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Discuss: Is The Neverending Franchise The Future Of Mainstream Cinema?

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by Charlie Schmidlin
September 16, 2013 12:14 PM
11 Comments
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Is 2015 The Year Disney Dominates Hollywood & What Does This Mean For The Competition?

Friday the 13th and a fiercely-managed embargo—the studio maneuvering behind “Insidious: Chapter 2” proved an impressive feat this past weekend, as the James Wan-directed horror pulled in not only the top slot at the box office with $41.1 million, but also the second largest September opening of all time. Both the film’s ending and common practice would dictate a third installment in the works, but as a numbing reality of spin-offs, sequels, and reboots slowly forms, does mainstream cinema stand at the brink of unchanging theater marquee titles for the next decade—with only a number to distinguish between them all?

From the short-term perspective, it seems a depressing likelihood. Crossover heavyweights are well and present, of course. Marvel has a stake on our lifetimes via their ever-expanding Phases and a new series, "Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.EL.D." hitting the small screen shortly. And DC hoping to match them with “Batman vs. Superman” with "The Flash" and "Justice League" on the not so distant horizon. However, just as “The Hobbit” over-compensated by about two films for mournful LOTR fans, another bout of swift gratification has been announced, as J.K. Rowling will return to the “Harry Potter” universe with a new film series based on "Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them." Who knows then what Suzanne Collins has in store for “The Hunger Games," now that “Catching Fire” has a $950 million box-office prediction behind its release.

As the recent wishes (via Variety) from Jerry Bruckheimer to produce “Beverly Hills Cop 4,” “Bad Boys 3andTop Gun 2” attest, the frantic scramble for franchise revival is nothing new in Hollywood; the '80s and '90s were rife with them, ranging wildly in quality from “Terminator 2” to “Karate Kid 4”. But where the current climate of mainstream filmmaking differs from those efforts is in the stench of calculated periphery plots: studios are unable to reboot a property like “Harry Potter” in the near future, so what’s the next best option? A move away from the main narrative and into the footnotes and minutiae.

Case in point: "Star Wars." The J.J. Abrams directed seventh installment will kick off annual movies from the Disney franchise, alternating between main series sequels, and spin-off films. And oh, those spin-offs? They will be origin stories, and it's probably a safe bet we'll be getting the very necessary details of Han Solo's misfit youth or Yoda's lessons in learning riddles, or whatever. And then there's "Cars," which has already been spun off into "Planes," with Pixar already hard to work on a sequel to "Finding Nemo." The bottom line, it seems studios are content to give moviegoers the familiar instead of the fresh. 

Never mind that constant immersion into a world may grow tiresome to audiences, or that when emotional character payoffs are immediately followed by cash-motivated add-ons (see 'Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.' vs. Coulson's "death"), that feeling turns to a sort of betrayed exhaustion, and a plateau of low stakes and worn-out characters. Just look at the summer/fall of 2015 for a glimpse of pure overkill: Alongside “Batman vs. Superman,” there’s "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Ant-Man," "Independence Day 2," a brand-new "Terminator" (kicking off a new trilogy) and "Jurassic World," to name a few. We won’t even attempt to predict the number of demolished cities in that crowd. (Thankfully, we've been spared "Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales"—another Bruckheimer joint—which has been pushed off the 2015 calendar).

To be clear, sequels are a staple of Hollywood that result in occasional gems, and there are indeed some delights and surprise showings down the way, like “Bond 24” or “The Best Man Holiday.” But as blockbuster summers extend to year-round affairs, how do you feel franchise culture changing, if at all? Are there any sequels among the bunch that genuinely draw your interest beyond a weak nostalgic pull? Do you already feel deflated by studio regurgitation? Let us know in the comments below.

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11 Comments

  • Dawnrazor | September 17, 2013 4:44 AMReply

    James and Pat make good points - there's still great standalone stuff being made, and sequel-machine franchises are nothing new. Look at the summer of 1992 - Alien 3, Batman Returns, Lethal Weapon 3. What's different now is the internet, and the massive ubiquity of these franchises is fuelled by this cycle of constant reporting. But in terms of the more populist websites - ie ones that aren't as cool as The Playlist, although I'm sure you find this too - it's really, depressingly the case that these franchise films seem to be the only ones that people are interested in reading about. I write movie news for a website and it's just constantly, massively dispiriting. I can put up a trailer for a movie about Jack Kerouac (as a random, first-to-mind recent example) and see it get like 12 retweets, but some piffling total non-story about Batman will get thousands of likes and retweets despite basically having no content. This is what you want, this is what you get...

  • Franks | September 16, 2013 4:22 PMReply

    Good piece, disregard the dummies.

  • Flint | September 16, 2013 3:32 PMReply

    FAST & FURIOUS is probably the best current example of neverending franchise. It's like an incredibly expensive episodic lunkhead/gearhead ensemble TV show, complete with final scene that leads directly into the next episode.

  • hank | September 16, 2013 2:52 PMReply

    why is everyone making such a big deal about the Star Wars origin story movies? I seriously doubt that EVERY Star Wars film for the next 20 years is going to be an "origin story".. chill out everyone.

  • PRESIDENT MAO | September 16, 2013 2:37 PMReply

    'Is The Neverending Franchise The Future Of Mainstream Cinema?'

    Sadly, yes.

  • Natalie09 | September 16, 2013 2:13 PMReply

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  • thislalife | September 16, 2013 1:40 PMReply

    You guys seem to be the missing the point that movies are now essentially becoming TV and video-games. Both of those two mediums succeed at creating massive immersive worlds and now the movies want to "world build" and create this huge interconnected stories. What are the Marvel movies if not just episodes of the Marvel brand?

  • elhombresinnombre | September 16, 2013 1:26 PMReply

    I loved Pirates of the Caribbean when it landed originally. It was a breath of fresh air, and that is why it became so successful, spawning a franchise four-and-five movies deep. To quote the late, great Roger Ebert, however, to continue the franchise has been "too much of a muchness."

    But who knows? Maybe this fifth installment, with the Kon-Tiki directors, will be another breath of fresh air, breathing new life into the franchise.

  • Gabe Toro | September 16, 2013 1:19 PMReply

    This article should have just been five paragraphs talking about The Best Man Holiday. #TAYEDIGGSPOWER

  • Pat | September 16, 2013 12:52 PMReply

    Agree with James. This is nothing new. Before 1990, we had James Bond, Death Wish, Planet of the Apes, The Pink Panther, Dirty Harry, Jaws, Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, 14 Raithbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies, Charlie Chan movies, etc. Sequels/ franchises and knockoffs will always be a part of the movie going experience.

  • James | September 16, 2013 12:30 PMReply

    YAWN same old, same old.

    2014 will have Interstellar, Transcendence, Tomorrowland, Jupiter Ascending, Noah, A Million Ways to Die in the West, The Secret Service, etc.

    Write something about those instead.

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