Have you seen Zoolander 2? Do you know anyone who has?
Obviously, I can’t answer those questions for you. However, according to the box office totals it’s more likely that you’re one of the many who have decided to skip Zoolander 2 as opposed to one of the few who just couldn’t resist seeing Ben Stiller flash blue steel one more time.
Only in its third week of release, Zoolander 2 has already dropped out of the box office top 10, and this past weekend it lost over 1,000 theaters to newer releases. It’s now looking up at a domestic gross of $27 million compared to a production budget believed to be around $50 million, pretty much an inverse of the first Zoolander since it grossed $45 million off of a $28 million production budget in 2001.
On its own, this is not a big deal. Zoolander was only ever a cult classic, and its sequel took 15 years to arrive. History hasn’t been kind to movie franchises which take such extended breaks in-between installments. However, Zoolander 2 is part of a new trend which has Hollywood concerned: the underperforming sequel.
Well, sure, there are exceptions…
Of course, sequels and comic book movies are here to stay. However, after Zoolander 2 flopped like [cue the lazy fashion industry pun in 3, 2…] a particularly emaciated fashion model tumbling over the side of the catwalk Vanity Fair looked back at the recent year and observed the diminishing returns for sequels:
Exhibit A: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 is the lowest-grossing title in Jennifer Lawrence’s four-film franchise; Ted 2 made only $81 million versus Ted’s $218 million blockbuster breakout; The Divergent Series: Insurgent earned $20 million less domestically than 2014’s Divergent; Magic Mike XXL made about half the financial haul of Magic Mike in the U.S.; Ride Along 2 has thus far netted $84 million in receipts versus the original’s $134 million take; The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials grossed $36 million less worldwide than The Maze Runner; Spectre came up more than $200 million short of 2012’s previous Bond installment, Skyfall; and then there’s Terminator: Genisys and this ignoble stat: 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day sold four times as many tickets, when accounting for inflation.
They could have also thrown in Kung Fu Panda 3 and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. As of this writing, they’re both the lowest-grossing entries in their respective franchises, although Panda 3 will eventually eclipse Panda 2.
The anonymous Hollywood insiders and box office experts interviewed by Vanity Fair said things like:
“It’s harder to open a sequel than an original film these days. I think audiences want fresh. These days, when people hear about a sequel, they’re like, ‘I’ll just watch that on a plane or wait for Netflix.’ The excitement level isn’t what it used to be.”” – Anonymous High-Ranking Studio Boss
“We’ve gotten to the point where you can’t fool anyone anymore. Social media, early trailer breaks, and TV spots spotlight all of a film’s weaknesses. That and the trend of showing an entire film in the trailer. The public just turns off early to what’s an inherently jaded remake attempt. I mean, how the hell did Anchorman 2 and Zoolander 2 get made?” – Anonymous Veteran Marketing Executive
“The Terminator franchise does not seem to have been taken good care of. The  reboot with Christian Bale didn’t take. Then they decided to go off again and bring back Arnold Schwarzenegger; it was difficult for audiences to keep up with so many different versions of the same product. The Amazing Spider-Man was mirroring an origin story told in the earlier Spider-Man films. And The Hunger Games: Mockingjay movies maybe didn’t have the staying power that Harry Potter did.” – Daniel Loría, managing editor at BoxOffice Media, taking a more measured approach to the topic
I am assuming the anonymous studio boss who claimed sequels are now harder to launch than original films actually hails from an alternate universe, and Vanity Fair simply failed to notice his suspicious goatee:
Because that logic flies in the face of so many prevailing trends in pop culture. We’re busier than ever. There are more movies, TV shows, internet shows and video games than ever before. Ergo, you cut through the clutter with franchise reboots/revivals, sequels and adaptations. You can’t be picky either. MacGyver, Baywatch and Full House weren’t great TV shows, but we already have Fuller House on Netflix and there are big-budget movie versions of MacGyver and Baywatch on the way. In the age of too much, familiarity reigns, and while some things are ultimately rejected (Genisys, Fantastic Four) plenty of others are embraced (Fury Road, Star Wars).
Still, does the anonymous studio boss from the mirror universe have a point? Has Hollywood gone so overboard with franchise reboots/revivals, sequels and adaptations that we’re all becoming jaded about it? Maybe. However, 2015 was the highest-grossing year in box office history (if you ignore the sticky “but not if you adjust for ticket price inflation” thing), and it was largely thanks to a bunch of huge sequels (plus Inside Out, The Martian and Cinderella):
As The Guardian said, “That all points to a greater reliance on high-profile franchises, more likely to generate returns on the hefty investments required to make blockbuster movies.”
So what if some sequels failed to match their predecessors? That’s actually how it always used to be; a “part 2” rarely outgrossed or matched a “part 1.” You just kept making them until they ceased being profitable, with the audience naturally winnowing down over time, and the law of diminishing returns was understood. However, that was back when Hollywood studios had more diversified slates of movies per year, throwing dramas and comedies at us just as often as action movies and franchise sequels.
At the moment, many of the studios are at a crossroads. Disney is going big (all tentpoles all the time) or going home while Warner Bros. and Universal are exploring more diversified schedules not entirely dependent on tentpoles. As Forbes pointed out earlier today, beyond its 2 DC movies (Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad) and desperate Harry Potter prequel (Fantastic Beasts…) WB is releasing 17 other movies this year, and a lot of them are actually original, non-sequels/adaptations. That should theoretically shield them from the threat of the underperforming sequel, but since those are the biggest movies they’re the ones which receive more attention from the press and Wall Street.
Each major studio’s breadwinner is still going to be movies which come with built-in audiences. As such, the recent run of disappointing returns for sequels clearly has some worrying, “Oh, no. What if audiences are on to us? Making these kinds of movies has kind of been our only move for a decade. What do we do now?”
Um, just make good movies, sequel or not. Duh. It’s just that easy, right?
Source: Vanity Fair