Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Learning the wrong lesson: Audiences liked our original films? Let's make sequels to every single one of them!

2012 has been a banner year for, among other things, somewhat original, non-franchised *movies* often targeted at adults.  As I've written before (essay) the stories worth writing after summer 2012 weren't so much about the would-be tent-poles that flopped but the non-tentpoles that were pretty big hits over the first three quarters of the year.  Safe House, The Vow, Magic Mike, Ted, Think Like A Man, The Best Exotic Marigold Hoteland The Moonrise Kingdom all proved to be superb investments, with Magic Mike becoming probably the most profitable movie of the year (it cost $7 million and grossed $154 million and counting worldwide).  So the obvious lesson should be that there is indeed a worthwhile audience for original films that aren't intended to be the first in an epic fantasy trilogy.  The obvious lesson should be that audiences *do* crave some original material mixed in with their superhero spectaculars.  But instead of studios seeing the writing on the wall and taking the money that they might have spent on the next Battleship and investing it instead in a handful of smaller, non-property affiliated star vehicles somewhat aimed at adults, they have decided is that what audiences now want is sequels to pretty much every single film listed above.  Moviegoers said "Yes!" to originality, so Hollywood now chooses to respond with "Okay, sequels it is!".

We're getting a Magic Mike 2, which apparently will be a road movie that Channing Tatum may in-fact direct (The Playlist). Universal is prepping/planning to prep sequels to four of its big 2012 films. While two of them make a token amount of sense (a sequel/spin-off to Snow White and the Huntsman and a fifth American Pie film), I'm not sure what story is left to tell in Ted 2 (Coming Soon) or especially a Safe House 2 (Hollywood Reporter). I think Ted was the best mainstream release of the summer, a new comedy classic that was both gut-bustingly funny and surprisingly thoughtful and smart.  I'd offer the same relative compliment to 21 Jump Street (obviously not a true original, but humor me) without seeing the least bit of a need for 21 Jump Street 2 (Cinemablend).  But how many great comedy sequels have we seen over the last twenty years?  Addams Family Values and... uh...? Not to get into spoilers, but the only plausible way to do Safe House 2 would be to turn it into a Us Marshals-type spin off with Ryan Reynolds (who is of course *huge* as a by-himself opener) guarding yet another larger-than-life prisoner.

And instead of Screen Gems saying "Wow, Think Like A Man (which outgrossed every single Tyler Perry film) shows that there is a real audience for mainstream African American vehicles that merely showcase a butt-load of African American actors in *starring roles* so let's do more of that!", they are of course plotting a sequel to Think Like A Man (no link because we all got the same press release last summer).  I think Chronicle is one of the better genre films of the year, but does anyone really need to see or want to see Chronicle 2 (tBreak)?  The Woman In Black was a glorious throwback to the old-school Hammer Horror tradition and was the rare out-and-out hit for CBS Films.  But I'd argue a large part of its $127 million worldwide gross came from the box office draw came from Daniel Radcliffe in his first major post-Harry Potter role, and the sequel, which apparently is taking place forty years after the first film (ScreenRant), would have the same problem that Safe House does.There are certain films that arguably lend themselves to sequels, be they fantasy adventure films or horror pictures (in fact, I'll even throw the inevitable Chronicle 2 a bone by virtue of its quasi-comic book narrative).  But the fact that Hollywood is moving so quickly to sequelize every remotely successful original property shows that they are again learning the wrong lesson.

Avatar wasn't a $2.7 billion worldwide grosser purely because of 3D.  The success of Inception didn't mean that audiences craved a Total Recall remake (essay).  The lesson of this year is that there is a viable marketplace for adult-centric genre fare that isn't a remake and/or based on a comic book, a board game, or a young-adult fantasy-lit series.  By seemingly renouncing the very originality that made them so much money this year, the studios are basically mocking the audiences who say 'Yes, please' to a steady diet of old-school *movies* while dismissing the likes of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Total Recall 2.0, and Battleship.  In short, we don't want Ted 2, but rather the 'next Ted'.  We (audiences of all colors) don't want Think Like A Man 2 but rather more movies featuring minority casts that otherwise feel no different from movies that are made for Caucasian audiences.  We don't want Safe House 2, but rather more R-rated genre thrillers that may or may not star Denzel Washington. With reasonable budgets, interesting premises, and/or stars that audiences will actually still go out to the theater to see, originality can thrive in the Hollywood marketplace.  That's what 2012 has told us so far.  It's a shame no one is listening.

Scott Mendelson


Brandon Peters said...

Well put. I've long thought why not instead of a sequel, get a lot of the same brain trust and actors back together and do a different original film? Don't do Ted 2, do an original comedy written and directed by Seth MacFarlane starring Mark Wahlberg. Don't do Safe House 2...do another thriller starring Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington directed by Daniel Espinosa.

Back in the day, when Tommy Boy was a success, they didn't make Tommy Boy 2, they gave us Black Sheep. I like this route so much better. Works a HELL of a lot better for comedies.

And a lot of Stallone/Schwarzenegger/Willis movies never got sequels back in the 80s/90s. They just did another film that was of a similar vein.

ACOD said...

Creatively, I am with you 100% This is a good column full of points that need to be made.

However, from a business perspective, you have to green light a Ted 2 and a Magic-er Mike. It is a safe bet that quality aside, both sequels should gross at least close to the originals, if not more. Plus, in the off chance these things turn out good, the sky is the limit. So double the production budgets for each and they still make money. It's not as big of a profit but it's essentially a zero risk investment.
I like to think I am above the empty marketing allure of soulless remakes but I went to see the Total Recall remake and I bought the original on Blu Ray when it was re released the same week.
I am such a sheep (hangs head in shame).


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