When I went to the Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screening, the producers stuck around to do a Q&A with the audience after. One of the things that they spoke about was the place that historical movies, in particular "historical epics," which they called Button, have in Hollywood today. Onyx, as our resident historical drama writer, you might want to cover your ears now.
The outlook was grim, to say the least. There was general consensus that historical films are now one of the hardest to make. This is due to a number of things, probably, including the immense budgets they demand, the often limited ability to compete at the box office (hmm... Victorian era couples playing "who gets who" or Batman 7?), and their often limited audiences - you know, because who wants to hear people talking funny and wearing weird clothes? (all my speculation). On top of all of that, many historical films, dare I say more than half?, are also long. Really long. BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR are both long, but they're filled with action and blow my mind every time I watch them. But there are a number of other, tamer, more subtle historical dramas that are nearly as long as those, yet much quieter and about people and not fighting.
While the producers of Button were hopeful that their film could remind Hollywood not to drop this genre from future slates, I think I might have to disagree slightly that historical pieces are completely disappearing. There have been a number of celebrity driven epics tat take place before, say, 1900 recently. (How many times have you seen Orlando Bloom not dressed in something that you could only get at a costume shop? Once?) Historical epics are crowd pleasers, especially if current times are less than stellar. Not only can you escape to see people whose lives are far more difficult, but they also whack at one another with swords, and how great is that? The key is to keep the language contemporary enough, the action (if it's there) big enough, and the film star-studded enough. Can you make the argument that those "requirements" taint the genre? Yeah, probably, and you're welcome to do it in the comments section below.
But I don't think either audiences or filmmakers want to see the genre disappear totally yet.