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How ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ and ‘Creed II’ Escaped the Sequel Curse

Two sequels entered a competitive box office ring this weekend. Both emerged victorious.

Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Creed II” dominated the domestic box office,  generating a respective $84.5 million and $55 million over the five-day holiday. Those numbers buoyed the stateside market to a record Thanksgiving weekend at multiplexes as ticket sales soared past $300 million for the first time. The two titles also hit some notable benchmarks. Disney’s animated follow-up now ranks as the second-best Thanksgiving debut ever, behind only Disney’s “Frozen.” The second “Creed” movie scored the best ever launch for a live-action film during the holiday frame.

As the domestic box office prepares to end the year in record territory and unexpected hits have propelled theatrical earnings 10% ahead of 2017, it’s worth noting that new chapters in even the most fool-proof franchises have majorly stumbled in 2018. Perhaps the most glaring example is “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” Disney and Lucasfilm’s Han Solo spinoff that barely made back its production budget and pushed audiences far, far away from theaters. To a lesser degree, Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” didn’t have the same dazzling effect as its “Harry Potter” brethren. Like every prior “Harry Potter” movie, “Crimes of Grindelwald” will see a massive international skew and still turn a profit, but the sequel got off to a much slower start than its predecessor. That’s cause for concern considering studios are banking on fresh installments to spark more interest, or at the very least, stir up the same enthusiasm as the first to make a follow-up worthwhile. All this is to say that sequels, while oh so tempting for Hollywood, don’t always work. So why did this weekend reveal not one, but two big winners that avoided falling victim to sequelitis?

It’s not always easy to make a worthy successor. (Just ask “The Girl In the Spider’s Web.”) But “Ralph” and “Creed II” succeeded where so many others fail by not just tapping into what made the first movies work. They dug deeper. Blame it on expensive movie ticket prices or streaming platforms that are luring viewers away, but studios can’t get away with merely repeating what made an original movie standout and expect audiences to remain loyal. Moviegoers need a compelling reason to venture to theaters. Take “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” It kept the humor and camaraderie between Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), but took the dynamic duo into the depths of cyberspace, which in turn helped it tap into the zeitgeist. And “Creed II” stays true to the Rocky Balboa formula while still managing to pack a solid punch by introducing new characters. Both have been big hits with critics and audiences alike.

“Whenever we look at sequels, they have to be additive,” said Cathleen Taff, Disney’s president of domestic distribution. “The [‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’] filmmakers built this world out with such attention to detail that people were ready to come back and enjoy these characters.”

You’ll notice that although “Ralph Breaks the Internet” has its fair share of adult appeal, it’s safe to assume that few moviegoers were deciding between that and “Creed II” when taking a break from the Thanksgiving buffet to hit up their local multiplex. For the most part, the pair was able to target diverse audiences without much cannibalization.

“It’s one of the better Thanksgiving duos that opened in a long time because you’ve got that family audience, but there’s also something for the adult crowd,” said Shawn Robbins, chief box office analyst for Boxoffice.com.

Then there’s the escapism factor. And no, we don’t mean trying to escape from family time during the holidays. This time of year, crowds are looking for a way to shake off the last few months of political mayhem and environmental disasters. Hollywood was banking on powerful stories of friends and family in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Creed II” to restore a little good will. Not every film has been able to deliver on that front. Even “Harry Potter” enthusiasts can agree it’s a touchy time for a movie whose title character is an unhinged narcissist who attempts to gain power by exploiting the fear of his followers.

“People need a break from the daily grind,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. “That has put the movie theater in a great position to welcome audiences.”

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