Hollywood has loved franchises and sequels for quite a while now. But it’s seemed like ever since pre-planned trilogies like the Star Wars prequels and the Lord of the Rings movies were successful, the industry has been in sequel overdrive. Probably the peak of this success came when Marvel was able to weave all of their individual properties together in order to team them up and make about a billion and a half dollars with The Avengers. That was some good franchising.
Making sequels and setting up franchises hasn’t always worked out so great though. Sometimes studios will keep churning out movies long after every drop of creative juice has been drained from a franchise (Pirates of the Caribbean), just because international audiences are likely to line up for a brand name they recognize. And sometimes something that shouldn’t be turned into a movie at all gets adapted anyway (Battleship), just because it’s got a name that the public might already recognize, and that could mean franchise potential. Heck, sometimes movies that didn’t even do that well get sequels (Percy Jackson), because the studio thinks that once the name gets out there in the culture, audiences will be more likely to line up at the theater for the second go-around.
A couple of movies that were planned to be entries in big franchises just got delayed and possibly even cancelled right at the same time though, so we could be seeing the first signs that the studios’ over-reliance on sequels might be coming to an end.
First up, THR has a report that the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film, subtitled Dead Men Tell No Tales, is not going to hit its planned summer 2015 release, because producer Jerry Bruckheimer and directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have yet to read a script that they like. Seeing as Bruckheimer’s wildly expensive The Lone Ranger lost Disney a bunch of money earlier in the year, the studio seems to be getting a little more conservative about how much money they make a movie for, even if it’s a part of a proven franchise like Pirates.
When asked how much budget cuts had to do with Dead Men Tell No Tales getting pushed back and re-written, Bruchheimer said, “It’s all a factor. We want a script that everyone’s signed off on and a budget that everyone’s signed off on.” Coming up with a great script is “always hard,” Bruckheimer added, and then admitted that after this summer, “everybody’s more cautious.”
Perhaps a bit more telling is a quote from a source THR claims is close to the production though, who says that the script that writer Jeff Nathanson turned in for the film was, “too expensive, but it was also really complicated and hard to follow.” When the heck has Disney ever stopped production on a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel because the script was really complicated and hard to follow? Never. It seems like some of the higher-ups over there must be feeling less confident about sequels.
The other delay comes in the form of a movie that should have been part of a big franchise as well, but likely isn’t going to be. By all accounts author Cassandra Clare’s series of “Mortal Instruments” books were wildly popular, and had just the right mix of Twilight and Harry Potter to become the next big series of movies that young people would gush over. But the first film in the series, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, opened a few weeks ago and so far hasn’t earned enough by most reports to make back its relatively modest-for-a-franchise-film budget of $60 million [via Box Office Mojo].
Because of this, The Wrap is reporting that the second film in the planned series, The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes, which was scheduled to start production this week, is instead shutting down production indefinitely.
The studio sent out a press release that explained the production stop by saying, “Constantin Film has a long tradition of adapting books to the big screen. Pushing back the start of production of City of Ashes was a decision we did not take lightly. But after speaking with all of our partners on the creative and distribution side, it was clear that it will be beneficial to have more time to reposition the film in the current marketplace. The Mortal Instruments series has an incredibly loyal and ardent fan base and is a bestselling book series. While taking Cassandra Clare’s vision to the screen, we want to make sure to draw on the full potential of the franchise.”
It doesn’t take a PR genius to see that “reposition the film in the current marketplace,” and “draw on the full potential of the franchise,” is a bunch of corporate non-speak for saying they don’t have a clue what they’re going to do with this franchise now that the first film didn’t pull in as much money as they thought it would. Is this a case of City of Bones just being a shoddy-looking product that fans of the books didn’t want to reward with their box office dollars? Or could it be an indication that audiences in general are getting tired of these epic stories that take a whole series of films to play out? Might we be heading into an era where simple, self-contained stories that aren’t looking to milk audiences with sequel-potential start doing better at the box office than they have over the course of the last decade or so?
It should be interesting to track how things develop if a couple more high-profile studio properties fail to perform come next summer. If even the sure-thing tentpoles are no longer able to be counted on to make money, the climate will likely be right for the way studios make movies to finally see some sort of change.