Is This the End of the Summer Sequel?

The summer of 2016 was not a great summer for Hollywood. When the final analysis comes in, domestic earnings might seem a bit disappointing. After all, most analysts were expecting the summer box office this year to exceed $5 billion. And that didn’t quite happen. Total domestic box office results for the summer have been tallied around $4.4 billion. (It should be noted that overseas box office is a completely different animal.)

With something like 14 sequels released in summer of 2016, many were left wondering whether or not the day of the sequel was coming to an end. After all, 14 sequels released in one summer season is quite a few (the most since 2003). Throw in the fact that most of these sequels failed to live up to their expectations and it might start to look like Hollywood should be placing a premium on original content.

But that’s not really the whole story.

The Bridge Between Budget and Profit

One of the things that most major motion picture studios look at is a ratio between budget and profit. In most cases, the larger the budget, the bigger the profit. At least, that’s the theory behind films such as The Avengers. But 2016 saw a string of underperforming sequels, from Alice Through the Looking Glass to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

In fact, one of the interesting things about 2016 is the way that sequels either performed incredibly or tepidly. There were few breakout hits that ended up in the $200 million dollar range for domestic box office. In an era in which the budgets for sequels are constantly on the rise, that should be worrisome.

Success of Sequels

There were, certainly, some bright spots. Disney had a great summer, with both Captain America: Civil War and Finding Dory performing quite well. The reason for that seems to be pretty simple: they were pretty good movies that were marketed quite well (and forcefully).

Additionally, films such as Suicide Squad and The Secret Life of Pets rounded out the top 4. These are the films that will be considered an unqualified success, although of the four, Suicide Squad was the only one to earn poor reviews.

The rest of the top ten films for 2016, from Jason Bournce to Star Trek Beyond have ended up around the 150 – 160 million dollar range for summer grosses.

Reviews and Box Office

An article over at Deadline has an interesting theory that explains the tepid summer box office. That theory can be summed up in two words: Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps the most famous review aggregate site, Rotten Tomatoes will essentially gather up all of the reviews for a film and tell users what percentage of those reviews are positive.

In a way, it saves users a significant amount of time and gives them a general sense of “how good” a film may be. But it also turns a film review (often, a subtle and nuanced piece of writing) into a kind of blunt instrument. A film is often reduced, then, to “good” or “bad.”

This can be frustrating for studios and filmmakers in particular. After all, no film is flawless, and it’s possible that poor or tepid reviews could be keeping people away.

Of course, it’s also possible that Hollywood makes a lot of bad movies, and film reviewers have been doing a good job of ensuring that people don’t go see them. Many types of films, it seems, are no longer “review proof.” It will be interesting to see how that impacts the release of Transformers 5 next year.

Movies Are a Gamble

There are more sequels on the roster for the summer of 2017. And there will likely be even more sequels in 2018. When all is said and done, whether we like it or not, sequels are a good bet. There’s no guarantee that a roster full of original films would have performed better in 2016 than the sequels we got.

For better or worse, then, this likely does not spell the end of the sequel. Disney has a whole suite of Marvel films planned, and Justice League is currently in production. A new Star Trek film is in the planning stages.

Because here’s the thing: people tend to like sequels. They’re a chance to expand the story, expand the universe, get more interesting. Whether Hollywood learns any lessons from 2016 or not is tough to say (it’s likely that they at least learned some marketing lessons). This is especially true when it comes to overseas markets.

All of that means that it will be interesting to see what happens next year, when I write the sequel to this post.

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