As “Men in Black: International” and “Shaft” join the growing list of under-performing sequels this summer — an ignominious group that includes “Dark Phoenix” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” — worries of franchise fatigue are beginning to simmer in Hollywood.
“Franchises that don’t up the ante or bring anything new into the fold are suffering terrible fates at the box office of late,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “It’s not enough to throw a Roman numeral on your film, or reboot just because you can.”
It’s hardly a new phenomenon, the notion that audiences grow tired of movies after too many iterations, but one that tends to intensify over summer as pricey tentpoles debut within weeks of one another. The pileup of new releases makes it more challenging for would-be blockbusters to find their footing beyond opening weekend. That conversation was pushed to the forefront this weekend as familiar titles “Men in Black: International” and “Shaft” saw ticket sales well below expectations.
“The common thread is these movies have not found favor with audiences or critics. That’s a double whammy that’s hard to rebound from,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore. “When you have that much available content at home, you have to have very compelling content to get people to go to the movie theaters.”
That’s something Hollywood, for the most part, was able to accomplish last summer as audiences flocked in record numbers to see new chapters of decades-old properties such as “Mission: Impossible,” “Jurassic World” and “Deadpool.” But as studios struggle this year to introduce these stories to new generations, once-familiar franchises are being largely ignored by audiences young and old.
While negative reviews certainly don’t help, part of the blame is due to unnecessary additions to aged series. Sony hoped that adding a fresh female face to the historically male-led series would help make “Men in Black: International” feel less stale. But even a standout performance from Tessa Thompson, who reunited with her “Thor: Ragnarok” co-star Chris Hemsworth to much acclaim, couldn’t fill the shoes of original stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Critics labeled it a forgettable installment, with Variety’s chief film critic Peter Debruge calling the film a “mess.” Though “Shaft” shared similar unwelcoming sentiments from critics, those who bought tickets to see Samuel L. Jackson return to the big screen did seem to enjoy the film. It got an A CinemaScore, compared to a B for “Men in Black: International.” That kind of turnout suggests that “Shaft” was marketed too broadly, leaving it unable to break out among its core audience.
“When brands are this big, massive expectations are placed upon them, and rightfully so,” Dergarabedian said. “You are creating them because they are part of a well-known franchise. There’s no hiding when movies like this [underperform].”
Not all sequels are getting the cold shoulder from audiences. Disney and Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame,” the 22nd installment in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, broke just about every box office record possible. And “John Wick: Parabellum,” the third chapter in the Keanu Reeves-led franchise, has enjoyed the best returns of the series, earning $276 million in global ticket sales to date. It’s no coincidence those films were both among the best reviewed in their respective franchises.
The coming weeks will play host to a number of big-budget follow-ups, including “Toy Story 4” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” both of which should quell fears about the future of sequels, spinoffs and reboots at multiplexes. Each are expected to earn roughly $150 million during their first weekend in theaters. Reviews for Sony’s web-slinging adventure aren’t out yet, but critics lauded the latest “Toy Story” chapter as a worthy addition to Pixar’s venerated animated series.
“The competition is fiercer than ever with all the buzz-worthy streaming content right now, so studios best bring their A-game next summer if they want to compete with Disney,” Bock said. “Otherwise, what happened to Fox could happen to them next.”