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  • Alfie Hartshorne

A Trailer for Tomorrow: A Prediction For Gen Z Cinema

Words by Alfie Hartshorne (he/him) 

Smash cut to the late Cold War, and James Cameron and Christopher Nolan are children growing up in the shadow of the bomb. Cut back to now, and they’re the reigning blockbuster kings, making entertaining spectacles that also reflect humanity’s capacity for annihilation and severed connection. Cinema is an art, so it reflects the experiences of the artists. If the art we make reflects our reality, what will our generation make? If our collective experience was a genre, what would it be?

There’s no nice way of saying it: it’s a disaster film. There’s climate change, rising nationalism, inequality, pandemics, culture wars, racism, and transphobia—to name a few of the fraught circumstances of our youth. This is our experience; our future cinema will reflect it.  How will the incoming wave of Generation Z filmmakers tackle this?

Let’s start by eliminating what we won’t be doing by showing you what is being done. Here’s a basic idea of what’s happening: an army of writers and actors man the picket lines. A bunch of out of touch studio goons meddle in the making of every project. Analysts try to discern how this is going to work post-covid. A slew of $300 million blockbusters crash and burn like never before. The CEOs of a streaming service and a cinema are engaged in a fistfight. A TV writers’ room fends off a horde of AI, while James Cameron lounges on a beach chair beside a sign saying, “I told you so!” Welcome to the modern film industry.

The dream factory’s a nightmare. So what could be different?

Firstly, strikes and studios. For a few months now, the Writers’ Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild have been on strike against Hollywood studios. Actors’ representative Fran Drescher stated, “What happens here is important, because what’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labour by means of when employers make Wall Street and greed their priority.” It goes without saying that the real artists should be compensated for their work. If writers don’t write, the studios have nothing to sell, so they’ll turn to AI. 

But it doesn’t work. People like real people and the studios can’t replace us. They definitely have the money to pay the artists. I see a generation emboldened to take a stronger stance against studio shenaniganry. Most of us are already involved in protests and social causes. We’re all set to grow into this. Beyond cinema, there’s a growing work-from-home movement and a greater demand for better conditions. Film is an industry, it’s no different.

We know things are different post-covid, and there are big ones for streaming and cinema. Thanks to the pandemic, streaming films straight from release is much more normalised. Will we care as much about the cinematic experience? Consider Barbenheimer—audiences flocked with costumes and often brought friends. It worked. At the time of writing, the combined gross of Barbie and Oppenheimer is over $2 billion. This wouldn’t be the same on streaming. Barbenheimer was an event, a ‘me and the boys’ for the ages. This kind of engagement with the theatrical experience was an instant classic—it was memorable and worthwhile. Don’t we all want some kind of longevity?

In the future, I see more diversity and far more varied stories told to include many different life experiences outside the American mainstream. A likely prominent theme to emerge throughout our stories will be institutional distrust and downright anti-government sentiment. A defining feature of our generation is anger at the inaction of our political leaders regarding… everything, really. Think of how many protests you’ve marched in against systemic and institutional injustice. 

Existential dread is guaranteed when you’re growing up amidst climate change, and I see a lot of Lovecraftian, cosmic horror facing this futureless feeling. It’s a scary time to be alive. The future may not be guaranteed for many of us, and horror can be one of the most allegorical and cathartic genres for this. A24 (the studio behind Euphoria and The Lighthouse) is gonna have a blast. 

My beloved science fiction genre is the most allegorical of them all, and it’s gonna explode. Look at how much of 20th century sci-fi came true: we’re living through Blade Runner (technically set in 2019…), The Matrix, a little bit of Alien, and the smallest sliver of The Thing. Imagine what we’ll create to envision our paperback dystopian future. Art with an environmental focus will come through strongly, and I say this not just to vindicate us Avatar truthers. Our films will focus on nature as something to be preserved and respected, and as indigenous filmmakers take the stage, we’ll see more stories featuring an indigenous worldview of the environment. Or maybe it’ll all be destroyed by deforestation and deep sea mining, so our films will present the environment as nostalgic memories of beauty now lost. I am willing to bet money one of us is going to adapt Le Guin’s The Word For World Is Forest

And the final theme? Cue the Terminator theme, because it’s AI. What does it look like when we’re done predicting a robot apocalypse, and we’re actually facing HAL 9000? We’re already seeing this in the screen writers’ strikes—artists fighting to not be replaced by computers. I’d say defiance is the word. Art is forever because art is human.

I think we’ll be seeing a lot of artists grappling with the concept of lost youth. How many of us feel like we’ve had to grow up an extra decade to successfully mature and take on the world’s problems, because it feels like the adults won’t? I know I definitely have. Did we get a chance to be real, carefree teenagers? To quote my favourite musical ever, “Can’t we be seventeen?” We’re so nostalgic for a lost past, we’re almost tragic. Gen Z has a very particular sense of humour, so I predict a new wave of dark, gallows humour infused comedy. The ultimate joke would be if it turned out that our ‘sensitive’ and ‘snowflake’ generation grew up to make the most outrageous stuff possible.

Throughout everything, I see a reckoning with humanity’s capacity for good and evil. Are we good? Are we worth saving? I think this will be weighing on a lot of minds. Most of my dream projects loosely revolve around a younger generation rejecting tradition and the ways of the old for the sake of legacy and the future. But I want to end on a bigger question than me (because lord knows I haven’t posed enough of those): are we defined by anger or love? Anger at what was taken from us, or love of what we had? Anger at what we went through and are going through, or love of what we can do?

Filmmaking is nothing but an attempt at control. Through a camera, we can hold the world in our hands. Is that all we’re looking for in this uncertain world? I said that we are a disaster film. But maybe we’re a sports film, the uplifting underdog story. Maybe we’re a war film—once more unto the breach. Or maybe, the most fitting for our time, we’re a superhero film, rising above great tragedy to become something greater. Like life, the reel rolls on, frame by frame, and is yet to be determined. But I know we’ll call “action!” on something uniquely us.


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