Hollywood often gets criticized for pumping out franchise films as fast as McDonald’s makes French fries.
And this summer was no exception, playing host to 14 sequels — four more than last year and tied with 2007 for the most of all time. (And that’s not counting films like “The Legend of Tarzan” that were released in hopes of creating lucrative new franchises.)
But only three of this year’s sequels — Universal-Blumhouse-Platinum Dune’s “The Purge: Election Year,” Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Dory” and Disney-Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” — outperformed their predecessors at the box office.
For studios, the franchise business is worthwhile even in an environment of diminishing returns. Fox has committed to more “X-Men” movies even though May’s “Apocalyse” topped out at $155.4 million domestically — $80 million less than the previous film.
In rare instances, a blockbuster doesn’t guarantee a follow-up. A source close to Disney told TheWrap there are absolutely no plans right now to make followup films for “Finding Dory” or “Captain America” — though Chris Evans‘ superhero will appear in the upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War.” Meanwhile, a “Dory” followup wouldn’t conceivably come for at least another six years given the fact that Pixar is hitting a hard pause button on sequels until roughly 2022.
TheWrap has taken a hard look back at this sequel-stacked summer, which also played host to new films that have set the stage for future franchises. Here are five lessons we have unearthed:
1. Too many sequels can be a snore.
As most new franchise installments fell on their faces, sequelitis was certainly the scourge that the summer couldn’t shake. Among the biggest losers were Disney’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” Universal’s “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” Fox’s “Ice Age: Collision Course” and Paramount’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.”
“It was the audience who voted with their absence from what were expected to be the most likely sure bets of this or any given summer season,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at comScore, told TheWrap. “It may not be so much of a bias against sequels, but more the immediate social media and critical reaction to movies that are perceived as less than stellar.”
2. There’s hope for original ideas.
The summer gave rise to its first new franchise when Universal announced a sequel for the animated hit “The Secret Life of Pets.” After that, New Line announced a followup to its scary movie “Lights Out” less than two weeks after it opened in theaters.
There are also other movies that are in prime position to launch their own first set of followup films: Warner Bros. seems seconds away from announcing a sequel to “Suicide Squad” (outside of the previously announced spinoff of Margot Robbie‘s Harley Quinn in “Birds of Prey”); it’s looking good for another “Sausage Party” from Columbia and Annapurna, TheWrap has learned. And STX’s “Bad Moms” is all but a sure bet for a sequel.
An “Angry Birds” sequel from Rovio and Sony is also a strong probability. “All the merch associated with that franchise is hard to pass up,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations.
The trick for studios will be in applying the hard lessons learned from the many failed sequels this summer to make the best possible followup movies. “Don’t break the bank on budgets and mount great marketing campaigns for each,” warned Dergarabedian. “The most important ingredient is that the quality of the next installments must be the top priority and not the exploitation of a popular original concept to turn a quick profit.”
Bock agreed: “As much as studios want roman numerals, they need to slow down or risk burning out the franchise.”
3. Reviving dormant franchises isn’t a sure thing.
“The Legend of Tarzan” joined other box office disappointments this year that attempted to reboot movies or franchises that have been off the screen for a decade or more, including “Independence Day: Resurgence,” “Ghostbusters,” “Pete’s Dragon” and “Ben-Hur.”
“Ghostbusters,” “Independence Day,” “Ben-Hur” and “Tarzan” are, in particular, cases where studios gambled on pricey reboots of very old properties. “They’re not truly craved by fans,” Bock told TheWrap of the glut of years-later reboots and sequels.
Though, in spite of tens of millions that were lost on the female-led “Ghostbusters” movie, an animated feature is still in the works as the brand is alive and well within the walls of Sony, sources tell TheWrap.
While the very successful “Finding Dory” came out 13 years after “Finding Nemo,” it was the exception and not the rule among Hollywood’s dusted-off ideas that entered multiplexes this summer.
4. Scary movies score.
Box office returns for “The Conjuring 2” settled in just over $100 million, not too much lower than its predecessor, counting as one of the summer’s most successful franchise followups. Indeed, while its grosses were more than $30 million shy of the original, it still managed to rake in presumed profit margins more than five-times those of Disney-Marvel’s mammoth hit “Captain America: Civil War.”
Other modestly budgeted scary movies, including “The Shallows,” “Purge: Election Year” and “Don’t Breathe” have also opened strongly this summer with a sequel already in store for the very profitable “Lights Out.”
5. Foreign markets matter.
The U.S. is still the center of the entertainment world, but the fast-growing international box office is more important than ever in determining which films end up making money — and which make sense for a sequel.
“Captain America: Civil War” and “Finding Dory” dominated every market, but that’s increasingly unusual nowadays.
The Chinese box office, which could become the world’s largest as soon as 2017, boosted the fortunes of domestic underperformers, making “Warcraft 2” and “Now You See Me 3” possible.
“Now You See Me 3” is a co-production between Lionsgate and a Beijing film company and will feature a heavily Chinese cast, while “Warcraft 2” may not even get a U.S. release.
6. Brands kept barely alive.
Fox’s rights to Marvel’s “X-Men” series is on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. While the studio would have loved to see more success with “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which came in nearly $80 million lower than its predecessor “Days of Future Past,” filmmakers are incentivized to keep up fast clip or risk relinquishing the rights to Disney-Marvel.
This summer’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sequel didn’t do that great at the box office either, but that won’t stop Paramount from turning a lucrative merchandise profit from a sagging movie series. That studio also faces a ticking clock on rights to the franchise.
Fox’s “Ice Age: Collision Course” markedly underperformed — but so what? There are other revenue streams aside from movie ticket sales.