I’m not feeling well these days. Not well at all, in fact. I have a fever, and the only prescription is not more cowbell. It’s fewer sequels.
Clearly, I am not the only one with sequel fatigue. Doubt it? Just take a look at the box office tallies so far this year. Just this weekend, two different sequels hit theaters and, while The Conjuring 2 topped the box office, it failed to out-do its predecessor’s opening weekend. That, and the fact that the second Now You See Me flick underperformed – just the latest sequel to do so – means it might be time to take a look in the proverbial mirror.
Seriously, take a moment to think about 2016 to this point. We’re nearly halfway through the year, and would you like to take a guess at how many mainstream sequels have hit theaters thus far? Go ahead. Take your time. I’ll wait.
(Texting a friend …)
(Scrolling through my Netflix account …)
Was your guess 12? Twelve is a lot, isn’t it? It’s literally two per month since the start of the year. It would be a good guess, if you did, but it’s wrong.
How about 15? Did you guess 15? Also too low.
The magic number is 18. And that doesn’t include next week’s Finding Dory, or Independence Day: Resurgence the week after, or The Purge: Election Day, the week after that, or Ice Age: Collision Course or Star Trek Beyond or Jason Bourne, all of which come out in the last two weeks of July.
That’s 24 sequels through the first seven months of the year, but let’s stick for the time being with the 18 that have already hit theaters. Care to hazard a guess as to how many of them have outperformed their predecessors at the domestic box office?
Go ahead. I’ll wait again. Really, it’s fine. I’m just sitting here, anyway.
(Checking my email …)
(Making snarky comments on a friend’s Facebook update …)
You guessed six, right? Good guess, but wrong. Try again.
Four? Nope. Still too high.
Exactly two sequels released in 2016 have higher grosses at the box office than their predecessors, Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the latter is considered a major disappointment.
There is a third winner in there, if you consider that London Has Fallen has better worldwide numbers than Olympus Has Fallen ($195 million to $161 million), but that feels like a bit of a pyrrhic victory, doesn’t it? Especially when you consider that the first film did $98 million domestic and the followup only $62 million.
Some of the numbers are actually quite startling. X-Men: Apocalypse, for instance, is the lowest grossing of all nine X-Men movies to date. Yes, that’s how startled I was when I saw that, I actually italicized six words in that sentence. It’s almost certainly going to pass The Wolverine for eighth place, maybe X-Men: First Class to get to seventh, but won’t get much higher. That can’t be what the folks in the executive suites at Fox were hoping for, especially considering how well Deadpool did earlier this year (a film I am not, in fact, counting as a sequel, because it’s really more of a spin-off, isn’t it? A technicality, perhaps, but an important one).
But, again, the disappointing numbers aren’t limited to superhero movies. I’m going to use italics again to drive this point home: Every other sequel released this year has failed to outgross any of its predecessors. I’m including movies that are third in their series, like Kung Fu Panda 3 and The Divergent Series: Allegiant, as well as Barbershop: The Next Cut.
So what does this mean? Is the audience finally saying enough? Is it throwing up its hands and shouting, “No más!”? Is it sending a not-so-subtle message to the studios that it’s tired of all the franchises and the derivative projects and wants to see the studios get back to telling original stories without numbers in the titles?
Well, maybe. I mean, this is a promising development, but let’s not start celebrating the return of a cinematic golden age just yet. Not when seven of the year’s top 10 domestic grossers thus far are either sequels or spinoffs, two are animated films (one of those based on a video game) and one is a live action remake of a beloved Disney cartoon. That’s not exactly the kind of trend that gives creators of original content much cause for hope, is it?
Now, there are a couple reasons to have this conversation. The first is that I am more than a little fascinated by what kind of numbers Finding Dory is going to put up next weekend. The thing is, it’s a dozen years after Finding Nemo set box office records, and much of the target audience for the new film hadn’t even been born yet. This makes me wonder about the very idea of a sequel that takes so long to see the light of day. Yes, Dory is a sequel to Nemo, but it also has to stand on its own simply because of the nature of the project.
The thing is, though, Dory is actually the fourth sequel this year to hit theaters at least a decade after the last film in the series, with Resurgence becoming the fifth next week. Zoolander 2, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and that third Barbershop film all came nowhere close to the numbers of their first films, though in the case of Wedding, it never really had a chance, since My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the second highest grossing indie film of all-time. What’s the first? Hang on a sec. I’ll get there.
Add in 10 Cloverfield Lane and the Bourne movie, which are are eight and nine years since the last one, respectively, and that’s a lot of time between movies. More than enough, in most cases (Jason Bourne isn’t out yet), for the audience to have forgotten all about the franchises in question.
Absence, it seems, does not make the heart grow fonder, and name recognition only goes so far.
Which brings me to the second reason for all this, the announcement on Thursday that Randall Wallace is working on a script for a sequel to the most successful indie of all time, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. That movie came out a dozen years ago and made $370 million domestic and $611 million worldwide. The new one, apparently, would focus on the resurrection (proposed title: Passion 2: The Lost Weekend) and, if there ever was a movie dying for a sequel, especially from the targeted audience, I mean, isn’t this it? Talk about a no-brainer, this is the one sequel that actually makes the most sense to me, especially based on what we’ve seen so far during this election cycle. Folks are holding on to their religion with a firmer grasp than ever before.
So, what better time to roll out another story of Jesus, even if it can’t possibly hit theaters before 2018, during which time there are no less than 50 sequels scheduled for release? (Sixty-two if you push it to 2019, and 67 if you go to 2020, with more to come. I mean, Christ.)
This is a serious case of sequelitis, and antibiotics ain’t gonna help. The only thing that will is if the studios finally stop taking the easy road, but that doesn’t seem terribly likely, either, does it?
Neil Turitz is a filmmaker and journalist who has spent close to two decades in the independent film world and writing about Hollywood. Aside from being a screenwriter/director and Tracking Board columnist, he is also a senior editor at SSN Insider.