H’w’d serial bowl

As tentpoles teeter, studios hatch new franchise formula

“X-Men: The Last Stand” was supposed to be the end of the line for Stan Lee’s mutant superheroes. Now there are “Wolverine” and “Magneto” spinoffs in the works and, given the success of “X-Men 3,” “X-Men 4” isn’t out of the question either.

“The Da Vinci Code” was meant to be one of a kind. Now Sony has signed “Code” screenwriter Akiva Goldsman to adapt Dan Brown’s earlier Robert Langdon thriller, “Angels and Demons.”

Hollywood is well aware of the perils of the franchise biz: spiraling production, talent and marketing costs; thumbs-down reviews from jaded critics and bloggers who like to grouse that Hollywood has no original ideas; and the nagging concern that a character arc will be stretched so thin it will sabotage a popular library title.

Despite these fears, the studios are producing a staggering number of sequels. This summer, there are seven, including the yet-to-be-released “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” out of a total of 21 sequels skedded for 2006; that’s four more than there were in 2005.

There’s a note of desperation to some of these moves, as studios grasp at origin-type stories to relaunch once-successful franchises like Superman, Batman and James Bond. There’s even a new industry vernacular for these ventures. They’re not sequels or remakes; they’re reinventions and re-imaginings.

Next summer, Hollywood will release more “re-imaginings” than ever. There are 10 sequels slated for release between Memorial Day and mid-August of 2007 — nearly one a week — in one of the largest accumulations of franchise pics ever to jockey for screens during the congested summer blockbuster season.

It’s a lineup that includes some of the most expensive pics on record — “Spider-Man 3,” the fifth “Harry Potter,” the third “Shrek,” “Ocean’s Thirteen” and “Pirates of the Caribbean 3.”

Also out next summer: “Evan Almighty” (the sequel to “Bruce Almighty”), “Alien vs. Predator 2,” “Rush Hour 3,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” and a new installment of “Fantastic Four.” All of these films are expected to cost well more than the industry average.

As one agent notes: “Studios don’t want to be original when the budgets are at this level.”

In the aftermath of “X-Men 3,” which racked up more than $200 million around the world in its first four days, the sequel strategy might seem as sound as ever.

But the sequel game is changing as studios continue to devise new ways to build franchises into their release plans. One tactic: wring sequels from pics that were never expected to be franchises. Hence “Evan Almighty,” a spinoff of “Bruce Almighty” with Steve Carell as a congressman plucked by God to carry out his orders. The comedy-sequel tactic worked for “Meet the Fokkers,” but not for “Analyze That.”

Producers also are working hard to identify projects that don’t come from comicstrips or book series, but nevertheless lend themselves to serialization. Sean Daniel, who produced “The Mummy” and two successful sequels, is prepping a potential franchise-starter for Paramount with Jim Carrey and Tim Burton, based on the life of Robert Ripley, creator of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

“I’ll just say that Robert Ripley has many adventures in him,” Daniel says.

Warren Zide, producer on both the “American Pie” and “Final Destination” trilogies, says he welcomes the opportunity to start a franchise. “There’s always the possibility of a fourth ‘Final Destination,’ ” he admits, then deadpans: “The best thing about ‘Final Destination’ is you get to kill off the entire cast, so you can keep budgets down.”

Industry insiders expressed concerns about the vulnerability of the sequel business last month when “Mission: Impossible III” opened to solid but unspectacular numbers around the world, leaving Paramount looking to DVD sales to achieve any kind of significant profitability.

Even with decent critical notices, “MI3” failed to match the grosses for the first two installments; “Mission: Impossible 4” now appears unlikely.

But worries about sequel fatigue dissipated over Memorial Day weekend as “X-Men: The Last Stand” confounded forecasts, becoming the biggest hit of the year so far.

The latest “X-Men” vindicated a number of strategies that have fueled Hollywood’s sequel boom. It proved that a project manufactured in part for corporate reasons — to drive ancillary revenues, to fit a marketing plan and to fill a big summer release date — can be as successful as one that emerges more organically from the development process.

And it demonstrated, once again, the viability of sequels in foreign markets. The four “Harry Potter” films have grossed $1.32 billion combined in the United States and $2.41 billion internationally. The worldwide tally of the latest “X-Men” is expected to reach $500 million.

“Rush Hour” producer Jay Stern notes the DVD business is driving the sequel machine, even if the DVD market is leveling off. He noted that after the first “Rush Hour” grossed $140 million in the U.S., strong DVD sales helped elevate the grosses of “Rush Hour 2” to $215 million.

The number of 2007 summer sequels recently grew from nine to 10 when New Line greenlit “Rush Hour 3,” with plans to get the comedy into theaters by August 2007, a full six years after “Rush Hour 2.”

Stern is unconcerned over the relatively long period that has elapsed since “Rush Hour 2.” But that film’s unique circumstances only serve to underscore the differences between studio sequels.

It’s hard to generalize about a category of films that includes everything from “Basic Instinct 2” to “Spider-Man 3,” “Scary Movie 4” to “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.”

Next summer may serve as a test of whether filmmakers can deliver on the essential promise of a better ride along the same old rollercoaster tracks.

But the results this year — “Madea’s Family Reunion,” “Scary Movie 4,” “Final Destination 3,” “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” and “Big Momma’s House 2” — are certainly encouraging.

Fox, in particular, has gotten a big boost from the sequel business. Two months before “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the studio released “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” which has grossed more than $630 million worldwide — $250 million more than the original “Ice Age” four years ago.

“X-Men: The Last Stand” was supposed to be the end of the line for Stan Lee’s mutant superheroes. Now there’s talk of “X-Men 4” (denied by Fox) along with “Wolverine” and “Magneto” spinoffs.

“The Da Vinci Code” was meant to be one of a kind. Now Sony has signed “Code” screenwriter Akiva Goldsman to adapt Dan Brown’s earlier Robert Langdon thriller, “Angels and Demons.”

Hollywood is well aware of the perils of the franchise biz: spiraling production, talent, and marketing costs; thumbs-down reviews from jaded critics and bloggers who like to grouse that Hollywood has no original ideas; and the nagging concern that a character arc will be stretched so thin it will sabotage a popular library title.

Despite these fears, the studios are producing a staggering number of sequels. This summer, there are six, including the yet-to-be-released “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” out of a total of 21 sequels in 2006, four more than there were in 2005.

There’s a note of desperation to some of these moves, as studios grasp at origin-type stories to relaunch once-successful franchises like Superman, Batman and James Bond. There’s even a new industry vernacular for these ventures. They’re not sequels or remakes; they’re reinventions and re-imaginings.

Next summer, Hollywood will release more “re-imaginings” than ever. There are 10 sequels slated for release between Memorial Day and mid-August of 2007 — nearly one a week — in one of the largest accumulations of franchise pics ever to jockey for screens during the congested summer blockbuster season.

It’s a lineup that includes some of the most expensive pics on record — “Spider-Man 3,” the fifth “Harry Potter,” the third “Shrek,” “Oceans Thirteen” and “Pirates of the Caribbean 3.”

Also out next summer: “Evan Almighty” (the sequel to “Bruce Almighty”), “Alien Vs. Predator 2,” “Rush Hour 3,” “The Bourne Ultimatum” and a new installment of “Fantastic Four.” All of these films are expected to cost well more than the industry average.

As one agent notes: “Studios don’t want to be original when the budgets are at this level.”

In the aftermath of “X-Men 3,” which racked up more than $200 million around the world in its first four days, the sequel strategy might seem as sound as ever.

But the sequel game is changing as studios continue to devise new ways to build franchises into their release plans. One tactic: wring sequels from pics that were never expected to be franchises. Hence “Evan Almighty,” a spinoff of “Bruce Almighty” with Steve Carrel as an eponymous Congressman plucked by God to carry out his orders. The comedy-sequel tactic worked for “Meet the Fokkers,” but not for “Analyze That.”

Producers are also working hard to identify projects that don’t come from comic strips or book series but nevertheless lend themselves to serialization. Sean Daniel, who produced “The Mummy” and two successful sequels, is prepping a potential franchise-starter for Paramount with Jim Carrey and Tim Burton, based on the life of Robert Ripley, creator of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

“I’ll just say that Robert Ripley has many adventures in him,” Daniel says.

Warren Zide, producer on both the “American Pie” and “Final Destination” trilogies, says he welcomes the opportunity to start a franchise. “There’s always the possibility of a fourth ‘Final Destination,’ ” he admits, then deadpans: “The best thing about ‘Final Destination’ is you get to kill off the entire cast, so you can keep budgets down.”

Industry insiders expressed concerns about the vulnerability of the sequel business last month when “Mission: Impossible 3” opened to solid but unspectacular numbers around the world, leaving Paramount looking to DVD sales to achieve any kind of significant profitability.

Even with decent critical notices, “MI3” failed to match the grosses for the first two installments; “Mission: Impossible 4” now appears unlikely.

But worries about sequel fatigue dissipated over Memorial Day weekend as “X-Men: The Last Stand” confounded forecasts, becoming the biggest hit of the year.

The latest “X-Men” vindicated a number of strategies that have fueled Hollywood’s sequel boom. It proved that a project manufactured in part for corporate reasons — to drive ancillary revenues, to fit a marketing plan and to fill a big summer release date — can be as successful as one that emerges more organically from the development process.

And it demonstrated, once again, the viability of sequels in foreign markets. The four “Harry Potter” films have grossed $1.32 billion combined in the United States and $2.41 billion internationally. The worldwide tally of the latest “X-Men” is expected to reach $500 million.

“Rush Hour” producer Jay Stern notes that the DVD business is driving the sequel machine, even if the DVD market is leveling off. He noted that after the first “Rush Hour” grossed $140 million in the U.S., strong DVD sales helped elevate the grosses of “Rush Hour 2” to $215 million.

The number of 2007 summer sequels recently grew from nine to 10 when New Line greenlit “Rush Hour 3,” with plans to get the comedy into theaters by August 2007, a full six years after “Rush Hour 2.”

Stern is unconcerned over the relatively long period that has elapsed since “Rush Hour 2.” But that film’s unique circumstances only serve to underscore the differences between studio sequels.

It’s hard to generalize about a category of films that includes everything from “Basic Instinct 2” to “Spider-Man 3,” “Scary Movie 4” and “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.”

Next summer may serve as a test of whether filmmakers can deliver on the essential promise of a better ride along the same old rollercoaster tracks.

But the results this year — “Madea’s Family Reunion,” “Scary Movie 4,” “Final Destination 3,” “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” and “Big Momma’s House 2” — are certainly encouraging. Fox, in particular, has gotten a big boost from the sequel business. Two months before “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the studio released “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” which has grossed more than $630 million worldwide — $250 million more than the original “Ice Age” four years ago.

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film News from Variety

Loading