Last year, a single movie redefined the definition of “Hollywood blockbuster.”

Although it raked in profits, featured A-List actors, and played during Christmas, it was nothing like the bland, predictable blockbusters of this summer and summers past.

It was bold and artfully paced. It had a strong feminist undertone. The protagonist was an antihero you didn’t quite trust. There were real stakes; characters you cared about. And, most importantly, you really had no idea what was about to happen one moment to the next.

That movie was not Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That movie was Mad Max: Fury Road.

Fury Road was a huge film from a visionary director that didn’t give a damn about meeting audience expectations, servicing a franchise or playing to nostalgia for a quick buck. And while it too was a soft reboot of a classic film, it didn’t suffer any of the flaws that The Force Awakens did (predictability, terrible acting and epileptic pacing).

As a result, you can watch Fury Road again, and again — and the film takes a special place in the pantheon of truly great big budget Hollywood blockbusters. Critics and fans alike agree it belongs alongside the great action films of our time: JAWS, Jurassic Park, The Matrix, Fight Club and The Dark Knight.

However, it could be a very long time until we see a big Hollywood blockbuster as bold and creative as Fury Road.

In case you haven’t noticed, Hollywood movies are becoming bigger, safer, more sterile, more predictable, less inventive and less interesting. More often, it’s become easy to predict the plot of any film showing at AMC, and so when you leave the theater, the film leaves with you. There’s a tendency now to do the least interesting thing, turning what seems like every movie into a big, dumb, loud, stupid, over-the-top, CG filled action film that inevitably ends up with a giant blue laser shooting up into the sky at the third act climax.

Why, God? Why do all big-budget movies kind of suck now?

We’re in this drought of creative cinema because Hollywood isn’t interested in anything new. Studios are a business and franchises — the entities that create arguably the most boring films — are still making money. As a result, it’s difficult to make a movie based on something that doesn’t already exist.

“Unless you’re Christopher Nolan or James Cameron, the studios generally want something with a pre-existing built-in audience these days,” film scholar, historian, and walking encyclopaedia of general entertainment knowledge, Paul Jensen tells us. 

Nowhere is this lust for repetitive mediocrity more transparent than in the case of the Marvel franchise, whose borderline unwatchable and universally disliked blockbusters have collectively earned over $4 billion worldwide. Understandably, rival studios are trying to copy the formula — not because the films are good films, but because they rake in cash.

And just who’s paying to see these megalithic wastes of 90 minutes?

Superhero “geeks,” for one. Mega-fans of existing franchises will seemingly support any movie, regardless of how bad, so long as it features characters and iconography they’re familiar with. Need an example? How about Batman v Superman, a film that, while poorly reviewed, still made more than half a billion dollars worldwide. Suicide Squad was much the same story — with an almost identically disappointing critic score and undeservingly high profit margin.

These are action films through and through; movies that leave no room for creative or meaningful storytelling — let alone character personalities you’re invested in — because they necessarily stick to the same formula. Think of the genre “action” as a recipe, with the plot line being a few, simple steps towards making something mediocre.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are a few truly great Hollywood blockbusters that, like Fury Road, have differentiated themselves from the pack.

The Dark Knight remains one of the greatest superhero movie ever made, but it’s great because guess what? It’s not really an action movie. There’s action in it, sure, but it’s more of a crime drama (the movie even mocks this trope in its own third act climax). Deadpool was much the same way. It’s a movie with some terrific, memorable action, but it’s primarily a romantic comedy.

You don’t have to just look at superhero films to see exceptions to the blockbuster-as-action-film trope. The original Jurassic Park is a sci-fi thriller. The Fast and The Furious was a detective movie. The Empire Strikes Back starts off as a war movie, and then splits its time between being Rocky and Smokey and the Bandit — a sports and road movie respectfully.

Yes, all those films had action in them, but they didn’t take up the majority of screen time to blow stuff up, flip cars and have The Rock fight Jason Statham in a tensionless, stakeless, emotionless scene. Not so with the Marvel universe, or most other summer blockbusters where there seem to be more flying fists than words spoken (looking at you, Captain America: Civil War).

Knowing, then, that this mixed genre approach creates better films, why have studios neglected to adopt it more?

“Action is a more reliable and less risky choice. It also sells better internationally. And it's something Hollywood has the money and infrastructure to do better than anyone else (at least, for now),” says screenwriter, Rudy Thauberger. “Yes, people loved the Dark Knight, but Suicide Squad also made a shit ton of money. More money, for instance, than Winter Soldier, a far superior film. So, if you're in charge and you have to make a choice between a risky narrative or dramatic choice or an action sequence that will probably do equally as well or even better, well …”

We guess you can’t really get mad at a business that’s willing to invest more than $100 million into a movie to not try and limit their risk as much as possible. They’re gambling, and trying to play the odds. And with the odds looking like an 80 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes rating for your average, run-of-the-mill Marvel film, those odds aren’t so bad. With those numbers, it doesn’t exactly hurt studios to follow Marvel’s lead.

But, in terms of artistry and the craft of filmmaking, 80 percent is almost frustrating. It’s like getting an B on your test — you know you could have killed it with just a little bit more effort, but it's not so bad that you need to worry about improving.

What does that say about what a “good” film is? Is the bar for a good film so low now that people are getting comfortable with passably good?

Thauberger hipped us to an essay by Stephen Jay Gould on why there are no longer as many 0.400 hitters in baseball. Gould says that it isn’t that modern baseball players aren’t as good as they were back in the day — it’s the opposite. The average player is actually better. But as the average quality rises, the variation of performance narrowed. So you had fewer great performances, but also fewer crap performances. Thauberger thinks this is what's happening with Marvel movies and other blockbusters.

“The truly clusterfuck superhero films are gone, but the price of that is the disappearance of the great films. Because, to make a great movie, you have to take a huge creative risk, a potentially disastrous risk,” says Thauberger. “Safe, competent movies tend to become increasingly formulaic, which is what leads to audience fatigue.”

This is, perhaps, why many critics like Jensen predict 2018 will be the year the blockbuster officially eats shit and dies.

“This year, Ben-Hur was a massive flop, and soon, there will be plenty more of these kinds of blockbuster disasters,” he tells us. “Many are predicting that the blockbuster mentality will self-implode in 2018, primarily because they are so many massive blockbusters coming out that year. There is no way they can all make their money back. Also, audiences will be inundated with too many of the same kinds of movies (superheroes, sequels, remakes, big dumb action movies, etc.), that the novelty of going out to a new movie will diminish even more than it has now.”

Film, like any art, helps us find answers to questions. It should make us think, make us consider something outside the universe in which it exists. It should really be about something from our world, not its own. And a great big-budget film has the power to not just change cinema and movie making, but culture in general. Look no further for milestones like JAWS or The Matrix. They’re important. Not just as entertainment. They have cultural significance.

Thankfully, there is hope for that level of film.

“The hope lies in the filmmakers and writers who think outside of the box,” says Jensen. “Those artists who are passionate enough to make films for the right reasons.”

“Back in the ‘60s,” he explains, “Hollywood had a bunch of major box-office disasters and the studios started selling off their lots. Then along came Easy Rider and changed everything. It launched a second Golden Age of Hollywood and allowed many new artists to explore their visions. A modern equivalent would be how the Duffy Brothers borrowed from their childhood and gave us something new in television — Stranger Things. It didn’t fit the mold of anything that was popular today. But it was a labor of love and managed to strike a chord. We need the same thing to happen again in cinema.

Young artists need to pursue their dreams and not listen to the studios.Write and create something where they follow their bliss. If they can pull it off and keep the costs down, then they might have a hit that will reinvigorate Hollywood. There will always be a place for the blockbuster, but that cannot be the only avenue for the silver screen. We need diversity, surprises and most of all, passion. I have no doubt that there is some young artist out there who has a story they are etching to tell. It’ll come along and blow us all away.”

Until then, we’ll be waiting, popcorn in hand.