“There was never just one”: this is the tagline to last summer’s remake of the Bourne franchise, which I believe is indicative of the current era of Hollywood big budget franchises. There can never be just one; in fact, the more the merrier. Remaking Bourne after a brilliant finale to the Matt Damon franchise–just to squeeze every last cent out of it–was not the only head scratcher of the year.
The Amazing Spiderman remade Spiderman five years after the last Tobey Maguire version and 10 years after the massively successful original that everyone has seen. The craziest part is that the movie made huge money ($260 million) at the box office. This feature of franchises leads to a large conflict in the things I value about being a box office nerd and moviegoer.
1. My appreciation for the business side of movie making
If I were a businessman in charge of a movie studio, why would I ever think I should just make one? If a movie makes $500 million with the first installment, then common knowledge of sequels tells us that while the next movie might not make as much, it will generate a higher opening weekend than the original. Now, foreign markets make sequels an even bigger no brainer.
Let’s say that of the $500 million made by the hypothetical movie, $160 million of it comes from domestic audiences and $340 million comes from foreign audiences. This is a 32%/68% ratio, which is now common. Then with the sequel that difference increases. If the sequel makes $700 million worldwide, the ratio is usually $200 million domestic and $500 million foreign–with every subsequent sequel that difference increases.
A great example is the Ice Age franchise. The first film’s domestic to foreign ratio was 46% domestic and 54% foreign. For the latest film, which was the fourth movie, the ratio is a mind-boggling 19% domestic and 81% foreign. What I appreciate about this business strategy is that the movie studio that owns the Ice Age franchise essentially has a cash crop on their hands.
Another business strategy I greatly admire is the Marvel cinematic universe. The Marvel cinematic universe is a collection of individual superhero movie franchises that combine to create a superhero team up film. There are four superheroes: Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America. Each super hero makes a movie that has loose ties to one another; then they come together as a team to make a movie.
What makes this such a genius strategy by Marvel is that each individual film makes around $400 million worldwide. Then the team up movie The Avengers makes at least $1 billion dollars. If you combine these movies, Marvel makes close to $3 billion and that doesn’t even include merchandising and DVD sales.
2. I’m obsessed with studying stats
I don’t know what it is about statistics, but studying numbers is so much fun to me. Then if you give me numbers for something that I love like movies, then you get why I love studying box office so much. For me the bigger the numbers, the better, and those usually come from the big franchise movies. If you look at the top opening weekends of all time they’re all sequels.
The reason sequels always have a higher opening weekend than original movies is their intense fan base. Original movies need a good reaction by audiences. Original movies tend to open more modestly, and if they have a strong enough audience reaction they get something called “legs.” Legs means they spend a longer time in theaters than franchise sequels, which tend to burn off audience demand quickly.
While seeing a movie with legs is fun (original films like Avatar and Inception are examples), the most fun comes from the freak openings that come from movie franchises.
3. I love movies as an art form
I honestly believe that movies can captivate us now more than ever. With the advances in modern technology and the large budgets, the opportunities for amazing out-of-body theater experiences are limitless. However all the money is going to franchises. While movie studios do care about the quality, they care more about protecting the brand than they do about creating the best movie possible.
The best movies come when directors are given a blank check and told to go make any movie they want. However there really are only a handful of directors who get that privilege. These directors, in my opinion, are Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese.
All of these directors needed to prove over a long period of time that they know how to make great movies that audiences want to see. The problem is that there are some great directors who know how to make blockbuster movies, but movie studios are forcing them into franchise hell. I’m thinking of directors like JJ Abrams, Brad Bird, and Joss Wheddon who are all stuck making franchise movies when they could be creating great unique films.
My point is that movie studios think they should never make just one, but maybe they should. Then we can get more risky and more creative movies then we are getting now.