The Big Picture
- Audiences are tired of franchises and sequels that no longer make financial or creative sense, signaling a shift in cinematic tastes.
- Moviegoers want to see movies rooted in properties that haven’t been adapted for the silver screen, seeking novelty and originality.
- Studios need to respond to the demand for new stories and concepts, rather than focusing solely on franchising and sequel-ing existing properties.
Since the dawn of Jaws and Star Wars, Hollywood has pivoted towards franchise fare. The idea of making movies that could go on and on, spawning endless merchandise and sequels, was always so tantalizing to studio brass. That fascination has only become more and more prominent in recent years, particularly in the 2010s when the cinematic universe became possible. Suddenly, a whole new way of exploiting movies long-term came into focus while major studios became so cautious that they largely abandoned making movies that weren’t large-scale tentpoles. Even beloved indie studio A24 isn’t immune to this phenomenon, with the studio reportedly angling to create more franchise fare shortly.
But do audiences want that? Moviegoers have always gravitated more toward interesting ideas rather than just the mere existence of a costly tentpole title. Sure, moviegoers often turn out in droves for superhero movie sequels and other franchise fare, but it’s not the only thing they see. Whether it’s Pretty Woman exceeding Dick Tracy in 1990, 50 First Dates outgrossing Van Helsing in 2004, or Knives Out outgrossing Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019, audiences have often been more intrigued by fresh original ideas rather than projects designed just to sell lunch boxes. 2023’s box office landscape has been a stark reminder of this reality. Audiences aren’t done with all sequels, adaptations, or even franchise fare…but many of the long-term sagas Hollywood has become attached to for so long are no longer relevant. Moviegoers have moved on from many of the biggest franchises the largest studios have bet their entire futures on.
Why Aren’t the Major Studios Giving Audiences What They Want?
Brad Bird once described the major movie studios as “sharks” in how they have little sense of independent direction and just chase what’s right in front of them. He wasn’t too far off given the mentality behind the modern franchise landscape. It seems that these titles are no longer made because they’ll be deemed profitable nor because they’ll make lots in merchandise in the long run. They’re made seemingly out of a mechanical routine like there’s an obligation to continue franchises past their prime no matter what the audience actually wants. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts was given a $200 million budget (18 times the price of Bottoms) despite the previous two Transformers movies failing to come anywhere close to the global box office hauls of the franchise’s earliest installments. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny “required” a $300+ million budget, but did it? At least in the past, a deluge of Star Trek or Star Wars sequels hit theaters because there had been recent indicators that audiences craved more of such titles. In the modern world, though, studios are so hungry for franchises that they embrace any sequel or IP as perfect for the big-budget cinema treatment. It doesn’t matter if it makes financial or logical sense, sequels are perceived to be innately bulletproof.
Audiences constantly tell studios with their wallets that they don’t want this kind of cinema landscape. Warner Bros. saw that more moviegoers showed up for The Intern than King Arthur: Legend of the Sword…guess which kind of movie the studio prioritized after those box office results? Universal witnessed Girls’ Trip make way more money than The Mummy. Alas, the studio still refuses to let its Universal Monsters characters die while also ignoring how hungry Black women moviegoers are for stories that speak to them. These problems have always festered in Hollywood, but they’ve only gotten worse and worse each year in the last decade. There’s a refusal from these executives to gaze into the data and examine what average moviegoers actually want, a problem that’s especially been apparent in 2023.
Audiences have constantly refused a slew of franchise titles like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, The Flash, Dial of Destiny, Gran Turismo, The Expendables 4, and so many more. It’s not that audiences hate anything that counts as a sequel, as hits like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse can attest. But such exceptions flourished financially because they had stories or concepts that resonated with audiences on their own terms, it wasn’t just because they had a number two on their respective posters. The data has never been clearer: people are tired of seeing weary franchises that no longer make financial or creative sense, like Fast & Furious. But like Brad Bird said, studios are sharks…they refuse to learn.
Audiences Want New Stories and Characters…Even Among Adaptations
The funny thing is, moviegoers aren’t even averse to the prospect of pre-existing properties getting adapted into movies. But it’s clear that Dominic Toretto, Indiana Jones, superheroes, and other staples of the last two decades of blockbuster entertainment have lost their luster. What a new generation of cinema watchers want is to see movies rooted in properties that haven’t been adapted for the silver screen. Five Nights at Freddy’s, for instance, wasn’t a huge hit because it promised endless sequels. It was a massive Halloween smash because it was based on a property that had never been exploited for a movie before, there was some novelty in seeing this particular universe come to the big screen. Audiences have seen countless incarnations of Michael Myers and The Mummy. Freddy Fazbear, though, is largely new ground.
Similarly, Barbie in 2023 was an adaptation taking hold of a property that had never been translated to theatrical live-action storytelling. The marketing for Barbie didn’t hinge on teases of a broader cinematic universe or rehashing jokes from earlier movies. Instead, it offered up a delightfully distinct visual aesthetic and complicated atmosphere that was totally idiosyncratic. People were excited to see their Barbie, Ken, and Allan dolls brought to the big screen, but there was also palpable joy over seeing something unique in the summer blockbuster landscape. People gravitated towards Freddy’s and Barbie because they offered up adaptations that could belong to a new generation of moviegoers, they weren’t just legacy sequels pandering to audiences of yesteryear.
If only Hollywood would forego the inevitable urge to run Five Nights at Freddy’s and Barbie into the ground and instead use these sleeper hits as a chance to explore what other concepts are resonating with younger moviegoers. Such concepts could easily be translated into original movies that could provide the Pretty Woman/Knives Out/My Big Fat Greek Wedding for this generation: a totally original hit nobody saw coming. There’s clearly an appetite from a fresh new crop of film lovers to see things they’ve never seen before on the big screen. This has been further indicated even in the volatile age of theatrical moviegoing in the wake of COVID-19, as seen by Everything Everywhere All at Once outgrossing Morbius in 2022 or The Northman outgrossing Snake Eyes. However, the innately broken systems guiding Hollywood and who gets to be put in charge of major studios have ensured this appetite has only rarely been satisfied. Original ideas do not spawn further risk-taking on new concepts, they just inspire further franchises. Even an only moderately successful original film like Fall is now viewed as a breeding ground for endless sequels by these creatively bankrupt institutions. Original features succeeding are never a sign of audiences wanting more unique concepts…they’re just the foreplay to the exciting franchise action studios are addicted to.
If you only stuff movie theaters full of franchises, remakes, and sequels, of course, that’s all it’ll seem like audiences will show up for. The fact that moviegoers have also showered attention on recent original movies like The Woman King, The Lost City, and Elemental has been an exciting indicator that viewers want some fresh concepts. They don’t just want to be sold the umpteenth Fast & Furious installment, they even want to see something new when it comes to adaptations of pre-existing properties. The hunger is out there for newer silver screen properties…but it’s doubtful studios will be able to properly respond to that demand. People’s cinematic tastes are shifting, it’s time the priorities of the major studios also adjusted to follow suit.
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