New Wave of Sequels Hits Summer Screens

By Lang, Brent; Kelley, Seth | Variety, May 2, 2017 | Go to article overview

New Wave of Sequels Hits Summer Screens


Lang, Brent, Kelley, Seth, Variety


In Hollywood, nothing is more dangerous than an original idea.

These days, it's nearly impossible for studios to justify greenlighting a big-budget movie and sending it out into the heat of summer battle without the armor of a film franchise. It's too hard to find the right marketing hook to explain a film's premise in a 30-second ad, particularly when so many people are skipping the multiplexes in order to settle in with Netflix and chill. To combat the urge to stream, studios are betting heavily on the tried and true, offering up 15 reboots, sequels or spinoffs between May and August.

"As much as people like to decry the lack of originality in sequels, audiences tend to want to bet their money on more of a sure thing," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.

On paper, at least, Hollywood has assembled a veritable armada of "sure things." There are follow-ups to "Guardians of the Galaxy" "Transformers" and "Despicable Me," as well as a "Wonder Woman" adventure and "War of the Planet of the Apes," the final installment in the popular science-fiction trilogy. Nearly every weekend offers up a sequel, animated adventure or superhero pic - most with budgets in excess of $100 million. But it's not just familiarity that's ensuring big grosses. The films that break through, studio executives maintain, are the ones that put a fresh spin on a favorite genre. They point to the first "Guardians," which benefited from a rock 'n' roll vibe, or "Logan," a brooding, hard-R take on Hugh Jackman's popular Wolverine alter ego.

"Audiences are looking for creative storytelling with compelling characters," said Chris Aronson, head of domestic distribution for Fox.

It's easy to see why studios are willing to place such big bets on sequels. Eight of the 10 highest-grossing films in both 2015 and 2016 were remakes or part of pre-existing franchises. So even though people may talk about how they want to see something revolutionary, they're predisposed to shell out for something generic.

Success in today's movie business is weighed in franchises. That's what's driving Disney to record heights. The studio's control of the Avengers and "Star Wars" universe, as well as its continued animation dominance, allows it to turn nearly every film it releases into an event.

The problem is that other studios lack the deep vault of intellectual properties that -> «- Disney enjoys. That's left them dusting off even the moldiest of brands, from outdated action figures to geriatric Saturday-morning cartoons, in the hopes of finding something that can spawn sequels and merchandising opportunities. And because films take years to develop and produce, studios have to try to anticipate the zeitgeist rather than respond in real time to shifting tastes.

Not every big summer bet pays off. The cost of special effects and star salaries tends to rise with each installment, as do expectations. When audiences tire of a particular series or it becomes overly ripe, their disenchantment can mean lots of red ink. The hope is that this band of new releases will perform better than last year's. In 2016, audiences turned their back on several pricey sequels and reboots. Big-budget flops such as "Ghostbusters," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" and "Independence Day: Resurgence" lost tens of millions and led to widespread anxiety that "sequelitis," a terminal disease that leaves once potent franchises on the slab, had struck.

Yet the movie business is heading into beach season this year with the wind at its back. Domestic ticket sales are up 5%, buoyed by hits such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Fate of the Furious." Stateside revenues hit record levels in 2016 even as the foreign box office waned, and some analysts believe that this summer could be the first to breach $5 billion in ticket sales.

"We're going to see a bigger summer than last year," said Eric Handler, an analyst at MKM Partners. …

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