Hit or flop, Hollywood studios will certainly try. Cinematic history is filled with trendsetting films that changed execs' standards for a potentially profitable project. Let's take a look back at some of those landmark movies through the decades that have affected those that have come after them.
1968: Teens poured in to matinee screenings of "Night Of The Living Dead" for a fun scare, only to leave shellshocked. Tame by today's standards, George A. Romero's seminal work defied the reputation the horror genre had built in the 1950s and '60s as the cinematic equivalent of a carnival haunted house. It pushed the boundaries of how far filmmakers could terrify audiences, and angered moral guardians with what Variety called an "unrelieved orgy of sadism." Still: "Night" grossed $30 million worldwide -- about $204M in today's money -- spawned five sequels, and kickstarted the zombie genre that made AMC's "The Walking Dead" a force.
1975: "Jaws" turned movies into franchises. Instead of selling a star or even a plot, Steven Spielberg just sold a concept: shark attacks people. And boy, did it sell. To date, "Jaws" and its sequels have made nearly $1.6 billion after inflation adjustment, and was one of the first films to sell tie-in merchandise. Today, as the overseas box office becomes more important, the hunt is on for films that can transcend language and cultural barriers. "Jaws" sets a perfect example.
1976: Urban antiheroes like Deadpool owe a debt to Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese's critically-acclaimed "Taxi Driver." Humphrey Bogart and Clint Eastwood's heroes didn't always wear white hats, but Robert DeNiro's Bickle was something else. He distrusts authority, fights corruption by his own moral code, has something knocked loose in his head, and is prone to committing vulgar displays of violence. Antiheroes in the superhero genre like Deadpool, The Punisher, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Rorschach have followed in Bickle's footsteps, and even heroes like Iron Man and Christopher Nolan's Batman have gotten darker. With a $28M domestic gross ($115M today), a Palme d'Or and a Best Picture nomination, "Taxi Driver" proved to Hollywood that there's money to be made in movies that deal in shades of grey.
20th Century Fox
1977: We can talk about all the different ways "Star Wars" changed cinema until the Banthas come home, so let's focus on one popular blockbuster concept that this franchise helped establish: the expanded universe. "Star Wars" tells a story in a galaxy far, far away, but in that galaxy we only see the story unfold in the Tantive IV, two planets, and the Death Star. The history of the Jedi and the Empire is not entirely explained, and it's made clear that there is far more in this galaxy that we're not seeing in our short visit. "Star Wars" became fertile space for an endless stream of sequels, novels, comics, and video games. Disney is making a killing off the universe concept with the Marvel films and -- to bring this full circle -- its plan to have a "Star Wars" film come out every year.
1989:Parts II and III of "Back To The Future" were not the first films to be shot back-to-back to lower production costs, but they were the first to do so as sequels of a hit blockbuster. Released within six months of each other and grossing a combined $576M worldwide, the BTTF films helped further popularize trilogies and proved to studios that you can do sequels in bunches. This model has become popular in recent years, with young adult novel adaptions like "Harry Potter," "Twilight," and "The Hunger Games" splitting their final books into two films. The upcoming sequels to "The Avengers" and "Fifty Shades Of Grey" will be filmed back-to-back as well.
1994: Much like "Jaws," "Jurassic Park" had a high concept as its key selling point: Dinosaurs are brought back to life. But in "Jaws," the shark was mostly concealed in the water. "Jurassic" used its CGI and practical effects to put its dinosaurs front and center. Before those dinosaurs, audiences hadn't bought into CGI-driven films as anything more than a novelty. Now CGI is become synonymous with the summer blockbuster season...for better and for worse.
2001: Through the 20th century, Disney set the pace for animated movies and the fairy tale genre. Then Dreamworks took that fairy-tale formula and thumbed its nose at it with 2001's "Shrek." It grossed $484 million worldwide and won the first animated feature Oscar with its loud mix of pop music, references, A-list voice actors, and slapstick parody. While Disney and Pixar have largely stuck to their guns in the face of this challenge, they have done their own deconstructions of the fairy tale formula in recent years, with "Tangled" and "Frozen."
2001: In the 1980s and '90s, executives refused to do fantasy films like Gandalf refused to take the ring from Frodo. ("The Princess Bride," which gorgeously played with the genre, initially underwhelmed at the box office.) But Peter Jackson took the "Lord Of The Rings" and turned it into a movie epic that won a combined 30 Oscars and grossed nearly $3B worldwide. Fantasy went from being toxic to a hot commodity, and since then we've seen adaptations of "The Chronicles Of Narnia," "The Hobbit," and "Game of Thrones" in film and TV.
2001: The other big contributor to the fantasy boom was the start of the "Harry Potter" film series. While LOTR's Oscar success ensured fantasy's new reputation as a profitable medium, it was "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" that opened the door by capitalizing on the wild popularity of Rowling's then-ongoing book saga. While the eight Potter films grossed a combined $7.7B between 2001 and 2011, studios scrambled to find other hot young adult novels to adapt into films, including "The Golden Compass," "The Spiderwick Chronicles," and the "Percy Jackson" series, but it was The Boy Who Lived who remained on top.
20th Century Fox
2009: "Avatar" hasn't entered the cultural lexicon the way "Star Wars" did, but one legacy of James Cameron's Blue Epic endures: 3D screenings. In the year following the release of "Avatar," films like "Alice In Wonderland," "Tron: Legacy," and "How To Train Your Dragon" tried to recapture the magic. Oversaturation may have hurt 3D's reputation, but it still has a sizable impact on box office thanks to the higher ticket prices of those screenings. It was inevitable that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" would take the all-time box office crown from "Avatar," but it probably wouldn't have done it as quickly had it not benefited from the extra revenue from IMAX and 3-D technology that "Avatar" inspired.
2012: Katniss Everdeen and "The Hunger Games" have played a huge role in popularizing action blockbusters with female protagonists. Other YA novel adaptations like "Twilight" had placed young women front and center, but none had the grit and power of Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss. The first "Hunger Games" film alone grossed almost $700M worldwide, leading Lionsgate to try to make lightning strike twice by adapting the "Divergent" series.
2015: "Mad Max: Fury Road" amplified the female-action protagonist trend (see also: Rey in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens.") But the "Mad Max" continuation is also part of the current buzz surrounding R-rated blockbusters. Grossing $376M worldwide, "Fury Road" continued to gain steam in the public consciousness long after it left theaters and is now looking to come away with a big haul at the Oscars. If "Fury Road" does win several statues, or even pulls a big upset to win Best Picture, we could see the studios' greenlight more more adult blockbusters. We're already seeing it happen, with reports that the next Wolverine film might be R-rated.