Global Business Keeps Mega-Franchises Like ‘Fast and Furious’ Going

DWAYNE JOHNSON in "The Fate of
Courtesy of Universal

There’s no shortage of movie franchises in circulation these days, but within their ranks is a more exclusive grouping you might call “mega-franchises”: those that have generated seven or more movies. The “X-Men” mega-franchise just successfully yielded its 10th installment with “Logan,” while “The Fast and the Furious” is set to unspool its seventh sequel next month. But mega-franchises tend to see diminishing returns over time, and it’s their international performance that makes all the difference.

While the top 50 franchises have run for an average of four to five movies each, there are at least eight major franchises that have reached seven or more, in some cases over decades. I’m excluding the James Bond series from this analysis because its 25 films over 50-odd years and multiple eras make it very hard to compare with others.

Within that group of eight, the pattern is a bit more mixed. When you split the output of each mega-franchise into halves, just two of them saw their first halves command less than 50% of the overall U.S. gross of the franchise — “Fast and Furious” and “Batman,” the latter of which suffered a downward trend in its first incarnation but got a shot in the arm from the “Dark Knight” movies.

What Marvel calls its “cinematic universe” is one of the most consistent and prolific among the mega-franchises, with 14 movies over just nine years and an average inflation-adjusted U.S. gross of $321 million. Its ratio of first half to second half is almost exactly even, at 53 to 47, meaning that it has maintained its performance admirably.

Still, six of the eight mega-franchises have seen either slightly or hugely worse performance at the domestic box office in the second halves of their existence. That would have dramatic implications for budgets and profitability were it not for the overseas box office.

Here, too, there’s a big split between those franchises whose overseas performance has dramatically changed their downward trajectory, and those for whom non-domestic revenue has merely been a useful addition to the domestic tally.

This is where “Fast and Furious” stands out; it has benefited massively from its international box office, which has turned what would have been a modest success into a global phenomenon over the last four films. This huge success outside the U.S. allows Universal to still invest heavily in the franchise, hiking its budget from $38 million for the first film to $190 million for the seventh (without Paul Walker).

Meanwhile, “Rocky,” “Star Wars,” “X-Men,” and the J.K. Rowling series have all seen a more balanced performance between the U.S. and the rest of the world, meaning that they’ve had to continue to do well domestically as well as overseas to justify continued investment.

Jan Dawson is the founder and chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, an advisory firm for the consumer technology market.