Attack of the Franchises II: How to make money and lose your integrity

There’s a great scene in Altman’s Hollywood satire The Player in which a dopey scriptwriter pitches to a successful movie executive: “The Graduate… Part II. Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross – 25 years later.” The Player is over two decades old, yet it’s as if nothing’s changed: Hollywood’s own satire has apparently been lost on itself as current movie executives make The Graduate Part II sound like the best thing since sliced (wholemeal) bread. This is The Decade Of The Franchise.

'The Graduate II': in which Benjamin Braddock goes through another "difficult phase".
‘The Graduate II’: in which Benjamin Braddock goes through another “difficult phase”.

The 1968 film Planet of the Apes was widely acclaimed as a masterpiece; it was even inducted into the US National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The natural response of 20th Century Fox was to make a sequel. It seems logical, but here’s a fact for the non-cultists: between 1968 and 1973, FIVE PotA movies were released, at a total cost of $14,400,000. Think that’s excessive? Fox decided to remake the original classic in 2001, at a cost of nearly TWENTY TIMES that of the original. And they haven’t stopped there. Just a decade later, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (a ‘reboot’) was released. And a sequel – yes, you read correctly – has been confirmed.

The fact that the simians’ gross revenue (over $925 million) has far outstripped overall budget (just over $500 million) is almost irrelevant. So is the critical acclaim of the most recent outing. The main sticking-point here is that nearly a billion dollars could have been put to better use, even within the film industry. Masterpieces of organic originality can be made relatively cheaply – the 2010 tour-de-force Life in a Day, for instance, cost about $2 million. With many times that amount, the possibilities are practically limitless.

A clear sign of Hollywood’s intellectual bankruptcy is last year’s The Amazing Spider Man. The original was released a mere ten years ago, and it and its sequel were excellent, restoring credibility to the ‘superhero’ genre. But with the new film, even under the guise of ‘reboot’, what more we can benefit from the boy with arachno-powers? And that ain’t all, folks – Columbia has already confirmed a sequel for 2014. Let the facts do the talking.

The Sequel Map
These statistics, courtesy of boxofficequant.com, are happy to talk to you.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with sequels; even the longest films will never be able to explore their characters fully, and sequels can be useful extensions. (I exempt bildungsfilme such as ‘The Apu Trilogy’ from criticism, as their very nature requires follow-ups.) Hollywood has been making sequels for a very long time, and has, historically, had a potentially good pedigree: Bride of Frankenstein (from 1935!), The Godfather Part II, The French Connection II… hell, even Aliens was acclaimed as brilliant (me, I think it’s tripe). However, it is imperative that creativity and integrity are significant ingredients in the formula of sequels. Otherwise, our beloved Hollywoodland is nothing but a vaguely entertaining cash machine.

It’s a shame that, apart from the occasional Hollywood gem, most of the vital and original films are coming from overseas. Hopefully, my hopes for American film-making won’t be let down with The Artist II: Life in Technicolor.

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