Franchises Aren’t Dying at the Box Office, Some Movies Are Just Bad

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Franchises Aren’t Dying at the Box Office, Some Movies Are Just Bad

When looking at the box office performance of 2023’s major blockbusters, it’s hard not to feel a little bit overwhelmed and nostalgic. Compared to 2019, in which nine films crossed the $1 billion mark at the global box office, this year has seen only The Super Mario Bros. Movie crossing that historic threshold. Beyond the standalone success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the state of Hollywood’s blockbuster filmmaking seems to be fairly dire; at the year’s halfway point, major temples such as Fast X, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and specifically The Flash came in well below expectations. However, looking at the success and failure of each individual sequel yields a different story and one that has a much brighter implication for the future of the industry.



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Disappointing Movie Are Flopping

Image via Universal

The issue with a lot of the sequels that are now considered disappointments comes down to two factors: budget and quality. Even though Fast X has nearly crossed $700 million worldwide, the film’s budget seemingly ballooned due to an increased number of production issues, including the shocking exit of Fast Five and F9 director Justin Lin. The film required an even greater investment from audiences to merely turn a profit, and the dismissal reviews haven’t done it any favors; while the Fast and the Furious franchise managed to charm some skeptics in the past with the surprising ingenuity of Fast Five and the emotional power of Furious 7, it seems as if even Vin Diesel’s fan base is getting sick of hearing about “one last ride.”

The same could be said of Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which is performing well below expectations despite the notion that Harrison Ford’s return to the character could generate a wave of support from older audiences in the same way that Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick did last summer. The difference between the two is that while Top Gun: Maverick was an exciting, emotional, and inventive summer spectacle that invited new viewers into the series, The Dial of Destiny seemed to be catering to a nostalgic crowd and relied on previously existing emotional investment. Both films debuted at the Cannes Film Festival a few weeks before their wide theatrical rollout; while Maverick was boosted by strong word-of-mouth and buzz that it was “better than the original,” the muted reception to Dial of Destiny and consensus that it didn’t come close to topping the precedent of the original trilogy did it no favors.

Superhero Fatigue

The cast of Shazam Fury of the Gods
Image via Warner Bros

The term “superhero fatigue” has been thrown around for over a decade now, but it’s critical to look at each individual superhero film on a case-by-case basis. While viewers may not be tired of seeing their favorite characters on screen, some of the characters prioritized by Marvel and DC haven’t become pop culture mainstays. Enthusiasm was low going into both Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumnia and Shazam! Fury of the Gods because of the general vibe that neither was an “essential” piece of the universe moving forward. Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a kid’s movie, and the families that watched the original film four years ago may not have the same investment in seeing another largely similar adventure on the back of middling reviews. The news that James Gunn was essentially erasing the previously existing DC timeline for his new universe likely didn’t generate even more excitement for a film that would debut on HBO Max (now just Max) a month later.

As for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the film’s dramatic drop between its opening weekend and second week of release suggests that it didn’t generate nearly the same level of enthusiasm that even the previous films starring the character did. Sure, audiences may have had fun with Paul Rudd’s misadventures in Avengers: Endgame, but he was hardly a breakout character in the vein of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man or Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange. In a universe that has spun off nearly every side character into their own project, what was there to indicate that Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumnia from a streaming show like Hawkeye or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?

However, superhero movies that had earned audience investment and received strong reviews had no reason to show concern. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was noted for the emotional fulfillment it provided to fans of the previous two films and became one of the best-reviewed and best-performing installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe post-Avengers: Endgame. Similarly, Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse has been regarded as one of the best films of the year, and dramatically overperformed thanks to strong repeated viewing over multiple weeks. Audiences seem to truly care about seeing this specific iteration of the Guardians return for a final mission and seeing Mile Morales on another adventure; they had less enthusiasm for Ezra Miller’s version of Barry Allen, who had only appeared in the poorly received prior installments in the DC Universe.

Original Stories Are Overperforming as Are Some Sequel Movies

john wick 4 chapel0

Of course, the best movies of the year are original movies (as they usually are). Many of the year’s most well-reviewed films such as Past Lives and Asteroid City have been performing incredibly well based on the number of theaters that they were distributed in; Wes Anderson’s latest genre-bending dramedy even became the best performing film on a “per theater” average since 2016’s La La Land. While it’s refreshing to see that these modern masterpieces are doing well (as their financial success bodes well for their award-season campaigns), Hollywood has sadly not staked its future on quirky independent movies from auteurs. It’s an industry about profit, and it seems like the only films that are distributed to the widest possible theatrical audience are ones based on a previously existing property.

However, that’s not to say that there weren’t a lot of great sequels in 2023, and the box office has shown that the best-performing follow-ups were the ones that were actually hailed as significant entries in their respective sagas. John Wick: Chapter 4 became the biggest film in its respective franchise, and has been hailed as a modern action classic. Creed III proved that Michael B. Jordan’s standalone series didn’t need Sylvester Stallone. Even horror sequels like Evil Dead Rise and Scream VI seemed to be different enough to draw in audiences starved for great horror movies.

Hollywood shouldn’t look to the failure of a few major blockbusters as an omen of the end of times. Considering the success of last year’s Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar: The Way of Water, and even Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, the lesson remains the same: people want to see movies in theaters if they’re actually great. If the year’s upcoming sequels like Dune: Part Two, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, The Meg 2: The Trench, and The Equalizer 3 are satisfying, then there’s no reason to fear that the audience will diminish.

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