By the year 2020 there will 101,228 feature films released throughout human history (according to IMDB). Assuming the average run time is 110 minutes, it would take 11,135,080 minutes to watch them all, that’s 185,585 hours, 7,733 days, 22 years if you don’t sleep or go to the bathroom, and 30 years if you do. If you tried to watch a new movie every night for the rest of your life you’d have to live to the ripe old age of 284 (assuming you watch nothing beyond 2019).
Cinephiles have a cornucopia of calls to adventure to answer, a diversity of dramatic turns to take, and a never-ending supply of new worlds to explore. So why do we get déjà vu whenever we go to the theater? Look up on the marquee. There’s that name we’ve seen a dozen times before, no roman numerals behind it, no subtitle. New year. Same old titles.
The answer is in the question. We have 284 years of options. People want to know what to expect before investing their time. That’s why franchise films continue to reign like eternal dynasties.
Rotten Reviews Don’t Matter Anymore
It used to be if an entry in a series was panned it damaged the franchise’s reputation. Back when there was a scarcity of long running continuities an Exorcist 2or Jaws 4 would derail a series. These days, in the era of shared cinematic universes, franchises are too big to fail.
SoThe Conjuring spinoff Annabelle was poorly received? The studio just made another prequel with a different creative team. So The Conjuring 2 spinoff The Nun was scored low too? Now they’re spinning off The Crocked Manfrom The Conjuring 2to see if he’s got what it takes. The convoy may swerve here and there, but it just keeps on trucking.
Universal has been trying to launch a monster mashup franchise forever. Dracula Untoldwasn’t the series launcher they were hoping for so they tried again with The Mummyas a Tom Cruise auctioneer. Now they’re remodeling their Dark Universe after The Conjuring universe, with a lower budget horror-centric version of The Invisible Man.
Warner Brothers are continuing with the DCEU where Ben Affleck and Jared Leto play Batman and the Joker respectively. Meanwhile they’re producing a backdoor DC universe where director Matt Reeves is recasting Batman and Joaquin Phoenix is playing the Joker. Oblivious to possibility oversaturating the superhero market Warner Brothers is hedging their bets.
Everybody is Eating the Member Berries
Hollywood is learning that extended cinematic universes are hard to build, much harder than resurrecting a dead brand. YouTube is full of Gen Xers who can’t stop talking about the movies they grew up with. Hollywood tried to reboot those classics action adventure flicks for millennials, but none of them took. So producers came up with a new strategy.
Let’s listen in on one of their conversations.
“Can we do anything with the Alienfranchise or did Ridley Scott kill it for good?”
“Prometheusand Alien Covenant didn’t resonate with audiences. The Alien VS. Predator movies are best forgotten. Joss Whedon wiped his hands of Alien Resurrection. Alien 3almost killed David Fincher’s career before it started… But Alienwas a cult classic and Aliensmade James Cameron a household name. If only we could jettison the franchise’s baggage we might be in business.”
“What are you proposing?”
“We make a sequel to Aliens. Bring back all the characters who died off screen in Alien 3, like Hicks and Newt, and pretend none of those other movies even happened.”
“But what about the fans of the sequels, prequels, and spinoffs?”
“They’ll be first in line. Didn’t you see what happened with 2018’s Halloween?”
(Authors note: this actually pitch by Neill Blomkamp is stuck in development hell at the time of this writing, but the Alienfranchise will live on as a mobile game).
Halloween was A Harbinger of Things To Come
TheHalloweenfranchise has gone through many revisions, retcons, and reimaginings since John Carpenter directed the original, but 2018’s Halloweenmarks a trend in franchise film making. It isn’t quite a sequel nor is it a reboot. It’s a do-over sequel, one the wipes all but the 1978 film from the continuity. Technically it’s the third version of Halloween 2.
It sounds like a bold experiment until you realize it was made on a modest 10 million dollar budget. Since Halloweencame out in October it’s earned nearly 160 million, making it the franchise’s biggest opening, the biggest horror opening with a female lead, the biggest opening with a female lead over 55, and the second biggest October opening ever.
Halloween’s success set the stage for every tarnished brand to come back with a fresh coat of paint on, but will it teach Hollywood the right lesson?
1980s Franchises Now and Forever
TheGhostbustersreboot was a hit with critics, it made a profit, but it wasn’t a billion dollar success, so that continuity is dead and director Jason Reitman is going forward with Ghostbusters 3.
TheRoboCopreboot followed a similar trend, which is why Neill Blomkamp is bringing Alex Murphy back to his old continuity in Robocop Returns.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is set return to the role of Conan the Barbarian after the reboot failed to take root.
Linda Hamilton is returning to the role of Sarah Connor in the next Terminatormovie, even after two Game of Thronesactresses have played the character.
My generation’s nostalgic streak is costing mellenials new experiences. Bankrupt brands are taking up too much real estate on the big screen because we’re letting them. If a franchise has had one too many brushes with failure it should go into a state of hibernation for a five year minimum.
The wounds inflicted by Terminator Genisysare still fresh in my mind. It’s too soon for another one.
2018’sHalloweenworked because it was the exception that proved the rule. It was a 10 million dollar low risk experiment that payed off. The estimated budget for Terminator 6 is 255 million dollars (making it the most expensive entry in the series). If it makes anything short of a billion dollars the studio will likely consider it a failure… But they’ll probably make another one anyway. Think about all the sci fi movies the studio could make if they divided up that budget and took some risks on some fresh intellectual properties. That’s why my generation needs to stop giving franchise films infinite retries. Let’s give the next generation something of their own to be nostalgic for when they grow older.