‘Alien’ bow; the demise of sequels

To paraphrase the tagline for Dimension’s upcoming “Scream 2,” Hollywood may have taken its love of sequels too far.

As the unspectacular U.S. liftoff of 20th Century Fox’s “Alien Resurrection” confirms, audiences can have too much of a good thing.

The fourth installment of the sci-fi franchise managed a solid $25.8 million five-day gross over the holiday weekend. But the Friday-Sunday portion alone was $16.5 million, slightly less than the kickoff of New Line’s vidgame-spinoff “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” a week earlier.

Given “Alien’s” appeal to young men and avid sci-fi fans — who tend to rush to the multiplex on opening weekend — the pic’s returns are likely to plummet earthward like a spent booster rocket in coming weeks.

That could put the final domestic gross for the $75 million-plus budgeted special-effects extravaganza at less than $60 million — on par with the $55.5 million cume of “Alien3,” which was widely seen as a commercial flop.

Once upon a time, studios could, with relative certainty, rely on a sequel to gross 60% to 70% of the original, while costing about 30% more to make. But those formulas — like the material itself — may be in need of rethinking.

“Those old theories got blown away by the Bond films, the ‘Rockys’ and the ‘Star Treks,’ ” says Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen, “where you sometimes had the fourth installment become the biggest.”

Fox’s pricey summer entry “Speed 2” ground to a halt with about a third of the B.O. of the original, and Warner Bros.’ fourth “Batman” installment fell far short of its predecessors.

However, industry observers expect a big opening for “Scream 2,” with fans of the original flocking back to theaters to get scared all over again. Whether the picture can finish with anywhere near the original’s reported $100 million depends, in the end, on its ability to deliver the chills.

Sequels of successful films often open much better than their sources, since the audience needs less convincing. Final cumes, however, are usually lower. For instance, Fox’s “Home Alone” bowed to $17.1 million and went on to become the ninth-highest-grosser ever at $285.8 million. Two years later, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” bowed to a massive $31.1 million, but finished lower, with a still huge $173.6 million.

Despite its lineage, Fox’s “Home Alone 3,” which opens Dec. 12, faces a few hurdles. For one thing, coming as it does five years after the first sequel, the film’s very young target audience may not remember the franchise. On the other hand, older audiences may be skeptical of a “Home Alone” pic without Macaulay Culkin.

Apparently confident that it has the goods, Fox is sneaking the picture with “Anastasia” Sunday afternoon.

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