Franchise fatigue, movie misfires, and the changing world of big-budget blockbusters

Film franchises generate big business for Hollywood. Star Wars and Marvel seem to be leading the trend, with their brand names wielding enough power to regularly generate $100 million+ openings. Audiences just can’t seem to get enough, and even risky gambits have paid off — like “Rogue One,” a Star Wars movie that doesn’t feature any Jedi, and films that star some of Marvel’s more obscure characters.

However, that trend isn’t holding true for all of Hollywood’s would-be franchises. Despite “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” kicking off the summer blockbuster season with a strong start and a major boost from “Wonder Woman,” 2017 has seen a number of franchises flounder with critical misfires and would-be blockbusters that are limping to the finish. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and “Alien: Covenant” under-performed, and plans to turn Guy Ritchie’s “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” into a franchise are likely gone due to a disastrous opening weekend. Things aren’t looking good for Universal’s planned “Dark Universe” monster movie franchise, either; “The Mummy,” starring Tom Cruise, posted a $32 million opening weekend — not good for a big-budget film that’s supposed to generate buzz for a new shared universe franchise.

Negative reviews have played a big role in these stumbling franchises, and fair or not, Rotten Tomatoes wields a decent amount of power. The fairness of Rotten Tomatoes ratings is a complicated topic for another time (I felt “Dead Men Tell No Tales” was rated too harshly at 29 percent, and “Alien: Covenant” was treated too leniently with 71 percent). Still, people do pay attention to that rating. If a film gets a little green splat, people may decide to save their time and money and skip the film. After the trends we’re seeing this summer, I’m very curious to see how the next Transformers movie preforms at the box office, considering the fact the franchise hasn’t exactly been a critical darling over the years.

I can see why every Hollywood studio wants a franchise or shared universe — as mentioned earlier, Star Wars and Marvel have brought in big bucks for Disney. A successful franchise does a lot of the marketing for you — if you loved “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1,” you’re automatically going to be hyped for “Vol. 2.” However, simply creating a franchise or shared universe isn’t enough to bring people to the theater, especially when these franchise films seem rushed. DC Comics made several films before finally hitting their stride with “Wonder Woman”; instead, they should have come on strong right out of the gate.

The fact is, people have a lot more entertainment choices than they used to. People can access high-quality content right from their home with streaming services like Netflix. For a low monthly fee, you can watch previous movies and new TV shows like “Stranger Things” that are sometimes better than the content currently available at the movie theater. Also, movie tickets and concessions can be expensive, particularly if you’re bringing the whole family. People want to wait until there’s a really good, buzzworthy film to spend their money on.

You also have to know when to let a franchise go. Nostalgia isn’t always enough to guarantee success. It may have worked for “Jurassic World,” which captured some of the spirit of the original movie (and Chris Pratt’s rising star power certainly didn’t hurt). But nostalgia for the past wasn’t enough for “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” “Alien: Covenant,” and “The Mummy” — either people have already kind of forgotten about these properties, feel that the existing movies are enough, or they aren’t really in the mood for more at this time.

Franchises have to offer something both familiar and exciting. I like the Marvel movies because I know pretty much what sort of movie I’ll be getting, but I still want them to show me something different and cool, like with “Doctor Strange.” I think the upcoming Spider-Man movie will succeed where some of this summer’s other blockbusters haven’t because while it IS the third Spidey reboot in recent history, it’s bringing the character into the much-loved Marvel Cinematic Universe and features a cameo from the ever-popular Iron Man/Tony Stark.

I love a good franchise — in fact, many of my all-time favorite movies are part of franchises, and aren’t always the first chapter in the franchise either. Yet with increasing competition from Netflix and the fact that there’s practically a new blockbuster demanding our attention every weekend, Hollywood may have to do a little better. That’s where the power of word-of-mouth comes in. A movie’s best marketers aren’t necessarily trailers or ads on social media; it’s people who, if they love a movie, tell all their friends and family about it. For example, I loved “Wonder Woman” so much that I’m still talking about that movie a week later. I saw it opening weekend and was so excited to see it again that I went back a few days later and brought a different person with me so they could see the movie too.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of this summer will play out at the box office. I don’t see any of the movies topping “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” or “Wonder Woman” in terms of box office success, but hopefully things will pick up. Although we’re not going to see the franchise trend die down any time soon, Hollywood may be getting the message that it’s not an automatic recipe for success.

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