The ‘Resident Evil’ Franchise Is Already Back From the Dead

Less than two months after the ‘Final Chapter’ hit theaters, producers have already announced plans for a six-film reboot.
By  · Published on May 23rd, 2017

Less than two months after the ‘Final Chapter’ hit theaters, producers have already announced plans for a six-film reboot.

When Resident Evil: The Final Chapter bowed from theaters on March 31 of this year, audiences said goodbye to one of the odder success stories in recent history. Spanning six movies over fifteen — that’s one-five, folks — years, the Resident Evil series has walked the line between domestic flop and international blockbuster and walked it well, grossing about $271 million at home and more than $1.2 billion worldwide.

It should come as no surprise, then, that German production company Constantin Films is looking to immediately reanimate the franchise’s corpse, announcing a new six-film franchise at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and tapping horror icon James Wan to serve as the executive producer for the films.

It might seem kind of foolish (or ghoulish) to push another franchise into the world before the corpse of the original has cooled, but fans have reacted to this news with a surprising amount of optimism. The phrase “faithful adaptation” doesn’t exactly come to mind with Paul W.S. Anderson’s films; poke around the Resident Evil corners of the internet, and you can already find people expressing relief that the contentious director will no longer be involved and fan casting their perfect adaptation of the popular video games. The only problem? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and there’s a lot of not-broke going on with the way Resident Evil currently sits.

The Resident Evil franchise has always been one of my favorite Hollywood curiosities. Willed into existence by the husband and wife team of Anderson and star Milla Jovovich, the series abandoned the storyline of the games it was based on almost immediately, choosing instead to be a vehicle for Jovovich’s blossoming career as an action star and Anderson’s alt-rock blockbuster aesthetic.

Anderson himself has long been a contentious figure in film circles. While movies like Soldier and Event Horizon have picked up a cult following in the years since their release, his biggest impact on film culture can be felt in the short-lived “vulgar auteurism” debate, itself an alt-rock adaptation of the popular mode of film criticism. There’s a hidden art to loud movies, the line of thinking goes, and nobody makes movies louder than Newcastle’s native son.

It’s fair to say that the Resident Evil films are more a W.S. Anderson joint than anything else these days, and that fact has not been lost on the critics sent to review them. No single film in the Resident Evil franchise has scored higher than 35% on RottenTomatoes; despite this, Resident Evil has grown into one of the stealthier blockbuster franchises of the last seven years. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, the poorest domestic performer to date, still managed to gross over $300 million worldwide against a budget of $40 million dollars. Resident Evil: Retribution picked up $240 million at a $65 price tag; Resident Evil: Afterlife made $300 million on a $60 million investment. These three films have been especially effective outside of the United States, too, earning an average of 84.6% of their gross on the international market.

But the games themselves have never been just one thing. The most recent entry in the genre, Resident Evil: Biohazard  — sort of an inside-baseball joke, since the franchise goes under the name Biohazard in Japan — subverted many of the elements that made the others popular by switching to the first-person perspective and angling more for a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe than the action-horror hybrid the series has become. Pick the elements you want from the games you like and you can justify pitching a Resident Evil film as a new World War Z, Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, or even a horror-themed riff on The Matrix, giving Wan and his team a pretty wide degree of latitude in what sort of franchise they’d like to make.

And while Wan might be an obvious choice to serve as cinematic showrunner for a new Resident Evil series — few filmmakers movie between authentic horror films and six-figure blockbusters as efficiently as he does — that doesn’t mean he’s not the right man for the role. Wan has smartly found ways to spin The Conjuring off into a handful of horror franchises focusing on the Warren family and their supernatural cases; outside of the Universal Monsters, it’s the closest thing the horror genre has ever had to a sustained cinematic universe. Financial success followed, too. For a combined total of $66.5 million, Wan’s three Conjuring films have grossed $895 million worldwide.

That should give Resident Evil fans some small reason for hope. If early attendance numbers are to be believed, Hollywood is in for a pretty rough summer, one where the first installments of two hopeful blockbuster franchises — King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword and Ghost in the Shell — both collapsed moments after leaving the gate. Setting aside the question of whether any movie should announce a sequel, let alone five, before the first one has even been made, if anyone can find a way to weave the Resident Evil movies into something cohesive and engaging, it’s James Wan. Love him or hate him, Paul W.S. Anderson took the giant sandbox that the Resident Evil games offered him and found his way to a billion dollars at the global box office. Imagine the success that could follow if the next franchise is, well, you know. Good.

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)