Audiences flocked to Star Trek Into Darkness last weekend, shelling out $83.7 million during the long-awaited sequel’s first four days. But despite the added benefit of 3D and IMAX surcharges, the sequel failed to outgross the 2009 original, which debuted to $86.7 million in the same amount of time.
This weekend’s new releases will provide another test case, as Fast & Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III join Iron Man 3 and the Star Trek sequel in the current quest for box-office gold.
Hollywood studios are left to wonder whether franchise extensions have passed the point of saturation at the boxoffice.
Meanwhile, some college students are craving originality.
“I don’t trust sequels unless they’re made by Pixar,” says Ciarra Vu, 19, a sophomore at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. As such, she’s looking forward to Monsters University, Pixar’s follow-up to Monsters, Inc. out this June. The Hangover Part III, on the other hand? It doesn’t excite her.
Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com, says “sequel fatigue” is not without merit, but sequels haven’t lost their impact.
“Audiences are fickle,” he says. “While audiences complain about lack of originality, they sure do turn out for sequels. After all, Iron Man 3 grossed a gargantuan $174 million in its opening weekend three weekends ago.”
As for why Star Trek Into Darkness was perceived as a disappointment out of the gate, Dergarabedian points to the specificity of the target audience.
“It didn’t have the audience appeal that perhaps an Iron Man would have,” he says.
Furthermore, Paramount Pictures may have set expectations too high. Dergarabedian calls the studio’s $100 million prediction “overblown.” Nonetheless, he says, strong word-of-mouth suggests Star Trek Into Darkness “did just fine.”
In the past, successful sequels have expanded upon the merits of the original.
“You have to really capitalize on and exploit the qualities of the franchise that made the first movie a hit,” Dergarabedian says. He emphasizes the importance of consistent casts in franchises like Fast & Furious and Iron Man. If anyone other than Robert Downey Jr. stepped into Tony Stark’s red suit, audiences would likely rebel.
“It depends on the movie,” says Kelsey Howard, 20. The University of South Florida senior isn’t looking forward to many of this summer’s sequel offerings, but she would love to see additional sequels to Taken and Scream.
Howard enjoys seeing new aspects of familiar characters. Illuminating fresh character traits “adds a new perspective,” she says.
Shaking up the behind-the-scenes talent can also be fruitful, Dergarabedian says. With Shane Black sitting in the director’s chair instead of Jon Favreau, Iron Man 3 soared to the series’ highest opening ever. The Harry Potter and Twilight series cycled through as many as four directors without sacrificing popularity.
Vu, meanwhile, says that purely profit-driven sequels tend to be less satisfying than narrative-driven ones.
“Usually they make really good sequels when they had an idea for a sequel when they made the first movie,” she says.
For sequel skeptics like Vu, Dergarabedian recommends waiting until August, when studios often release idiosyncratic antidotes to the blockbuster glut. In the past, such departures as 2009’s District 9 and 2011’s The Help have found major success in summer’s final stretch. This year’s August respites range from comedy (Edgar Wright’s The World’s End) to fantasy (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) and sci-fi (Elysium, from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp).
Studios shouldn’t count sequels out just yet. In order to keep audiences engaged, however, they’ll need to find creative ways to make each sequel an enticing new experience. Otherwise, moviegoers might opt to spend their money and time elsewhere.
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