ones who don’t know he wrote it.
  • Swiping from more sources than most other movies does not a “big level original idea” make.
  • Correction: considering the ‘80s to be “the golden age of movies” is even funnier than “in the Internet’s opinion” and thus funnier than anything in American Ultra. Have you guys seen movies from the ‘80s? Holy shit.

The problem, of course, is that his overall, broad point is correct: Obviously movies not based on other properties are having a much tougher time in Hollywood, as filmmakers with original ideas find themselves either helming soulless tentpole pictures, confined to micro-budget indies, or sitting things out entirely. We’ve written about it. A lot! But that doesn’t mean you can blame that preference, among studios and audiences, when your bad film doesn’t do well. It doesn’t mean there’s not an audience for “original movies” (and again, it stings to slap that label on a piece of mash-up work as shameless as American Ultra); it means they just have to try a little harder, and be a little better, because audiences are just more inclined to go with something familiar. (Though, it should be noted, even those would-be franchises aren’t exactly a safe bet these days.)

But who’re we kidding, the main problem here is the source. Putting aside the fact that there’s something inherently tacky about the son of a legendary director complaining about the new and the unfamiliar not getting a fair shake, we’re also talking about someone who’s so categorically against Hollywood’s endless recycling of preexisting franchises that he’s, um, floated ideas for new Ghostbusters and Lethal Weapon movies. And that strenuous objection to “original ideas” certainly didn’t prevent Landis from the premature screenwriting ejaculation of devising a sequel to American Ultra, back before it turned out no one wanted to see the first American Ultra. Oh, and he also has some ideas for the sequel to his script Chronicle, even though Fox hired someone else to write it. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that he managed to put aside his artistic objections to brand-driven moviemaking long enough to write a Fantastic Four script?

Anyway, let’s all check back in with Max Landis on the fate of original ideas in Hollywood around Thanksgiving, after the release of his next movie — a new take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.