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

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by Anne Thompson
April 1, 2013 4:20 PM
5 Comments
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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?

5 Comments

  • Melissa M. | April 4, 2013 9:53 PMReply

    Hey now, don't lump Anchorman 2 in with the junk!

  • Daniel Lowe | April 4, 2013 5:49 PMReply

    Nice article, I recently tweeted something about how "Similar, but Different" was the default operating model.

    It's really very sad, that if a movie doesn't have the word "franchise" tagged on it somewhere, then lots of comic-book mentality fans don't seek it out.

    I recently saw "Book of Eli", and thought, "What a great premise, why didn't this movie get more attention? Why wasn't there a sequel?"

    I haven't paid for cable TV since 2008. Mostly, I watch my movies 8 months after they come out, on Amazon Instant video. Why does this matter, who cares? I no longer "subscribe" to the studio "model" (I'm not a young pup who takes my dates to movies, I don't pay for HBO or premium cable).. My money is no longer going into coffers of these "fake movies" that are little more than 2 hour TV episodes with hollywood production values (read: explosions, special effects)

    Do the movie people remember what happened to the recording industry? The tools are right there, the distribution networks are in place. Independent entertainment, I hope, will overtake the old model of big-business sponsored content, because of the choice of the CONSUMER to not spend their dollars, for something they really don't want.

    That, in a nutshell, is why I became a filmmaker: to make the films that Hollywood was too chickenshit or profit-minded to produce.

  • Brian | April 2, 2013 12:08 PMReply

    Over the weekend, I watched EASY RIDER, MIDNIGHT COWBOY and the original SHAFT. No matter what you might say about the dated content and some of the narrative contrivances, the fact remains that each was an example of fresh and innovative filmmaking. My friends and I saw all three back when they came out--when I was in high school--and they were quite a big deal at the time. And there were plenty more films like them. Robert Altman's M*A*S*H came out after the first two and before SHAFT and also excited young audiences as well as beginning our love affair with Altman. We would see John Wayne westerns one week, spaghetti westerns the next, a new Altman the next, Arthur Penn's ALICE'S RESTAURANT or LITTLE BIG MAN the next, a counterculture film like Milos Forman's TAKING OFF or Robert Downey's PUTNEY SWOPE the next, blaxploitation the next, etc., etc., etc. Granted, the culture at large was in ferment at the time and fueled a lot of these creative energies and the audience was ripe for such ferment. The zeitgeist was clearly definable back then. It isn't so evident today. Where are creative energies spent nowadays? Where is the audience for something new and innovative? How do you reach people who find their culture exclusively on their iPhones? When everyone can make movies on their computers, how does a potential cinematic genius get his or her work noticed? Where does one find the next Orson Welles? Can someone like that even thrive today? Sure, we've got filmmakers like David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan, Michel Gondry, Ang Lee, Danny Boyle, to name a few who seem to be able to make the films they want and work within the system, but have they done anything remotely as innovative as the films I cited from my youth? Or anything that captured the zeitgeist of the moment, such as it may be? Or anything that will still resonate decades later? Maybe I'm biased, but I can't acknowledge either of them in that way.

  • Kel | April 1, 2013 9:17 PMReply

    I agree with Sergio completely!

    32 sequels?! Unbelievable, Hollywood is such a joke.

    Great article!

  • sergio | April 1, 2013 5:36 PMReply

    To answer your question - all of them

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