Hollywood's Sequel Problem
Sequels have always been a mixed bag. Some of the best, but also some of the worst, movies of all time seek to continue a story. Unfortunately, the ratio of good to bad is usually not tilted in favor of moviegoers. For every The Godfather: Part II, there are countless Speed 2: Cruise Controls; and for every Toy Story 2, we have to suffer through any number of Transformers sequels. Why does Hollywood do this to us?
Dear Hollywood, help us help you.
Just like almost anything else, Hollywood's obsession with sequels is borne out of a desire to make money. When a movie is successful, they naturally think returning to the same story is a good idea. When franchises have success in other mediums (television, books, etc.) they naturally think they can capitalize with multiple movies over multiple years. Hollywood puts out sequels over and over again because they are usually safe bets at the box office.
This reality is compounded by the fact that more original entertainment is sometimes neglected at the box-office. Recent examples include The Nice Guys and Popstar: Never Stop Stopping. Both received near universal praise and yet each has languished at the box office. Why that is is a piece for another day, but it serves to reinforce the notion that the easiest way to make money in theaters is to give people properties they are already familiar with. It doesn't matter if what was really great about The Incredibles is that it was a totally original and fresh take on superheroes--audiences must also be given The Incredibles 2 (Coming Soon).
But Hollywood has a problem. The sequels it has been putting out over the last couple of years have not been performing well at the box office. If all goes according to plan, home video options mean that a sequel should have a larger audience than the first movie. That, however, is not at all what we are seeing these days. Instead, sequels are generally bringing in less at the box office than their predecessors. Many are falling by over 50%, which can't be what studios have in mind when they greenlight a sequel. Take a look at the below table, which covers sequels released since January 2015.
Sequels are generally performing quite poorly at both the domestic and international box office. Is there a reason for this? Do audiences hate sequels in general? Probably not. Though sequels look weaker than their predecessors, that could also be due to the fact that they are generally pretty just bad movies. The below table shows how they have fared on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic and the results are not pretty.
Out of the 35 movies listed above, a mere five received high marks from critics. The rest range from mediocre to truly objectionable. Generally, people like to see worthwhile movies and at least with regards to sequels, that's not what Hollywood has been offering.
The takeaway here may just be that audiences are somewhat hard to predict. Studios are consistently throwing tens and hundreds of millions of dollars at projects that don't move the needle. Some alchemic combination of quality plus marketing is the ultimate answer, but who knows when or if Hollywood will find a repeatable formula. For now, it looks like we will continue to get solid films that underperform and franchises that live on at least one movie too long.
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