‘Finding Dory’ aims to curb Hollywood’s sequel slide

It’s been a bad year for sequels, which is to be followed by ‘It’s Been a Bad Year for Sequels 2’

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Hollywood can’t find Dory fast enough.

Pixar’s “Finding Dory” opens in theaters this weekend, and the sequel to 2003’s “Finding Nemo” is as close to a slam dunk as you can find at the box office these days. And frankly, Hollywood could use a slam dunk, since lately it’s been putting up nothing but bricks, especially in the sequel department.

Sequels and franchises have been buttering Hollywood’s popcorn for years; last year, eight of the year’s 10 highest-grossers had numbers after their titles or were a part of larger film families. Hits are hard to come by, so once you get one, you squeeze it for everything its worth: Reassemble the cast, slap a “2” (or a “3,” or an “8,” if you’re the “Fast and Furious” movies) after the title, and watch the money roll in.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to go. This year at the box office, sequel after sequel has been greeted with all the anticipation of another Facebook post on the Cincinnati gorilla incident. The casualties read like a roll call of suggestions from the audience at improv night at Bad Idea Theatre: “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” “Now You See Me 2,” “Zoolander 2,” “Ride Along 2,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “The Huntsman: Maybe We Need Kristen Stewart After All.”

Even the successes have been relative letdowns. “The Conjuring 2” opened at No. 1 at the box office last weekend, but its $40.4 million gross fell below the $41.8 million opening weekend tally of the 2013 original. “Captain America: Civil War” needed the power of a dozen superheroes to become the year’s No. 1 movie, and this weekend it will cross the $400 million mark, shattering the $260 million gross of the last “Captain America” film. But if you compare it to the last “Avengers” movie, which for all intents is its predecessor, it won’t match the $459 million gross of last year’s “Age of Ultron” (which itself fell way shy of the $623 million gross of 2012’s original).

Sequel fatigue has set in, and audiences are wising up. Did anyone go to sleep praying for a follow-up to “Olympus Has Fallen?” In an On Demand world, the ritual of going to the movie theater isn’t as appealing as it used to be.

Just ask millennials, who aren’t going to theaters as much as those older people who are always trying to understand them. With the allure of glowing touch screens at their fingertips, kids aren’t rushing to go to the one place where people are always yelling at them to turn off their phones.

A recent study by the Motion Picture Association of America shows that 18-24 year-olds are abandoning the practice of going to the movies faster than any other age group. (It’s a reason teen movies are in trouble; the young adult novel genre has fallen off a cliff this year, with the flops of “The 5th Wave” and the latest “Divergent” movie, and no more “Hunger Games” films are on the horizon to save the bottom line).

So where do we go from here? Sequels aren’t going away anytime soon. In addition to the “Independence Day,” “Bourne Identity” and “Star Trek” sequels opening in the coming weeks, next year’s slate of films — including new “Amityville,” “Friday the 13th,” “Trainspotting,” “Resident Evil” and “xXx” titles, and that’s only January! — is already set.

Hollywood has a problem. It’s no secret that television has stolen the thunder from the movies in terms of quality storytelling and good writing. Moviegoers need an incentive to go out and spend $7.50 on a huge tub of popcorn, and a new “Ice Age” movie isn’t going to cut it.

Until a solution is found, Hollywood may find itself living this year all over again. You know, like a really bad sequel.

(313) 222-2284

Twitter: @grahamorama