It’s a head-scratcher. That’s how The Hollywood Reporter characterizes the dilemma currently facing Paramount Pictures and SkyDance Productions. They’ve already mapped out two more Terminator movies, 7/22/17 for Terminator 2 and 6/29/18 for Terminator 3, and they recently secured a release date for Terminator: Genisys in China (8/23). However, Genisys, which cost $155 million to produce, has been a box office flop in the US and Canada, sitting at a mere $83 million as it enters its fourth weekend of release.
Almost no one, except maybe J.K. Simmons, comes out of Genisys looking good. You have producers who are passionate about the material but maybe a little too close to it to be able to tell a good story. You have a director whose career goal is apparently to burn as many bridges in Hollywood as quickly as possible, badmouthing both his former (Marvel Studios) and current employer (Paramount) on the Genisys promotional tour. You have two screenwriters who took on an unwieldy time travel story and let it kick their asses. And you have a group of actors who were almost all horribly miscast. The film’s crowning achievement, the digital de-aging of Arnold Schwarzenegger to recreate the Griffith Observatory scene from the ’84 Terminator, has already been rendered irrelevant and sub-par by Ant-Man’s opening scene in which Michael Douglas appears to have walked straight off the set of Wall Street.
Yet Genisys has already made $196 million at the international box office and $279 million worldwide. If it plays big in China, which previously embraced the Schwarzenegger-Stallone team-up Escape Plan ($25m in the US/Canada – $40m in China), we could be looking at another Pacific Rim situation. Guillermo del Toro’s ode to robots vs. monsters made more in China than in the US, and now has a sequel due in 2017, although Legendary Pictures slashed the budget this time around from $190m to $140m.
This is the brave new world of Hollywood franchise film-making. There are still unquestioned hits and regrettable bombs, but thanks to the booming international market there’s an ever-growing middle tier of squeakers, the not-quite hits, not-quite bombs that studios don’t know what to do with. Some of them get sequels (Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Snow White and the Huntsman and Jack Reacher), some don’t (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) or least haven’t been given the green light yet (Prometheus).
Right now, Paramount has to decide where Terminator falls. Will it make enough in China to warrant a sequel, albeit one with a lower budget to minimize the risk? Even if it does, do they simply cut their losses and let the old franchise die, fearful of how much better a sequel would have to be to simply win back everyone who disliked Genisys let alone win over new audiences?
Think of it this way: Do you want to be the person who looked at Batman Begins making $374m worldwide on a $150m budget in 2005 and decided that wasn’t quite enough to justify a sequel? Or do you want to trust your gut instinct that even though the numbers weren’t overwhelming the audience response was positive enough to indicate there’d be an even bigger audience for The Dark Knight?
Actually, scratch that. Think of this way: Do you want to be the person who decides the Fast & Furious and Mission Impossible movies had had their day right before they rebounded in a huge way with Fast Five and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol respectively? Of course not. Sometimes it takes a franchise a couple of tries to really hit jackpot or at least reclaim its former glory.
But Terminator has been here a couple of times now. Terminator 3 was supposed to have sequels, but the production company got fleeced by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brilliantly negotiated contract and ended up losing money after he took his cut of the $433m worldwide gross. Terminator: Salvation was meant to kickstart a new trilogy, and months after its middling domestic run ($125m) McG sounded contrite but hopeful that he’d get to direct the sequel, telling IGN, “The film will end up doing about $400 million bucks [actually, it was $371m] and internationally it was very well received – better than it was here in the States. But we live in a domestic intensive, Hollywood film world and I take it very personally. I take it very seriously. And clearly I didn’t do a good enough job on that picture and I didn’t satisfy the fanbase to the degree that I would expect to satisfy them. And I take that very seriously and I just work that much more diligently to make sure I do that in the next one.” Shortly thereafter, the production company went bankrupt.
Paramount and Skydance are staying tight-lipped about whether or not this time a Terminator relaunch will again stall after just one installment, although a Paramount source told THR, “We will definitely need to see the holds globally to confirm that people like the film.”
That might be what ultimately differentiates Genisys from Pacific Rim. People actually liked Pacific Rim, as reinforced on this very site yesterday by the number of people who disagreed with my assertion that perhaps the fandom for Rim had died down thus decreasing the desire for a sequel. I’ve made my views of Genisys clear elsewhere (long story short: I’m not a fan). So, I might be letting a personal bias come into play, but I don’t get the sense that there is a great love for Genisys. At most, there’s maybe a slight pushback against the toxic reviews, a kind of kneejerk, “Hey, it’s not that bad.” It is a film which leaves many questions dangling, clearly meant to be answered in a sequel, yet I’ve noticed a more annoyed than intrigued response to mysteries like who the heck sent Pops back to save young Sarah Connor in the first place.
When EW visited the Genisys set for a cover story, Schwarzenegger told them, “When I look at the history, anytime a movie was well-done, it was huge. If a movie is made well, if it’s a great character, if it’s well acted out, then people are going to come to see it. It’s so simple.” Genisys is not made well, it does not have good characters, it has poor acting (other than Simmons and Schwarzenegger), yet just barely enough people may go see it to warrant a sequel. That’s going to be a difficult decision to make for Paramount and SkyDance.
Perhaps, like Arnold, I can simplify it for them: please don’t make a sequel. Just stop. Genisys has ripped up and destroyed Terminator franchise continuity in ways Days of Future Past merely dreamed of for the X-Men. The screenwriters have indicated the sequels will delve into alternate universes and will be even better. We’ve been here before, though. They are not the first non-James Cameron Terminator film-makers to promise us a superior sequel. Those superior sequels never came. Maybe it’s simply time to let this franchise die. James Cameron can do whatever he wants with it when the rights revert back to him in 2019.