Graham: Franchises fall as sequels fatigue Hollywood

The safe bets aren’t so safe anymore as audiences wise up to Hollywood’s endless repackaging techniques

Adam Graham Detroit News Film Critic
Gal Gadot stars in “Wonder Woman,” which has made $330.53 million at the movie box office so far.

“Wonder Woman 2” is a pretty safe bet. “Wonder Woman 5,” on the other hand, might be in trouble.

So far this summer, the box office has seen several significant stiffs from supposedly dependable franchise entries. Hollywood is like a guy going back for his fourth free refill on popcorn: at some point you have to say enough is enough.

“Alien: Covenant,” the sixth installment in the “Alien” series (and the second chapter of a planned trilogy of “Alien” prequels) stalled out and will end its run with a domestic take of roughly $75 million, around $50 million less than 2012’s “Prometheus.”

The latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” stinker, “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” has earned $162 million, paltry compared to the other films in the franchise (2006’s “Dead Man’s Chest” pulled in $423 million, despite the fact that not a single person can remember a thing about it today). It will end up the lowest grosser of the series by around $70 million.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” starring Johnny Depp, has only earned $162 million.

And last weekend’s “Transformers: What Is Even Going on at This Point” had a five-day opening take of $68 million, by far the lowest gross for an Optimus Prime big screen head-scratcher, and way off pace from the last “Transformers” movie. The film will wind up the least successful picture in the franchise by a significant gap.

Call it another round of sequel fatigue. For years, audiences have griped that Hollywood is out of ideas, and now they’re starting to show it by electing to stay home instead of paying to watch the story of Bumblebee trying to get his voice back.

Blame increased competition from home viewing options — compare the buzz on “Thirteen Reasons Why” to that of the latest “Pirates” movie — and decreased interest in moviegoing among millennials, but also the fact that lame product isn’t bringing people into theaters. (“Covenant” did OK with critics, but the “Pirates” and “Transformers” movies scored 29 percent fresh and 15 percent fresh, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Franchises are getting old:

■“Cars” is on its third lap around the track.

■“Despicable Me” is now digging up long lost twin brothers to try to freshen the series,

■The third entry in the rebooted “Planet of the Apes” series is right around the corner.

■Meanwhile, the third reboot of the “Spider-Man” series, the sixth “Spidey” movie since 2002, hits screens next weekend.

That said, some franchises are still doing well:

■“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” is the year’s second-highest earner for now; “Wonder Woman” may soon start nipping at its heels.

■“Logan” is the highest money maker in the “Wolverine” series.

■“The Fate of the Furious,” the eighth “Fast and Furious” movie, did big business earlier this year, though it was still far eclipsed by “Furious 7,” which had the added notoriety of being Paul Walker’s final film in the series.

Sequels, reboots and remakes aren’t going away anytime soon, and if you’re wondering why, look no further than the year’s biggest box office smash, the live action “Beauty and the Beast” remake, which broke the $500 million barrier earlier this year.

Another reason they’re not going away is the increased importance on worldwide box office. That’s where domestic disappointments like the “Pirates” and “Transformers” movies clean up and earn their money back and allow for more “Pirates” and “Transformers” movies to be made.

Heaven help us if “Pirates 6” and “Transformers 6” come to fruition.

The tricks are getting old, and audiences are wising up. (It took long enough in the case of “Transformers,” but hey, better late than never.)

That may not be good news for the third “Avengers” movie, the sixth “Mission: Impossible” flick or the Bumblebee-led “Transformers” spinoff (eyeroll emoji), all due out next summer.

Sequels and franchises have been the butter on Hollywood’s popcorn for years, but audiences are smartening up and learning that butter isn’t all that good for you.

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