Some of the top movies of all time include GONE WITH THE WIND, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, BEN HUR, E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, and FORREST GUMP, none of which had a sequel. Where are the big stand-alone movies today? Of 2015’s top ten movies, seven were part of a series, and one of the remaining three could one day become the start a series. Hollywood refers to these as “franchise” movies because they become a brand, like a franchise.
Fifty three percent of the 2015 box office for the top 100 movies went to franchise movies. Of the top 100, there were 28 franchise movies. The top three movies of 2015 were STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, JURASSIC WORLD, and AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.
Movieguide® decided to look at the trend. In 1981, the percentage of franchise movie box office in the top 100 movies was 21 percent. It included titles like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARC and SUPERMAN II. In 1998, it dropped to a low of 7 percent. The top movies of the year included SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and ARMAGEDDON.
In 2000, the percentage soared to 39 percent with HARRY POTTER, LORD OF THE RINGS and SHREK installments all rising to the top of the charts. Since 2000, the trend has been largely upward hitting 50 percent in 2012 and 53 percent in 2015.
This trend is not just in regard to major studio tentpole movies. In 2016, movies like GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 and MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 will come out along with the next KUNG FU PANDA, CAPTAIN AMERICA, DIVERGENT, X-MEN, STAR TREK, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, and ICE AGE. There are also the usual new installments of a number of horror shows.
Batman and Superman get merged into BATMAN VS SUPERMAN. The studios are even reaching back to make a series out of INDEPENDENCE DAY, and FINDING NEMO (FINDING DORY in 2016).
In production are STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII, CARS 3, TOY STORY 4, THE INCREDIBLES 2, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR PART1 and 2, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, THE CROODS 2; MADAGASCAR 4, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 3 and 4, DESPICABLE ME 3, and FURIOUS 8.
Some of the biggest new movies of 2016 will be titles that studios hope can lead to a series. Marvel and Disney’s DOCTOR STRANGE with Benedict Cumberbatch would be an example.
As if there was a shortage of original scripts, 2016 will include remakes of BEN HUR, JUNGLE BOOK, PETE’S DRAGON, JUMANJI, and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.
Does Hollywood get little new material to produce? No, many thousands of scripts are submitted. The Movieguide® Awards include two script contests: The Kairos Prize for most uplifting screenplay by first time writers and the Chronos Prize for most uplifting script by experienced writers. We get ample submissions for both, but of these very few would qualify as opening installments for a series of movies. Most are dramas, some of which are excellent, but they’re not what studios are seeking.
The trend toward franchise movies is simply business. Franchise movies generate repeat business with less marketing effort, and sometimes lend themselves well to marketing and merchandising tie-ins. Those who loved GOD’S NOT DEAD will be more inclined to see GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 than WOODLAWN. Even if the final installment of HUNGER GAMES was not as big a hit as hoped, it was a huge hit compared to most stand-alone movies.
People know what to expect from a McDonalds restaurant. It would be very hard to compete selling hamburgers at a single-family restaurant. People know what to expect from STAR WARS. It’s very hard to compete with a movie that has huge following months before it even opens.
The challenge to Christian filmmakers is to establish a sizable following that’s looking forward to the release of their next movie. The Kendrick Brothers have come the closest with FACING THE GIANTS, FIREPROOF, COURAGEOUS, and WAR ROOM. They have fans that will look for their next project. GOD’S NOT DEAD 2 will test the attraction of a sequel to a popular Christian Movie.
As a scriptwriter, it would be wise to consider what’s required to create a “franchise” script. You need a protagonist capable of entertaining audiences while going through a series of character arcs. Each story needs to stand on its own and fit into a greater story. This is where the big money in Hollywood is flowing.
To be continued…