Are Franchises the Problem with Hollywood?

franchise-fatigueThe Independent’s article Hollywood’s obsession with franchises is costing studios millions argues against its own premise in places. I’m going to quote and comment.

As anyone who has been to the cinema recently will tell you, Hollywood are currently pumping out franchises and sequels like original concepts never existed. We’ve had Pirate of the Caribbean 5: Salazar’s Revenge, Terminator 5: The Last Knight, The Mummy, Cars 3, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Alien: Covenant, Baywatch, and Despicable Me 3, all within almost two months.

OK, but three of those films (King Arthur, Baywatch, and The Mummy) aren’t sequels. I’m not even sure King Arthur is a remake of anything. It may actually be an original take on the story. Baywatch and the Mummy are remakes, and the Mummy was intended to be the lead film in a franchise.

As a seeming result of “franchise fatigue”, each of these has underperformed to some degree in the United States, failing to match the only two blockbusters that have managed to do notably well this Summer: Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

One of which is the fourth film in a franchise, and the other a sequel. You are arguing against your premise.

The current state of cinema was been brought to a head over the weekend with the release of Despicable Me 3, the threequel opening to $72.4 million, down from an expected $85 million and below both Despicable Me 2 and spinoff Minions. While hardly a bomb, the below-expected domestic result — plus Summer revenue being down 8 percent from last year — has set alarm bells ringing among studios.

Alarm bells were going off after Memorial Day. Too bad there’s no one at the bridge. Ice berg dead ahead!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (Dead Men Tell No Tales in the US) earned $165.5 million domestically over almost two months, down from $241.1 million the last installment grossed. That fourth film was below At World’s End ($309.4 million) and Dead Man’s Chest ($423.3 million).

At World’s End (or “Giant Woman Who Turns Into Crabs” as I prefer to call it) was a wretched piece of crap. I’m amazed that anyone thought making another film in this series would be successful. Yet, with its take internationally, maybe the studio will consider it a success and will want to make “Pirates 6: The Quest for Every Last Dollar in Your Wallet”. But this example does support your argument.

The latest Transformers has taken just $102.1 million over two weeks with further diminishing returns ahead. The last installment managed $245.4 million, down from $342.4 million for Transformers 3 and $402 million for Transformers 2.

Another series of terrible films living of the relative merit of the first one.

Cars 3 debuted to a series low $53.7 million.

Not surprising, since the previous film was roundly panned.

The Mummy opened to $31.7 million, failing to top the box office thanks to Wonder Woman’s almighty hold. Deadline attributed the flop to franchise fatigue.

Well, this wasn’t part of the original mummy series, but was a reboot and the first film (and probably not last) in Universal’s “Dark Universe”. If I’d heard good things, I’d probably have gone to see this one. But it had terrible reviews. I’m not sure that “franchise fatigue” was the problem. Perhaps in this case, it was merely poor quality leading to bad word of mouth.

Also notable is the King Arthur disaster, the film taking just $140.3 million worldwide from a $170 million budget. Baywatch was expected to take $40 million opening weekend, but after some divisive reviews took just $18.5 million.

Neither of these is a sequel or part of a franchise. Baywatch is a reboot of an ancient TV series, so I hardly think it was fatigue with the original material that killed the movie. Again, these likely failed due to poor quality and bad word of mouth. I won’t likely watch either even on DVD, so I guess I’ll never know for sure.

Reviews have seemingly had quite a significant impact on box office receipts, particularly aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. The Mummy holds just 15 percent, Transformers the same, Baywatch going up to 20 percent, King Arthur holding 18 percent, and Pirates 29 percent.


On the flip side, Wonder Woman and Guardians Vol. 2 have benefited from positive reviews, the former — which has quickly become the highest grossing DC Extended Universe film — being rated 92 percent, James Gunn’s space adventure holding 81 percent.

I saw GOTG2, and it was good. So in that case, I can say that high quality led to good reviews and word of mouth. The reviews of Wonder Woman were through the roof. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to make it to the theater to see it. Here’s hoping it lives up to the hype when I do get to it.

Come next weekend when Spider-Man: Homecoming reaches cinemas, expect a similar boost from the current 93 percent, certified fresh rating, as will the positively received War for the Planet of the Apes.

Hmm, a franchise film and a sequel. Again, you are arguing against your thesis.

Surprise hits like Get Out, Split, The Beguiled, and Baby Driver, were all critical and commercial successes.

But Split is both a sequel (to Unbreakable) and an attempt to start a franchise (with Glass announced as the next film). So again, this doesn’t fit the premise of the article.

Studios are looking to change tactic, taking inspiration from them. Whether that tactic becomes “making good movie” over “cashing in on franchises” remains to be seen.

The problem is not franchises and sequels (or reboots, for that matter). It’s poor quality. As Split, Guardians, and Wonder Woman prove, if you make a good film in a franchise, it can do extremely well. And King Arthur, Baywatch show that something somewhat original but of low quality will fail.

I agree that the studios are cashing in on franchises and sequels, but they are doing so by making poor quality films like the Pirates and Transformers movies. I’ve argued that a sequel gives a film an automatic one star boost in peoples minds. That’s why films with 20% ratings on rotten tomatoes can still lose money. But a good film–even Split, coming from a director, M. Night Shyamalan, who has had a long string of bombs–can still succeed if it a good film. Split is an even better film than Unbreakable.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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