Is Hollywood Afraid Of 'Inception' & Original Ideas? 2011 Breaks Record For Sequels With 27 Films

by Edward Davis
February 17, 2011 6:54 AM
18 Comments
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Previous Record In 2003 Was 24 Sequels In One Year, 15-Plus Sequels Already Planned For 2012



Call it 2011: The year the sequel strikes back.

2010 was an incredible year for movies. Or rather, it was an incredible year for a movie. Christopher Nolan's "Inception" was an ambitious, layered and complex tentpole sci-fi actioner and there was no antecedent for it. "Inception" was a rare film in Hollywood: a gigantic tentpole not based on a comic book, a graphic novel, an animated series, toys or a previous movie. There was zero reference point for audiences and more importantly, it was hugely expensive (over $200 million).

It was a calculated risk for Warner Bros. who likely did not want to upset the golden child who had brought "The Dark Knight" to over $1 billion dollars worldwide. But even then they had to secure one of the biggest A-list stars in the world (Leonardo DiCaprio) to make it potentially viable and surround him with a who's who of interesting supporting cast members (granted even Marion Cotillard and Tom Hardy were risky as they were not household names at the time).

In an interesting overlap of sentiments, Mark Harris, author of the film book "Pictures at a Revolution," has posited in the newest issue of GQ (this particular article not online yet) how "Inception" was a triumph in Hollywood against the odds and conventional wisdom, and yet major film studios have rarely noticed and instead are greenlighting crud after crud project. Part of his thesis rests on the examples of myriad sequels opening in 2011. While "Inception" not only proved that an original concept could survive in the thick of the competitive tentpole summer season, but like a virus in the right circumstances, it could thrive. But Hollywood doesn't like to gamble too often and looking ahead, the future of big-budget original films is a little bleak.

Hot on the heels of Harris' piece comes news from Box-Office Mojo, which reports that the number of sequels taking place in 2011 -- 27 in total -- has broken the previous record in 2003 when 24 sequels hit screens that year. This essentially means one in every five films released in 2011 will be a sequel. So as Harris sees it, and it's hard to argue, this demonstrates an utter lack of faith, imagination and creativity in Hollywood. Shocker, what's new, right? But there is something to be said about "Inception" proving safe choices wrong and then that decision being followed-up with the same old, same old from the studios.

"The scab you're picking at is execution," Scott Rudin (producer of "True Grit," "The Social Network") told Harris in GQ. "Studios are hardwired not to bet on execution, and the terrible thing is they're right. Because in terms of execution, most movies disappoint." So then, what sequels are in store for us this year? Witness the bounty (and great breakdown from BOM):

Of the 27 sequels, nine are second movies:

"Cars 2," "Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules," "The Hangover Part II," "Happy Feet 2," "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil," "Johnny English Reborn," "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Piranha 3DD," "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"), up from eight in 2010.

Five are third movies:

"Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son," "Madea's Big Happy Family," "Paranormal Activity 3," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," down from seven in 2010.

Deeper cut sequels will be well represented all the way up to No. 8. There'll be the highest number of fourth movies ever, tallying five:

"Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol," "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," "Scream 4," "Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World," "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part One)"

Fifth movies will also have their largest showing yet, numbering five:

"Fast Five," "Final Destination 5," "Puss in Boots," "X-Men: First Class," "Winnie the Pooh"

And lastly this nugget:

There will also technically be two seventh movies ("The Muppets," "Rise of the Apes") and one mighty eighth entry ("Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"). (None of this is counting "New Year's Eve," which may or may not be a sequel to "Valentine's Day," or "The Thing," which may be a prequel.

Why is this happening? "Fear has descended," James Schamus, screenwriter, frequent Ang Lee collaborator and head of Focus Features, told GQ. "And nobody in Hollywood wants to be the person who green lit a movie that not only crashes but about which you can't protect yourself by saying, 'But at least it's based on a comic book!' "

Dramas are going the way of the dodo bird too. When Rudin first was pitching around "The Social Network," interested studios called up and asked how much the picture would cost and then all balked when the price tag was over $15 million (it was made for around $40). "The days of having five companies chase you for a movie that has to be good in order to [succeed financially] are over," he told the magazine. Tellingly, Rudin has closed his L.A. office and is rumored to be aligning himself with Sony Pictures so he'll have a production deal and home for the movies he produces.

Granted, the success of "Inception" and its positive repercussions may arguably only be felt in 2012, but if you look at the schedule one year from now that reasoning fails as you have 16 sequels/prequels/reboots so far -- "Underworld 4," "Ghost Rider 2," "The Avengers," the Apatow "Knocked Up" spin-off, "Prometheus," "Star Trek 2," "Clash of the Titans 2," "Men In Black 3," "Madagascar 3," "Ice Age: Continental Drift," "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Amazing Spider-Man," "The Bourne Legacy," "Monsters Inc. 2," "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part Two)" and Zack Snyder's "Superman." Plus there are six films in 3D (so far) -- not a strong indication that anyone is trying anything remotely groundbreaking. And hell, the year, and its schedule is still young.

Films in 2012 based off an existing property? Several including, "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax," "21 Jump Street," "The Hunger Games," "Battleship," "Frankenweenie," "Ouija" "47 Ronin" and two 'Snow White' films (again, this is just so far, the 2012 schedule is still taking shape; let's not get into all the 2011 (safe bet) existing properties like "Green Lantern," "Thor," "Captain America," etc.)

Original Ideas?
So what "big films" are arriving in the next couple of years from the studios that are (more or less) originals? Well, Warner Bros. is still probably the biggest studio willing to take risks. They gambled with Spike Jonze and "Where the Wild Things Are" (and failed financially) and following "Inception," big original idea #2 arrives in March: Zach Snyder's "Sucker Punch," which features tough, super heroine-like females in a steam punk-like dream world setting. It's based on Snyder's imagination, it's ambitious and it's expensive (unfortunately, it looks a bit messy, but we'll always be rooting for the super heroine genre since it's practically non-existent).

What else? There's "John Carter of Mars" from Pixar/Disney in March 2012, and yes, while it's based off Edgar Rice Burroughs' 11-volume Barsoom series, it might as well be the invention of fire given the other tentpole concepts in Hollywood. There's Duncan Jones's inventive "Source Code" film, but it can't really be considered a tentpole exactly because it's much smaller in size and budget. There's also Jon Favreau's "Cowboys & Aliens" which will be a very interesting one to watch. It's based on a graphic novel, but for all intents and purposes to regular cinema pleebs, it's likely an original concept, but Favreau has the geek crowd in his pocket, plus Harrison Ford and "Bond" actor Daniel Craig. Will it be enough? "Real Steel" is arguably original too if you count "Rocky" meets "Go-Bots" as a novel idea. While basically a throwback film steeped in '70s nostalgia, J.J. Abrams' "Super 8" might not be terrifically new, but by today's standards, it might be the richest original concept in years. Of course there is "Avatar" that goes into the equations. The highest grossing film of all time is an "original" concept and perhaps it was risky of 20th Century Fox to dump like $300 million into the film, plus insane marketing costs that probably reached $100 million, but James Cameron's movie was four quadrant superfriendly: enjoyed by men, women, people above 30 and those under 30. It was so safe and familiar, it appealed to every common denominator (hence arguably being not that original).

But hey, there are "Stretch Armstrong," "Magic 8 Ball" and "Rubik's Cube" films in the works. Those will be good, right?

This trend of herd thinking and playing it safe doesn't seem like it's going to end. There are three Snow White films in development (the version starring Julia Roberts as directed by Tarsem, another starring Charlize Theron, Viggo Mortensen and probably Kristen Stewart and another from "I Am Legend" director Francis Lawrence); two Abraham Lincoln pictures (Spielberg's version with Daniel Day-Lewis, the 'Vampire Hunter' version from Timur Bekmambetov); and two Cleopatra films (one from Scott Rudin as a potential vehicle for Angelina Jolie and Paul Greengrass directing in 3D, and one from director/actor Ralph Fiennes. Let's not even talk vampire films and the onslaught of zombie pictures that will be dawning on the horizon soon as well.

The choice is ultimately yours. This last graph of Harris' piece is great and it sums up Hollywood thinking -- and our own complicity in all this -- in a pretty wry nutshell: "Which brings us to the embarrassing part. Blaming the studios for everything lets another culprit off too easily: us. we can complain until we're hoarse that Hollywood abandoned us by ceasing to make the kinds of movies we want to see, but it's just as true that we abandoned Hollywood. Studios make movies for people who go to the movies and the fact is, we, the complaining class, don't go anymore."

"Hollywood wants the $800 million [that "Inception" made] and in fact, they may have figured out the perfect way to extract that from our wallets. It took twenty four years to get here, but it's finally happening: 'Top Gun 2'."

*The author of this article initially failed to mention "Super 8" and "Avatar" and belatedly added them into this conversation.

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18 Comments

  • SusieQ | March 8, 2011 2:23 AMReply

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  • SoulHonky | February 18, 2011 12:10 AMReply

    Agree with James. You can't see the real impact a movie has on Hollywood for a year or two because films have to go through development, casting, production, etc.

    Chris Nolan is actually partly to blame for this since The Dark Knight, along with 2007's top movies being mostly sequels and adaptations, probably inspired this year's sequel heavy sked.

    And as Scott Rudin said, nobody wants to bank of execution. You can completely botch a known product like The Last Airbender and still make 100 million. If you screw up an original idea, it's going to take a lot of slick marketing, throwing good money after bad, to help bring in an audience.

  • Rob | February 17, 2011 11:12 AMReply

    The economy has been bad before in the past and it did not lead to so many remakes, sequels and prequels. A lot of the movies that are getting remade are foreign films or cult films that do not have a large built-in audience. Most people who see them probably do not even know they are based on a previous movie. The one thing consistent about remakes is that they almost always remake good movies rather than bad ones. They are just less able to make good movies so they are just trying to repeat what has already worked.

  • Roman | February 17, 2011 9:02 AMReply

    What is the BIG tentpole film of the year that will be completely original?

    Super 8

  • Mike S. | February 17, 2011 8:44 AMReply

    The trend towards well-known properties (sequels, remakes, board game films) has obviously been increasing since 2000. But it doesn't take a genius to see the bigger picture behind the logic that Schamus highlights. It's the recession, stupid. These movies are a direct outcome of recession-anxiety - not only are the executives terrified of losing their jobs if they're associated with a mid-high priced original bomb, but they know that familiar escapist fare is usually popular in less-than-booming times.

    Also, most of this year's big successes - Black Swan, The Fighter, Social Network, Inception, True Grit - were clearly helped, in no small measure, by the auteurs that made them. Original films are great, but they very rarely break through without the director's reputation preceding them. Even District 9 had the Peter Jackson stamp. The only real breakthrough this year was The King's Speech, and that, it seems, succeeded because of Harvey Weinstein.

  • Pb | February 17, 2011 8:39 AMReply

    The global market is also one reason why so many crowd pleasers (or hopefuls) are being made, instead of better quality fare. Can't say I blame the global market though. Most global audiences have their own good quality stuff, while they enjoy the occasional Hollywood megabudget Movie.

  • Mony | February 17, 2011 8:29 AMReply

    Really so damn many?

    I can only think of that I want to see is Hanna and Looper.

    I am sick of remakes/sequels, and do hope someone will come up with some original ideas soon.

    Also can we get rid of those damn romantic comedies. (this is coming from a female)

  • DV | February 17, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    Yes. Hollywood is scared of a big budget action movie starring Leonardo Dicaprio that made hunderds of millions of dollars.

    The true sign that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt isn't the number of planned sequels and remakes but the canonization of Inception by this and similar websites.

  • RJ | February 17, 2011 8:16 AMReply

    Is there a pile of original, high concept, big budget-requiring scripts out there that would clearly be great movies but everyone is refusing to make?

    I'd like to know a movie potentially as good as "Inception" that is being rejected everywhere it's shopped.

    A movie like "Looper" is getting made, on a smaller type budget, but if it hits, I'm sure it's director will get a shot at a larger scale film.

  • Rob | February 17, 2011 8:08 AMReply

    A remake, sequel or prequel can be as good if not better than the original film but most of them end up being average or bombs. The fact that movies like Inception, Avatar and Black Swan are considered to be great is the same reason there are so many remakes that were obviously not made with artistic intentions. Anything that seems comparatively more original is praised to the hilt.

  • WTF | February 17, 2011 8:08 AMReply

    'Duncan Moon'? Did you proofread this at all? His name is Duncan Jones, man. C'mon. He -directed- Moon.

  • klesla | February 17, 2011 7:57 AMReply

    SP, this article only lists the big blockbuster movies and ignores all the middle-lower budget movies that will come out along the lines a "Fighter" or "Black Swan" or "The Town."

    It's not like your only choices summer 2012 are going to be "Battleship," "Snow White" and "The Other Snow White." While those are playing will plenty of other lower budgeting more "adult" or "indie" type fare.

  • klesla | February 17, 2011 7:54 AMReply

    "District 9" I think counts as an original success and his follow up has been reported as an original idea with a huge budget so I don't think Hollywood is afraid of throwing money at original ideas as long as the director's have proven themselves to be able to hand in a competently made and crowd pleasing movies (Nolan, Snyder, Blomkamp).

    "Inception" was an original idea that also happened to be a blockbuster action movie - this article ignores that plenty of original ideas and "thoughtful" movies get made every year that aren't action based and don't require those kind of budgets.

    It seems stupid to list a whole bunch of kids sequels which are um, geared towards kids/parents. "Alvin and the Chipmunks 4" and "Cars 3" aren't going to stop any "original thoughtful" movies from getting made. They are just smart business moves with a huge target audience (kids/parents) that it knows how to please. if anything, those type of movies are going to make studios enough money to bankroll other films and be able to absorb losses.

  • sp | February 17, 2011 7:52 AMReply

    Ed, good point, but their is no excuse when most of the original films of 2010, like "Black Swan", "Inception", "Social Network", "King's Speech", "The Town", "The Fighter" and "Easy A" are critically-acclaimed , very profitable movies, and most of these films are modestly budgeted.

    Most studio heads come from a business & finance background- not a filmmaking background. You would think these cowardly studio heads would have a clue or some type of inkling that most movie audiences want to see films that are fresh, clever , imaginative, and timeless.

    Thank God, we have these geniuses and trailblazers that continue to take risks, pursue quality, and truly understands films : Harvey Weinstein, James Schamus, Tom Bernard, and producer Scott Rudin.

  • Christopher Bell | February 17, 2011 7:46 AMReply

    Great piece Ed. The independent scene will hopefully thrive when more and more decide to go see something that's not nostalgia fueled.

  • Edward Davis | February 17, 2011 7:01 AMReply

    @ james see 2012 and beyond.

  • AlexBFirstShowing | February 17, 2011 6:58 AMReply

    To answer the question in your headline - yes, Hollywood IS afraid of original ideas. And they're afraid of Inception. They don't know how to make those movies, and they think only Chris Nolan can (that's why the Academy doesn't like him, payback for all that success). And I bet WB doesn't even know how they marketed it to be a hit. But it's obviously mostly Nolan just being a genius.

    Anyway, yea, Hollywood is afraid of original ideas, everything has to be connected to a franchise or band name in some way and it's getting worse and worse. It's really sad to see. Some remakes/sequels can be good, but for every remake/sequel, one equal project that is an original story should be greenlit. We just need more strong original ideas that aren't crappy romantic comedies.

  • james | February 17, 2011 6:58 AMReply

    the movies coming out this year have been in development for a while, some way before Inception was released.

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