We’ve just released the Underworld film series FilmAttic Guide and that’s got us thinking: film series really do sell, but are they killing imaginative original blockbusters?
Here’s a remarkable fact: in the last fifteen years only two non-sequels have topped the Annual Worldwide Box Office chart. They were Avatar in 2009 and Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone in 2001; but even the latter was largely successful due to its lucrative book series that dominated the world at the time, and not because it was an exciting original story that audiences had never previously heard of. Before that, original films funnily enough topped the Annual chart far more frequently with only three films from 1989 to 1998 being sequels.* That means prior to 1999, original films had a real chance of outperforming their film series rivals each year, with audiences having enough faith to give them a try. But that enthusiasm to take risks at the cinema seems to have been largely distinguished.
The first Underworld made $95 million at the worldwide box office. It did well for a budget film with a fresh-faced director, Len Wiseman; the film’s cast and crew could easily have ignored the possibility of making a second movie, but they didn’t. Albeit they may have been drawn to expanding the Underworld vision, inevitably this comes down to money. The cast and crew would have been given an option to get paid a decent sum and not surprisingly they stuck at it, developed the world and by the fourth film, nine years later, generated $160 million worldwide. The fourth film, Underworld Awakening, isn’t better than the first, but due to series recognition it generated much more interest than something new and unknown might have. Luckily, the series has developed itself into a strong set of stories much like a maturing set of novels or TV series. But this makes us think: is this kind of repetition what people really want to see?
The Fast and the Furious film series is the perfect example of this change in box office revenues. The debut film made an impressive $207 million worldwide on its release, but when the third film essentially bombed at cinemas due to new characters and a foreign setting, the franchise started to mould itself around a more familiar action template and reintroduced the well-known characters audiences had previously loved. Of course, this doesn’t mean these new films should be any better, but having these already well-known staple characters attached to the films puts audiences at ease. It shows, as the most recent venture made a staggering $788 million. In this instance the newer films are arguably better than their predecessors, with a tight nit group of characters that are always easily rooted for.
Personally, I’m not complaining. I enjoyed both of these film series from start to finish, but we’re in the middle of a blockbuster film series takeover. They literally are taking over Hollywood with one reasonably decent film usually giving birth to one or two more. Avatar is currently prepping it’s second, third and fourth film’s for 2016, 2017 and 2018 releases, and budgets for bankable sequels are getting larger by the year. So can we really expect any debut films to ever stand out at the box office ever again?
To underline that question, previous Annual Worldwide Box Office chart toppers have been Jurassic Park, Independence Day, Aladdin and Titanic. If released, its hard to imagine any of these films generating as much interest when competing with so many large-scale action blockbuster sequels.
We’re torn here at FilmAttic; we love film series, especially when they improve on an initial film’s characters and world, but we’d also like to see more original films becoming dominate at the box office. It’s true that The Lego Movie is leading the 2014 pack, but it’s early days with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hunger Games: Mocking-jay Part 1 and The Hobbit: There and Back Again looking to be frontrunners for the top spot.
* Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).
What do you think of this clash of the blockbusters? Would you like to see more original material out there or are you happy to see Marvel, Avatar and the rest of the big boys fight it out over the next few decades? Leave us comments belowClick here to view the latest Box Office Table