Superhero movies are ruining cinema, says Exorcist director Friedkin, now working on a Mae West script

PARIS (AFP) - William Friedkin, the United States director who made the Oscar-winning movies The Exorcist and The French Connection, is dismissive about the flood of superhero and sci-fi movies that have taken over today's box office.

"Films used to be rooted in gravity. They were about real people doing real things," the acclaimed 79-year-old filmmaker told AFP as he attended the Champs-Elysees Film Festival in Paris.

Today, he said, "cinema is all about Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Avengers, Hunger Games in America: all kinds of stuff that I have no interest in seeing at all."

That race by studios to appeal to the broadest audience possible is why his own movies fell out of favour after his peak in the 1970s, he admitted. "That is when my films went like that - out of the frame."

He says he saw the change happen in 1977 when he made what he considered his best movie - the largely ignored Sorcerer, about four men transporting a cargo of nitroglycerin in South America - only to see it eclipsed by the huge hit of that year: Star Wars.

Now Friedkin reckons "the best work" for directors is on television, on US cable and video-on-demand services that produce quality series such as True Detective and House Of Cards.

The shift to those outlets, he said, is the "new zeitgeist". "You develop character at a greater length and the story is more complex and deeper than cinema," he said. "Many of the fine filmmakers of today are going to long-form TV. It is the most welcoming place to work for a director today."

He is looking to ride that wave, working on a script for the HBO cable network about Mae West, the American sex symbol and entertainer counted as one of Hollywood's biggest ever stars. He has spoken to Bette Midler about playing the part.

He is also looking at turning another of his big films, To Live And Die In LA, into a TV series, with different characters and plot.

If his past work serves as inspiration for what he is doing today, it is in no small part due to the fact that he has long been fascinated by the timeless theme of good versus evil.

"Most of my films are about the thin line between good and evil that exists in everyone," he said. "I believe that within all of us, there is a good side and a dark side. And it's a constant struggle to have your good side triumph over the dark side. And sometimes people don't and lose control of themselves."

Although his NYC-cop-in-France movie The French Connection and the demon possession drama The Exorcist made him a star director at the time, his later films never scaled such heights.

But he resisted going back and doing the sequels to his masterpieces, saying it would have been purely about the money.

"I am not interested" in making movies just for the pay-cheque, he said. "I have to love the film, the story, the characters."

His Exorcist movie "was enough," he said. "There were four sequels to The Exorcist and I've seen none of them, nor do I want to or intend to."

Likewise, with 1971's The French Connection, which starred Gene Hackman and won five Oscars, "there was nothing more that could be said". That demurral did not stop the production of a 1975 sequel, also with Hackman and directed by John Frankenheimer, who notably made the original The Manchurian Candidate.

Friedkin, however, placed Sorcerer well above The Exorcist and The French Connection as he looked over his half-century career and 20 films. That movie, starring Roy Scheider, was the one that emerged closest to his original vision, he said, and dealt with a theme that he holds dear - fate. "If I am remembered at all for anything, I hope it would be that," said the director.