As another sequel-saturated summer comes to a close, it’s clear that sequels are no fad but a growing trend. It’s a conversation we started with our 2011 article, Has Hollywood Lost its Way, when we mapped the rising popularity of sequels over the last three decades. This summer, 8 of the top 10 films were sequels or franchises.
It’s a concern reflected in a recent short but pointed article from Isaac Chotiner, Hollywood Is In Trouble, And We’re All Going To Pay:
“There has been some hope that Hollywood’s troubles will lead to a rethinking of how movies get made, and which movies get greenlit by studio executives. But a close look at this summer’s grosses suggest a more worrisome possibility: that the studios will become more conservative and even less creative.
Exempting kids’ movies, because they exist in a slightly different universe (and by far the most successful kids’ movie of the summer was the sequel to Despicable Me), the four biggest movies of the May-August period were sequels or reboots: Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Fast and Furious 6, and Star Trek Into Darkness. Grown-Ups 2 was a also a hit, as was The Hangover III (which disappointed the studio but is still bringing in loads of money) and The Wolverine. Meanwhile, the biggest bombs of the summer were original properties: R.I.P.D., The Internship, After Earth (which could break even thanks to foreign sales), White House Down, Lone Ranger, and maybe Elysium, which had a mediocre opening this weekend. (Pacific Rim is doing very well overseas but was a disappointment in America.)
Still, it’s easy to imagine Hollywood studios learning precisely the opposite lesson. The problem isn’t derivative movies, the thinking might go; in fact, the most derivative movies sell. Superheroes sell. Enough of these new and risky products like R.I.P.D. and Lone Ranger: just look at where quirkiness gets you. Instead of taking a bet on an original (albeit not very good) movie like Elysium, why not make Grown-Ups 3, even if no one is exactly begging for it?
No, the real lesson of the summer might very well be that audiences want what they already know. Don’t expect much to change.”
Who’s at fault? The studios pushing out sequel after sequel hoping to wring every drop of revenue out of a franchise? Or the audiences that pay to go see them? At this point, it doesn’t even matter. The golden age of indie film is over. Original stories are finding a better home elsewhere. Television and online, where stakes are lower and audience numbers are growing, are welcoming them with open arms.