Terminator: Genisys’ massive $27.4 million opening day in China, the fourth biggest single-day debut for a US movie in the Middle Kingdom, has many re-evaluating whether or not we should actually expect to see those two sequels Paramount has dated for 2017 and 2018. There’s always been the chance that the international box office would be so strong that Paramount would move forward with more Terminator even though Genisys is one of the summer’s biggest domestic flops, posting a meager $44m July 4th opening and just barely doubling that throughout the rest of its US run top out at $89m. Paramount has been waiting to see what happened in China, and while that opening day is bigger than expected it’s a little too early to rubber stamp a sequel. We’re still only talking about a single day, and prior Arnold Schwarzenegger movies which performed well in China (The Escape Plan, The Expendables 3) were incredibly front-loaded. Plus, Genisys is the first US movie to open in China in six weeks since the country always sets aside blackout periods to promote its own homegrown films and bar any foreign releases. So, Genisys’ big opening might have as much to do with it simply being the first non-Chinese movie they’d seen in nearly two months.
However, if Genisys proves to have legs at the Chinese box office it could end up becoming the first movie in history to gross $400m worldwide and less than $100m domestic. As it stands right now, it’s sitting at $353m worldwide against a $155m production budget, looking like it should turn a profit (if not now than definitely down the road).
There is one little problem though: Terminator: Genisys is a horribly written, dreadfully miscast and just generally terrible movie, loathed by critics (26% on RottenTomatoes, 38/100 on Metascore) yet regarded a bit more fondly by the general audience (6.9/10 fan rating on IMDB). Outside of J.K. Simmons and Arnold Schwarzenegger, almost no one comes away from it looking good. Not Emilia Clarke. Definitely not Jason Clarke or Jai Courtney. Absolutely not the screenwriters (Patrick Lussier, Laeta Kalogridis), director (Alan Taylor) or producers (David Ellison, Dana Goldberg). As WhatCulture facetiously pointed out, the movie is such a clusterfuck of franchise revisionism via time travel that the actual logical next steps for the plot are outright hilarious. Make a sequel to this mess? A line must be drawn here. This far. No further!
But since when does quality matter when it comes to sequels?
In 2013, an interviewer for the site Junkee.com innocently complimented Jesse Eisenberg on the news that his new movie Now You See Me had been picked up for a sequel. Ever the awkward interviewee, Eisenberg dispassionately deflected the compliment, explaining, “Yeah, but that’s just based on if it makes a certain amount of money. I’m just saying, it’s not like anything we did in it was great, it just means it’s made a lot of money, so they feel that they wanna do it again.” Geese, just take the compliment Eisenberg.
Then again, he’s not wrong. There is a certain calculus that goes into the decision of moving forward with a movie sequel, and often times “quality” is an insignificant factor, if at all. To put it simply, you want your movie to be good, and you want people to like it because if it’s good and people like it then it’ll have a better chance of making a lot of money. However, at the end of the day you measure how much people liked your movie by how much money it made. For example, looking over at another Paramount franchise, audiences hated that second Transfromers movie, Revenge of the Fallen. Its director (Michael Bay) and star (Shia Lebouf) even apologized for letting the fans down. Still, it made plenty of movie. So, Dark of the Moon came out two years later and Revenge of the Fallen three years after that. The same goes for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which have all posted lower opening weekends and domestic totals since 2006’s widely reviled Dead Man’s Chest, yet there’s another one of these things due out the summer of 2017.
Moving forward on those two franchises has been a no-brainer because if American/Canada starts to turn on you, oh well. There’s always China and the rest of the booming international market, which has been far more forgiving to critically derided star-driven and sfx-driven vehicles. That’s how the last two Transformers movies and the most recent Pirates sequel grossed over $1 billion worldwide. Sure, the studios receive a significantly larger share of the ticket sales in the US/Canada than anywhere else in the world, but there’s plenty to go around when you reach the $1 billion plateau.
As I previously discussed, Genisys is part of a strange new breed of tweeners, i.e., intended franchise starters which fizzle out in the US/Canada but make up for it overseas, forcing the studios to decide whether or not they made enough to invest in cranking out a sequel. 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) while others have to jockey for position (Riddley Scott’s Prometheus sequel running up against Neil Blomkamp’s Alien movie).
But where does quality and actual fan demand come into play? Automatically making a sequel just because the earlier installment turned a profit can lead to the recent Horrible Bosses 2 situation in which Jason Bateman admitted the sequel they made was “garbage” and everyone was just there for the paycheck. Of course, that’s simply Hollywood business as usual. We are talking about a world in which Weekend at Bernies 2 happened. On the other end, pushing forward with a sequel to a modest box office hit can pay off if the decision is partially influenced by the belief that the movie you made is good and people were really coming around to it on home video, as was the case with Batman Begins and its $374m worldwide gross on a $150m budget in 2005.
The people at Skydance, the production company and financier behind Genisys, probably really believe they made a good movie; based on Paramount’s nakedly desperate marketing campaign, I’m not so sure they’d agree. When asked about the chances of making a sequel, a Paramount source told THR, “We will definitely need to see the holds globally to confirm that people like the film.” Notice that the source said “holds globally,” indicating that they’re not just looking to reach a certain level of worldwide gross but also looking at how quickly Genisys falls off after its opening weekend in the various markets around the world. That’s an important distinction because although it looks good to see Genisys have such a big first day in China, did the people there even like the movie? If not, the attendance will dwindle accordingly, and they won’t come back in nearly the same numbers for any kind of sequel, regardless of how much better it might be. Sequels live off of the good will earned by their immediate predecessor, but if you’re starting from such a negative position after Genisys what kind of uphill battle are you looking at for a sequel?
Those tweeners I referred to earlier – Godzilla, Jack Reacher, Pacific Rim, Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus, etc. – have another thing in common: their sequels take much longer than normal to arrive. If the average wait time between sequels is 2 years now, these movies are taking 3-5 years to arrive, the extra time likely devoted to getting a better script and convincing the money people to invest. The longer it drags the more likely it is that the sequel will land in development hell. Based on those examples, it could be quite a while before Paramount decides what do with Terminator next. There are those who quite enjoyed Genisys and hope Paramount makes another one. I obviously disagree. However, I will say one positive thing [spoiler warning]: I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Arnold as the T-800/T-1000 hybrid he becomes at the end of Genisys.
This Weekend’s Estimated Box Office Top 10 Totals (8/21-8/23)
1) Straight Outta Compton
- Production Budget=$29m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$26.7m
- Weekend Gross (International)=Less than $200K
- Domestic Total=$111.4m
2) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
- Production Budget=$150m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$11.7m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$25.2m
3) Sinister 2 (Worldwide Debut)
- Production Budget=Under $10m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$10.6m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$3m
4) Hitman: Agent 47 (Worldwide Debut)
- Production Budget=They’re not telling
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$8.2m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$8.5m
5) Man from U.N.C.LE.
- Production Budget=$75-80m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$7.4m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$8m
6) American Ultra (Worldwide Debut)
- Production Budget=They’re not telling
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$5.5m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$1m
7) The Gift
- Production Budget=$5m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$4.3m
- Weekend Gross (International)=Not available
- Production Budget=$130m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$4m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$2.9m
Ant-Man still hasn’t opened China yet, but when it does it will most certainly pass Captain America: The First Avenger ($176m domestic/$370m world) worldwide but maybe not Thor ($181m domestic/$449m world).
- Production Budget=$74m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$3.7m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$8.8m
Just passed Despicable Me 2 ($975.5m) and The Liong King ($987.5m) to become the third-highest grossing animated film of all time worldwide.
10) Fantastic Four
- Production Budget=$120m
- Weekend Gross (Domestic)=$3.6m
- Weekend Gross (International)=$16.2m
What Left the Top 10?:
- Vacation– Current total: $52m domestic on a $30m budget
- Ricki and the Flash – Current total: $20m domestic on a $18m budget
- Trainwreck – Current total: $102m domestic on a $30m budget
What’s Up Next?: No Escape (opens early on Wed.), We Are Your Friends, Z for Zachariah