At what stage does the thrill go out of a franchise? The whole idea behind most of Hollywood’s main franchises is to build up enough steam that it doesn’t matter if there’s a string of duds, because the audience is so invested in the series of movies they’ll keep coming back in the hope the franchise will right itself.
It’s a good plan; only problem is, franchises almost never make a comeback once things start to go wrong. Sure, The Fast and the Furious managed it, and you could argue the Mission: Impossible films are operating now on a higher level than previously – but in both cases there was only really one dud film dragging everything down.
With old-fashioned franchises like James Bond or the original Star Trek it didn’t quite matter so much because there was such a big gap between films that the memories of the most recent dud would fade and be replaced by the hope that maybe this next film would be okay: this is also the reason why we keep getting Terminator and Predator films even though neither franchise has delivered anything close to a winner in more than twenty years.
But in the 21st Century Hollywood has a new kind of franchise model in mind, where the films keep coming out every eighteen months or so and the audience doesn’t really have enough time to forget the last one before the next one comes out. And that’s a slow pace: if you’re looking at Disney then they’re trying for two or three films a year every year. So how do you keep the energy level up?
There are still franchises based around the one-off adventures of a much-loved character – there’ll probably be Deadpool movies for the next decade – but they tend to drop off fast if one of the films is a misfire. As do a lot of would-be franchises: cinemas are littered with first films that promise plenty and end on cliffhangers… that are never resolved because there’s no second film. If people don’t come for the first film, they’re definitely not coming for a second; even franchises that improve over time (The Fast and the Furious, Mission: Impossible) started out strong.
So the way a lot of franchises manage it now is by promising to tell a complete story: when you go see part one of The Hobbit, even if you’re not that impressed you have to keep coming back to see the other two-thirds of the story. The downside to this is that we also now have a lot of zombie franchises – prequels especially – where the promise is to fill in the gaps (that we never noticed were there) in a much-loved tale and we’re being told a story where we already know the end.
Presumably there are a lot of people excited to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald when it opens today, even though it’s connection to the world of Harry Potter is fairly tenuous when you think about it. But don’t worry; when the sequels and prequels run dry there’s always the reboot.
Does anyone really think Disney (who have a sequel to Mary Poppins out early next year) aren’t going to reboot Star Wars sooner or later?
Written by Anthony Morris