Features and Columns · Movies

2020 in 20/20: The Future of Franchises

By  · Published on August 16th, 2016

Dear FSR

Our exhaustion has never been so scheduled.

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At some point in your life, you’ve likely been faced with a question that has no solid answer. Some people may take such a puzzle to a trusted confidant, a friendly pastor, or the esteemed annals of Yahoo! Answers. But will they have the expertise needed to solve your most pressing film predicaments?

Think of Dear FSR as an impartial arbiter for all your film concerns. Boyfriend texting while you’re trying to show him your most precious Ozu? What’s the best way to confront the guy who snuck that pungent curry into your cramped theater? This is an advice column for film fans, by a film fan.

Dear FSR,

Seeing how the start of the next decade will be 2020, let’s use hypothetical hindsight to answer the question, “Which major movie franchise (universe) is going to end up on top at the end of the decade?” The concept of shared universes and serialized storytelling on screen have become the foundation of big studio tentpole movies, and over the last decade or so, everyone seems to be wanting in on the action.

How will these properties hold up over the next 4 years? I’m fairly positive Disney will hold at least 2 of the top 3 spots, but will we eventually get franchise fatigue from the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Will Star Wars be able to capture the same lightning in a bottle we saw with The Force Awakens? Can DC tell a coherent story? Will Cameron actually release Avatar movies, or will he just announce 15 more sequels? This will require a lot of speculation and assumption, but I’m sure you’re up for the task.

– Franchise-Fatigued Filmwatcher

Dear Franchise-Fatigued,

Aren’t we all tired? Our masochistic delight in the familiar will always be something we fight against to enjoy independent art. That said, this delight has been noticeably waning in the past few months, first among creatives and then among audiences.

While the major major players out there include Star Wars (5 planned movies), the Marvel Universe (12), DC (8), X-Men (at least 2 more), James Bond (who knows), Transformers (god help us), Harry Potter-verse (1–2), Fast and the Furious (2), and Avatar (3–4 sequels), who knows what Disney property or piece of young adult fiction will crop up between now and then.

Let’s use Marvel as an example.

Here’s my take: I’m already burned out, but I (and so many of you) live in the highly amplified world of film consumption that blasts superheroes at us for half the calendar year (until it’s time to switch to blasting Star Wars).

A big chunk of those giant revenues come from people that wouldn’t otherwise go to the movies – it’s why these movies blow records out of the water while the rest of the films try to mop up some of the residual cinematic excitement. Superhero nerds might be a big proponent of the films, but those that religiously read the comics or blog on fan sites are a minority of a subset of film-goers.

The marketing power behind these franchises relies on recognizability, not comprehensibility. We as fans do much of the latter for them because well, it sometimes helps pay the bills to show off our geeky knowledge (and we like to do it).

So when considering the question of “will people get burned out with these movies,” it’s much different to step outside the ouroboro of film journalism/consumption/criticism and wonder what the 99% think about it. Marvel has learned well from Disney (as has Star Wars) that it has to make its movies events in order to get butts in seats. Streaming is the biggest danger to theatrical blockbusters, so they have to get bigger and bigger to provide an experience worth leaving Netflix and spending twelve dollars on. The build-up, the near-exhaustive marketing? They’re necessary to the strategy.

We’re supposed to feel like if we skip the film we’ll be left out of the conversation.

Will we (cinephiles, film fans, nerds) get burned out on the franchise(s)? I expect the group films will become more taxing and we’ll enjoy the newly introduced characters more. When looking at something like comic sales, revenues spike when superheroes are introduced to stories (Amazing Spider-Man #583, featuring a guest appearance by Barack Obama) or completely revamped (Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns).

That’s why I expect the Han Solo film to explode in popularity. We want to see a different side of things. Escalation is all well and good, but the biggest profit (both financially and with audience goodwill) is in originality.

Introduce us to someone, like Ant-Man or the obscure Guardians of the Galaxy, or make us enjoy someone we know for different reasons (Daniel Craig’s James Bond). Monotony, mediocrity, and meaningless hype deaden our senses and our expectations.

The X-Men franchise has been in a slow nosedive for a while now because it’s afraid to be interesting and inherently spread thin byits group dynamic. Caught up in its own canon, it has to make its teen mutants or normal-aged mutants or old Wolverine adhere to its temporal logic and labyrinthine plotting rather than having fun and building memorable characters like James Gunn was allowed to do with Guardians of the Galaxy.

DC’s lamentable state is actually encouraging because it’ll need to change things in order to compete financially. As the company learns the hard way about satisfying narratives, real characters, and not shitting all over women and people of color, things can only get better. That a Cyborg film has been announced is enough to pique my interest and offbeat enough to have real breakout potential.

I think Disney will continue its reign, but with Star Wars becoming the big draw as the superheroes cannibalize each other by vying for our attention. Until another big end-of-year franchise (where’s the good YA at?) comes along to dethrone the intelligently-anthologized space opera, we’ll be living in the stars for the next four years.

P.S. I think James Cameron is hoping everyone will forget about those Avatar sequels so he can put all that behind him. That’s what I’d do, anyways.

Now’s the time to write a YA book,


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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).