New crop of follow-ups outpaces originals
Here are three factoids worth pondering:Sequels are now consistently outperforming their predecessors. Booming DVD sales are adding muscle to the franchises. And the films’ “brand names” appear to be so strong that studios increasingly seem willing to toss aside the key talent of the original. Welcome to the brave new world of sequel-itis. Remember when sequels were a sort of frivolous byproduct for the major studios? Well, now they’re the core product. And audiences had better get used to seeing Roman numerals decorate seemingly every other movie title. So far this summer, “2 Fast 2 Furious,” “The Matrix Reloaded” and “X2: The X-Men United” have each outgrossed the original. And, for many of the nine other sequels set to bow before Labor Day, prospects appear bright. They had better be. Never before has Hollywood placed such a high-stakes bet on sequels. So far, the wager appears to be paying off — to the great relief of the studios. Just a few years ago, the conventional wisdom said that a successful sequel would do about two-thirds as much biz as a franchise original. But there has been a radical change in that thinking. Now, Hollywood is banking on the second and third installments taking the franchise to new heights. The key reasons for that shift in thinking are DVDs and marketing. A film’s afterlife on homevid can add millions to a film’s income, and the home version can whet the audience appetite for a follow-up. The first “Austin Powers” movie, for example, earned a mere $53.9 million at the domestic box office; however, the second film’s homevid-fed opening weekend of $54.9 million surpassed the entire run of its predecessor. In addition, studios are getting savvier with their marketing initiatives, eager to capitalize on established brands. In a few rare cases, the success of the first film at the box office and in ancillaries makes the job of marketing easier. With properties like “Star Wars” or “Terminator,” sometimes merely a teaser logo introduced in theaters is enough to foment audience excitement. But in most cases, execs are leaving nothing to chance. Since execs no longer view a second or third film with diminished hope, they’re putting considerable muscle and money behind these franchises. Still, a sequel is hardly a slamdunk. Studios are haunted by such pics as “Speed 2,” “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2” and “Babe: Pig in the City,” which proved that one misstep can kill a potentially long and lucrative franchise. More recent backsliders include last year’s “Analyze That” and “Stuart Little 2” and the prior summer’s “Scary Movie 2.” There are several other reasons for concern:
- Marketing costs on sequels are just as high as on the original. Despite higher audience awareness for sequels, studios must identify bigger auds for the pricier followup films.
- An inclination to emphasize production values can be both costly and taxing of crix and auds’ patience if the flash of the sequel supplants plot and substance.
- Sony is shifting “Charlie’s Angels” from November to June and, though the buzz is good, there’s always a risk when a sequel bows in a different season than the first one. Sony’s “Stuart 2” suffered from moving from December to July.
- And the biggest ballooning to production budgets comes from greatly inflated talent costs.
- New Line’s “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd” from New Line, unspooling this weekend (click here to see review);
- Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” June 27;
- Warner Bros.’ “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” July 2;
- MGM’s “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde,” set for July 2;
- Sony’s “Bad Boys 2,” July 18;
- Miramax/Dimension’s “Spy Kids 3D: Game Over,” July 25;
- Paramount’s “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life,” July 25;