Why I’m Worried about the Future of Franchise Films

"Merry Sithmas to all"
“Merry Sithmas”

My Franchise Friend

When I buy a ticket to a franchise film I feel like I’m enabling a friend with a history of letting me down. It’s been a while since he’s violated my trust. Maybe it’s time to give him another chance. Maybe he’s running with a better crowd, producers and screenwriters who actually care about him. Maybe he found the help he needed.

At first, I’m so happy my franchise friend is back that I look past all his short comings. So what if he’s had a little work done, a little CGI facelift when he used to rely on practical FX? It’s his heart that matters. So what if he’s dabbling with some new age philosophy, telling a story that doesn’t suit him? At least he’s trying new things. So what if I struggle to recognize the person I remember? He’s in there somewhere, underneath the gobbledegook about Midi-chlorians and trade regulations.

My franchise friend gets drunk on the attention, doing things he thinks modern audiences want. He staggers around the room, making dated jokes, repeating old catchphrases, peppering in Facebook references. He invites one too many characters to the party, assuming each one will spinoff into a franchise of their own. He keeps telling us about all the cool things he’s going to bring to the next outing, when we’re still not sure how this one is going.

By the end of the experience, I’m embarrassed to have introduced my franchise friend to anyone.

Dragging him into the coatroom, I give him a stern intervention.

“Ever since Marvel hit a billion dollar box office with The Avengers you’ve been itching for a piece of their action. You’re introducing too many characters so soon, trying to cash in early. Slow down, be yourself. Tell one story at a time, and leave the Golden Gate Bridge alone. How do you expect traffic to navigate around the ape blockade, Magneto’s mutant army, the Terminator flipping busses, Godzilla, his Kaiju brethren, and all the star ships coming in for a crash landing?”

I’d eighty-six him, but I’m pretty sure he’d slap on a new disguise and creep back in. My franchise friend doesn’t know when to quit.

Now it's cool. We fixed the franchise, because... time travel
Now it’s cool. We fixed the franchise, because… time travel

Fan Fiction on Film

Film is a collaborative medium. As the personnel behind the camera changes, sequels are bound to differ in tone and quality. If a tent pole picture like The Amazing Spider Man 2 underperforms, a transition behind the scenes is a foregone conclusion. The director of Terminator Salvation thought he was setting up a trilogy, but a different studio is already pressing on with another continuity.

As franchises stretch beyond their outlines, they feel like exquisite corpses, mismatched story ideas written by grade schoolers, passing around the same piece of paper. In one story the Highlander is an immortal born of a human mother, in the next he’s an alien in the future, then he’s back in the present fighting a shapeshifter. Each contributor tells the story they want to. The first writer’s intention is lost in a game of telephone.

Individual entries no longer feel like episodes in a series. They feel like fan fiction put up on the big screen, scenarios pitched by a twelve year old high on Mountain Dew, licking Doritos dust off his fingers.

“What if they spliced the genes from a T-Rex with a Velociraptor and now he can turn invisible like the Predator. Oh man, that would be so hardcore!”

This new Jurassic World trailer looks like fun, but I’m guarded with my enthusiasm.

A story about modern day dinosaurs wasn’t enough, they had to create a new apex predator. So let me guess, the characters spend most of the movie debating the ethics of creating a hybrid dinosaur with an obligatory You had no right to play God speech, while the audience wished they’d stop arguing and just show the damn dinosaur.

Some people will over intellectualize Jurassic World as a big budget inditement of GMOs, while others will feel it has the exact same moral of every episode of The Outer Limits circa 1995-2002: science = bad, human spirit = good.

Last year I wrote an article on how these series nuke the fridge and keep right on going. These days the waiting period between a franchise killer and a reboot is getting shorter and shorter. There was a 19 year gap between Superman 4 and Superman Returns. There was a 5 year gap between Spiderman 3 and The Amazing Spiderman. Will a deal between Marvel and Sony deliver a new Spiderman in the next few years?

If a brand is still recognizable it can never be too toxic, a sequel can never be too convoluted, and the continuity can never be too twisted. After Star Trek proved time travel fixes everything, The X-Men and The Terminator franchises followed it through the same temporal anomaly.

This pattern has made it easy to predict the future.

Clever girls
Clever girls

The Film Forecast for the next 5 Years

The following is based on official announcements, rumors, and leaked documents.

Before the hack on their offices, Sony had scheduled at least 1 Spider Man movie with plans for up to 4 spin offs between now and 2020. Warner Bros has scheduled 12 movies based on DC’s properties (13 if you count Lego Batman) while Marvel has 11 films set for the same time frame.

Fox wants to release 2 Fantastic Four movies, an X-Men movie, an X-Force movie, a Gambit spinoff, a Deadpool spinoff, and a third Wolverine film while Hugh Jackman is ripped.

There’s also mumblings over whether Luke Evans is still attached to a reboot of The Crow.

Hope you like comic book movies, you’re about to get 35 of them.

Now this is embarrassing
Now this is embarrassing

Everybody wants a Piece of that Marvel Money

Disney is making live action versions of many of their classic cartoons, including: Cinderella, Cruella (a Cruella de Vil movie in the spirit of Maleficent), Dumbo, The Jungle Book (not to be confused with Warner Bros Jungle Book: Origins), and Beaty and the Beast (again, not to be confused with Warner Bros Beaty and the Beast). Warner Bros also has a Peter Pan prequel coming, and they’re rumored to be developing a version of Pinocchio.

Following the trend Universal has a Little Mermaid adaptation in development.

Not to be outdone, Disney plans on releasing 6 annual Star Wars movies, split between at least five different directors.

Universal has plans to turn their monsters into the next Avengers team, with talks of The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and Van Helsing reboots well underway.

Warner Bros has plans to release 3 more Terminator Movies as well as 3 more films set in the Harry Potter universe.

I’ve never felt so conflicted in my excitement. With so many of these familiar franchises returning, a few of them are bound to be great, but I won’t be buying my tickets in advance, I’ll be watching the scores on Rotten Tomatoes, ignoring any film with a release-day review embargo.

I can’t help but fear that every one of these represents an original concept we’re not going to get to see, one less Inception, one less Source Code, and one less Looper.

Right now, Lionsgate is scraping the bottom of the barrel, scheduling a Power Rangers reboot for 2016, in an attempt to get the Millennials on the same nostalgia train aging Gen-Xers are getting off of after the last Transformers movie. I can’t help but wonder, what’s left to resurrect after that?

My argument isn’t that I simply prefer the classics to artless remakes, it’s that there aren’t enough new intellectual properties to draw in younger audiences. What will they be nostalgic for when they grow up. Where’s their Labyrinth? Where’s their Dark Crystal? Where’s their Never Ending Story? I want to see something that aspires to measure up to that level of quality, a new Princess Bride for everyone to rave about. Something with a sense of newness, a product of our time, not one that’s past.

4 thoughts on “Why I’m Worried about the Future of Franchise Films”

  1. Exactly! I look at the lists of upcoming superhero/mega villain/re-boot movies and my reaction is “Meh”. I agree with you on the idea of us missing out on the next Labyrinth and Princess Bride (two of my favorites, by the way). Cult classics.
    However, a thought arises, perhaps all these uber blockbusters are going to leave the door wide open for independents to scoop up an exhausted fan base and give them much needed rest from the onslaught of bigger-is-better film making.
    You never know. *shrugs*

    1. It seems like Hollywood still needs to learn some hard lessons. Block busters are now entering the 300 million dollar territory. Some producers are great at producing hit after hit with half of that money. I’d like to see more fresh action adventure films in the 60-100 million dollar territory.

  2. I just can’t get excited any more about any of these simply because of the lack of originality and of the knowledge that it’s all just about money and merchandising rather than the art of movie making. It’s a symptom of the day and age we live in. Overload and cash in until we’re sick. (Reality TV anyone?)

    I was looking forward to The new Jurassic World film, but hasn’t the message not to mess with nature being done in the first three? Actually the first one? Special effects are all well and good but without a decent, original story behind it then, well it is just special effects. All fur coat and no knickers as my mum would say!

    This is partly why I had a problem with the final Harry Potter book being split into two films. The Order of the Phoenix (the longest of the 7 books) was made in one film, but they needed to drag out the final book over 2 films and the cynic in me can’t help feel money was the prime motivation.

    The same with The Hobbit movies. I know, I know, people have enjoyed them, but if you can do the whole LOTR trilogy in 3 (okay,admittedly long) films, then the teeny weeny Hobbit story could easily have been done in one. Again money, merchandising I feel was prime motivation.

    Anyway, interesting post all round, Drew and many good points made. 🙂

    1. The problem with so many of those pictures being split over multiple movies is that the results don’t fit into the 3-act structure audiences are used to. By their very nature, these split adaptations have to force each of their plot points into spaces they don’t fit. They have to create new artificial lows. The beats never sync up right. I’ve enjoyed some of the films that did this, while others felt like they were deliberately wasting my time.

      Thanks for reading.

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