This time next year, no one is going to remember Terminator: Dark Fate. It’s just the umpteenth failed sequel in a franchise that now has more bad movies than good. Sure, this one is at least watchable, but only in that old school if you’re flipping through cable and it happens to be on kind of way, which is hardly even a thing anymore. However, a year from now I’m still going to remember what Dark Fate contributed to our ongoing cultural conversation about Hollywood’s quickly decaying dream factory. In assessing Dark Fate’s failure, analysts used a phrase I don’t think I’ve quite seen before: “complete IP failure.”
That comes halfway through The Hollywood Reporter’s Dark Fate box office post-mortem analysis, “Box office analysts say the movie’s poor opening is a reflection of complete IP failure. (Insiders at Paramount and Skydance don’t disagree.)”
That might not seem like a particularly bold insight nor does it immediately jump off the screen as a memorable turn of phrase. However, it truly is remarkable in today’s Hollywood for any franchise to reach such a stage of such perpetual disappointment that it’s deemed “complete IP failure.”
The coin of the realm is IP, and no good IP ever dies. If the film’s stop making money, there’s always TV. If that doesn’t work, wait two years and try the big screen again. Make some new toys. Look into extending the story through comic books. Do whatever it takes to keep the IP alive, always knowing that audiences are stupid sheep who, deep down, just want to be sold a bottle of nostalgia pills. (Hat tip to HBO’s Watchmen for that concept.) The trick is getting them to buy the damn thing.
Terminator, however, illustrates that an IP can only be stretched so far before it breaks down completely. In the weeks since its release, Doctor Sleep (a spectacular sequel to a movie from 1980, but nearly impossible to market) and Charlie’s Angels (at least the fourth different iteration of a 70s TV show) suffered similarly disastrous weekends. It’s part of an entirely predictable trend whereby Hollywood’s decade-long attempt to cut through the clutter by strictly prioritizing IP has both led to bottom-of-the-barrel-scraping greenlight decisions and audience apathy. We are all Jack’s complete lack of surprise anymore when the latest sequel, reboot, requel, whatever is met with ho-hum/terrible reviews and promptly falls short of opening weekend projections.
Dark Fate, on its own, is an example of an individual franchise reaching complete IP failure, but Hollywood, in general, is facing an industry-wide IP crisis. Remember, 2019 has also included several other IP rebrands nobody went to see (Shaft, Child’s Play, Hellboy, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Uglydolls, Men in Black: International) as well as multiple underperforming sequels, only a couple of which have a chance to eventually turn a profit (The Angry Birds Movie 2, Dark Phoenix, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, It: Chapter Two, The Lego Movie 2, Rambo: Last Blood).
Not even Disney is immune. The House that Walt Built might have a claim to 6 of the top 10-grossing films of the year, but there have been misses. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’s worldwide box office is off -40% compared to 2014’s Maleficent, and the internet has made a bit of a sport trying to figure out exactly how much the Mouse House lost on Dumbo, a movie which somehow cost $170 million to make.
None of this probably changes anything. Currently, eighteen of the year’s top 20 domestic grossers are based in some kind of IP. (The only two originals: Us and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.) Further down the list, there have been several smaller-scale IP success stories, such as The Addams Family quadrupling its budget at the worldwide box office and Zombieland: Double Tap managing to at least match the business of its predecessor despite the ten-year gap in-between movies.
However, the IP bottom in the industry is looking shakier and shakier, as we’ve seen in stark display this month thanks to the absolutely brutal run of Dark Fate, Doctor Sleep, and Charlie’s Angels. So, as a bit of a lark, the following is my imagined conversation with the average ticket buyer who rejected all three of these movies:
Hey, you know that new Terminator movie – Terminator: Dark Fate? It’s not half-bad.
But, but, but…it has Linda Hamilton in it!
You bite your tongue!
I didn’t say that to be mean. It’s just, she hasn’t appeared on screen in one of these movies since 1991, and other than some Canadian TV SyFy shows she hasn’t really acted in anything period in the last 15 years. Her grand return has an inherently limited appeal.
Well, it’s not her return. Arnold’s in it too.
Like that means anything anymore.
James Cameron produced it!
You mean like how “endorsed” Genisys?
No, that was just a glorified hostage video he made for Arnold when that movie looked like it was going to bomb. This time, he came up with the story, performed uncredited rewrites on the script, and produced the movie. He hired the guy who directed the first Deadpool to man the camera.
Still, pass. Also, you know “it’s not half-bad” isn’t the type of thing that’s going to convince me to spend money and take time to go see this thing, right?
Can’t blame you. There hasn’t been a legitimately amazing new Terminator movie in nearly 30 years.
Speaking of which, I bet what you really want is a halfway sequel to a Stanley Kubrick classic from 1980. It’s called…
Wait. Is it a sequel to The Shining or not? That shouldn’t be a hard question.
Actually, it’s a sequel to both the movie AND the book! Pretty cool, right?
More like super confusing.
See, in the Shining book the hotel blows up at the end, O’Halloran doesn’t die, and there are hedge animals, not a hedge maze, and Stephen King eventually wrote a sequel called Doctor Sleep. This new movie adapts that book but places it in the continuity of the Kubrick movie. This means, for example, that O’Halloran is a character in Doctor Sleep but only as a ghost and the climax takes place at the Overlook.
That sounds like homework. Pass.
You didn’t let me finish! Doctor Sleep is…
A box office bomb!
Oh, come on! It’s the title, isn’t it? You don’t care if sites like this one call Doctor Sleep one of the best Stephen King adaptations since The Shawshank Redemption. It’s that super awkward title that’s killing it for you, right?
Yes, the title sucks. I mean, what even is a “Doctor Sleep”? Did that kid from The Shining grow up to be a sleep researcher or something?
Actually, he works in a hospice care facility where he uses his psychic ability to help suffering patients enter into a peaceful dream state right before dying. The other patients on the wing start to notice and take to calling him “Doctor Sleep” as a nickname.
Uh-huh. That’s…weird. Let me ask you this: does that in any way impact the actual plot of the movie? I’m not talking metaphorically or thematically or anything like that. From a pure storytelling standpoint, does this ability of his to be “Doctor Sleep” to the dying actually directly impact the story?
Then why even call it that!
Hey, your beef is with Stephen King. That’s what he called his book.
And can we talk about the confusing trailer and underwhelming TV spots? From what I can tell, they made a sequel to one of the famous haunted house…
Hotel. The Shining isn’t technically a haunted house movie, it’s about a haunted hotel.
Whatever. You know what I mean. There’s this classic movie about a family staying in a haunted place, and the sequel is all about, I wanna say, energy vampires who don’t have fangs, can walk in sunlight, and dress like gypsies?
First of all, I don’t think we’re allowed to say “gypsy’ anymore. Secondly, that’s simply what the book is about. It was a New York Times Bestseller, after all.
What, like that’s hard? Just ask Donald Trump, Jr.
Please. No politics.
Oh, do you feel triggered?
No, I just..wait. I see what you did there. Because DTJ’s book is called Triggered. Clever. But, seriously, no politics.
Fine. Back to the trailer, what’s the deal with the woman in the hat?
That’s Rose the Hat. She’s played by Rebecca Ferguson, and she’s possibly one of the best King villains of all time.
But what’s with the hat?
I…don’t actually know. The movie never really offers an explanation, other than her using it to perform magic tricks in an opening scene that ends with her and her crew killing a little girl.
Also from the trailer…wait, did you just say they kill a little girl?
Yep. They also kill Jacob Tremblay. The younger and more scared the victim, the sweeter the psychic energy they give off as they die.
I don’t really know what to do with that, out of context.
It’s so disturbing, but in exactly the way you want from a movie which can surprise you.
Let’s just move on and get back to what I know of this from the trailers. Why should I be swayed by some new movie recreating the original Stanley Kubrick Overlook Hotel set down to the finest detail when Steven Spielberg just did that last year in Ready Player One? How is that your main selling point?
Well, in this movie the sets are entirely practical. Spielberg did his with a lot of digital trickeration.
Isn’t that the kind of discrepancy that only matters to hardcore film nerds? Plus, I didn’t actually see Ready Player One. I just know about The Shining connection because there were so many memes about it. I don’t know anyone who actually saw that movie.
That’s not surprising. Ready Player One actually did ok at the box office in America, but it made its real money overseas, especially in China. Dark Fate and Doctor Sleep, on the other hand, are each set to lose millions. Same goes for the new Charlie’s Angels.
The one directed by Elizabeth Banks?
Yeah, did you see it this weekend?
Of course not, but I remember how hard the trailers worked to make sure we got that this particular reboot was “directed by Elizabeth Banks.”
What’s so bad about that? She did direct Pitch Perfect 3, after all, and aren’t we supposed to support female directors?
Yeah, when they make something worth seeing. That ain’t this. Seriously, tell me why I should care about a new Charlie’s Angels other than some vague notion of feminism.
Well, there’s Kristen Stewart and Naomi Scott and, um, Patrick Stewart, and..
That’s it. I’ve got nothing. This was a bad idea from the get-go, a continuation of a film franchise which was itself a continuation of a campy 70s TV show. The last movie came out 16 years ago and barely made twice its budget. They tried to make a TV show reboot 8 years ago and ABC canceled it after one month. Yet, in the face of a complete total IP failure Sony figured it could just make a new movie aimed directly at teenage girls, many of whom weren’t even alive when Drew Berrymore, Charlize Theron, and Lucy Liu were the Angels and probably haven’t even heard of Farrah Fawcett or any of the other original Angels.
But I thought the teenagers were supposed to be swayed by Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey collaborating on a new song for the soundtrack? I remember that taking up around half of the trailer.
It’s not 2001 anymore. This isn’t Moulin Rouge. You can’t just put together a bunch of pop stars on a title song for the soundtrack and expect them to turn out in theaters. They’re just going to stream the song on Spotify and continue ignoring Ariana Grande’s (paid) Instagram posts encouraging everyone to go see the movie.
I feel like we’ve switched places. Aren’t you supposed to be defending the movies while I explain why I don’t care?
Fair. Maybe it’s time to wrap this up. So, in closing, you’re not swayed by a so-so Terminator movie, just find Doctor Sleep super confusing, and don’t understand which audience was screaming for a new Charlie’s Angels.
That’s about right.
But you’re still totally going to see Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker?
Well, yeah. Disney has all the best franchises.