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Why Studios Continue Banking on Franchises Like 'G.I. Joe'; Which Sequels Can You Do Without?

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 1, 2013 at 4:20PM

"G.I. Joe Retaliation," a sequel to 2009's "G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra," took in more than $130 million at the worldwide box office this weekend--although its three-day $40 million domestic number was half its foreign take. (The studio cleverly beefed up the weekend number with a Thursday preview.) Part of what's wrong with movies today is that the studios are willing to throw foreign-driven movies into the domestic market, where they often get bad reviews and turn people off, because they'll make their money overseas theatrically and via TV output deals, plus licensing and merchandising, action figures, DVDs, and the like. So it's no surprise that today sees news of Paramount already exploring sequel options for "G.I. Joe."
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Dwayne Johnson in "G.I. Joe Retaliation"
Dwayne Johnson in "G.I. Joe Retaliation"

"G.I. Joe Retaliation," a sequel to 2009's "G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra," took in more than $130 million at the worldwide box office this weekend--although its three-day $40 million domestic number was half its foreign take. (The studio cleverly beefed up the weekend number with a Thursday preview.)

Part of what's wrong with movies today is that the studios are willing to throw foreign-driven movies into the domestic market, where they often get bad reviews and turn people off, because they'll make their money overseas theatrically and via TV output deals, plus licensing and merchandising, action figures, DVDs, and the like. So it's no surprise that today sees news of Paramount already exploring sequel options for "G.I. Joe."

Per Variety, there's no word yet on who from the cast will come back (this most recent "GI" installment stars Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum and Bruce Willis), or whether helmer Jon Chu will return to the director's chair.

Over the decades the movie studios --which are small cogs of huge corporations run by business executives with an eye on Wall Street who are skittish about narrow profit margins-- have steadily moved away from risky execution-dependent quality adult films. That's because they demand painstakingly slow want-to-see building. Studio marketers prefer branded titles that do not require molasses-speed ‘word-of-mouth’ creation for an unknown product that can die in one weekend. That model survives mainly for studio specialty divisions' fall fest-driven award season contenders.

"Give the people what they already want" is the studio mantra.

Through the 90s and 2000s, Hollywood marketers decided that they were better off selling a beloved James Bond or Indiana Jones than a seven-figure-per-movie star in something no one ever heard of. Better still, they could make films based on established plays (“Momma Mia!,” “Les Miserables”), movies (“The Wizard of Oz,” “Superman,” “Batman,” “The Planet of the Apes”), comics (“Thor,” “X Men,” “Iron Man,” “Captain America,” “The Avengers”), video games (“Resident Evil,” “Mortal Combat”), toys and games (“Transformers,” “Battleship”), TV series (“Mission: Impossible” and “Star Trek”) and classics and bestsellers (“The Three Musketeers,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter”).

It comes down to this: an exec who lives in fear of losing his job won’t take unnecessary risks. Only the most confident studio head with solid performers behind and ahead can gamble on failure. Which is why they need the security multiple vital franchises provide.

Meanwhile, by my count 32 sequels are still to come in 2013. I look forward to a few of them, including Chris Pine as the new Jack Ryan, "Star Trek Into Darkness," the next "Hunger Games" installment, "Catching Fire," and Robert Rodriguez's "Machete Kills" and "Sin City a Dame to Kill For." But "Fast & Furious 6," "Iron Man 3," "Wolverine" and the third "Hangover" all hit theaters within the next few months, with a second "Thor" film, ""Insidious Chapter 2," "Paranormal Activity 5," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2," "Riddick," and "Anchorman 2" making their way to the big screen in the fall.

Gratuitous? You bet. But alas, many of these films will make money.

What sequels can you do without?

This article is related to: Paramount, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, News, News, Sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hunger Games, Machete, Robert Rodriguez


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.