Hollywood uses sequels to cash in big on the cheap

2014-08-09 15:00

Los Angeles - If that film looks familiar there's a reason: Hollywood is relying more than ever on the cash cow that is the safe-bet sequel.

From X-Men to Transformers to Planet of the Apes, this season's blockbusters increasingly are sequels and sequels of sequels to escape ever more unwelcome financial risks.

"Sequels are like safety nets for studios and investors; they consistently deliver the most potent box office punch," said Jeff Bock, a spokesman for industry tracker Exhibitor

Relations, which keeps the numbers at US and Canadian box offices.

"Consider this: seven of the 10 top-grossing movies this year are sequels and/or reboots. And that's very typical, as the last few years have trended the same way," he said giving examples like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which has earned a whopping $715m worldwide.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, has netted $710m; 22 Jump Street a more than respectable almost $300m; and How to Train Your Dragon 2 with a noteworthy $465m.

The northern hemisphere summertime is famously thick with sequels, with many people on vacation and most children with more time than usual to catch a movie.

A few weeks later, roughly from September onwards, films that are hoping to get attention as potential Oscar candidates jockey for moviegoers attention.

'That familiar feeling 2'

There is nothing new, really, about Hollywood wheeling out big-budget sequels to successful global hits. Franchises like James Bond and Superman, Star Wars, Rocky, Terminator and Harry Potter have tended to keep on remaking it big.

And "one look at the release schedule over the next few years shows more of the same: sequels, sequels and reboots," Bock said.

On Friday, the United States will get the rollout of a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flick, the animated favorite; and in weeks to come there will be premieres for familiar-sounding The Expendables 3 with Sylvester Stallones and Antonio Banderas, and Sin City 2, with Jessica Alba, Eva Green and Mickey Rourke.

"Having a property studios don't have to sell to new audiences is key: that saves a lot of money on the back end, and it's much easier to tie-in to companies that want to cross-promote and invest in a franchise that is a known commodity," Bock said.

Better safe than creative?

In other words, betting on a Star Wars sequel and tie-in toys, is pretty safe business in a jittery industry.

"It is so competitive, to get people's attention, that studios feel like that (sequels help them) have pre-awareness" benefiting even from potentially short attention spans, said Glenn Williamson, a film professor at UCLA.

Olivier Margerie, a spokesman for global heavyweight Disney, said that in many cases, studio bigwigs decide to rev up the sequel machine even without knowing if the first movie will be a smash.

"Production on Planes: Fire & Rescue started when the first Planes hadn't even been released," he said, describing it as basically as a "financial" bet.

Of course, not every sequel catches everyone's imagination. There have been plenty of underwhelming bets, from Ghostbusters II (1989) to The Exorcist 2 (1977) and even Basic Instinct 2.

But Hollywood keeps getting better at tweaking the recipe for success.

"Sequels if they do their work (help them) not having to educate audiences about what this movie is," said Bock, noting that helps fuel their big budgets.

"Big markets like China, Russia, and India are almost incentivising them to make these movies," Williamson said.

Yet he says any hit franchise worth its bucket of popcorn can "run out of steam" at some point.

In this industry with some incredibly big bottom lines, Williamson was not afraid to throw some shade.

"They are afraid to take creative risks," the professor said.

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