Analysis : The Shifting Approach of Hollywood : How Sequels and Franchises have taken over

In the last week, I saw 2 different movies that were, in their origins, very similar.

Both Terminator Genisys and Jurassic World, are both new films from previous franchises that not only have come out in 2015 and been significant in terms of box office, (admittedly JW is far and away ahead of TG, but even that is well over $400M worldwide), but both now have plans underway for not just one, but a number of follow ons.

They don’t have numbers in their titles but the reality is that are Terminator 5 and Jurassic Park 4.  Terminator is now being planned to get a number 6 and 7, and Jurassic Park will have a number 5 and 6.

It has recently set me reflecting on this era now of modern day cinema. The era of the franchise. Where superhero franchises, and sequels of sequels are being greenlit based on nothing more than financial opportunities rather than a real artistic reason. Ie, do we have something more to say?

But is this really a new phenomenon? And when did this shift start? James Bond films are probably the first international film franchise of note and they started in 1962. So maybe its been there all along. Or has this new conveyor belt really only started in recent years?

Time for some analysis.

So I’ve taken the top 10 films for each year since 1970. Then I’ve marked them if they were either a sequel or part of a franchise (Ie, Ant Man is part of a franchise. Harry Potter is part of a franchise. Jaws was but doesn’t count as it was the first one and wasn’t intended as a franchise to begin with).

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Now I admit there’s probably some noise in there. Manually assigning whether something is a franchise / sequel can be a bit judgemental. But even allowing for this, there is a very stark shift about where hit films are coming from in this.

Firstly, its worth bearing in mind that as I write this, both Spectre and the Force Awakens are yet to make enough to break the top ten of the year. My guess would be that they both will manage it, pushing Ant Man and San Andreas out of the list. So we gain one more overall in the top 10 for 2015.

But the message is clear.  We are hooked on sequels and franchises. We now are in an era of revisiting characters (largely heroic)  rather than being motivated by new stories and characters.

1996 was the last year that the top 10 films didn’t include a direct sequel or new part of an existing franchise movie.

Top 10 Films of 1996

  1. Independence Day
  2. Twister
  3. Mission: Impossible
  4. The Rock
  5. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  6. 101 Dalmatians Disney
  7. Ransom
  8. The Nutty Professor
  9. Jerry Maguire
  10. Eraser

If this is a trend that is worries you, then next year bodes badly.  I expect to see this number at about 8 out of 10 for 2016 (Star Trek  / X-Men / Suicide Squad / Batman vs Superman / Kung Fu Panda 3 / Doctor Strange / Captain America : Civil War / New Jason Bourne Film /  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 / London Has Fallen, all could make into the top 10).

So what does this tell us? There’s no getting past the fact that the superhero phenomenon has exploded in the last 15 years. With 6 more due to come out next year, that trend isn’t going anywhere.  Is that a statement about technology as much as anything? Its hard to imagine an Iron Man movie in 1988. Are we just seeing films now able to tell the stories within comics for the first real time? Or is it more of a cultural trend about need for heroic characters?

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