Captain America, Spider-Man, the X-Men and Transformers are storming back into movie theaters, returning in sequels to save the world from mass destruction, while at the same time churning out profits for movie studios. Hollywood will pack 13 sequels into theaters over the next 20 weeks. The parade begins on Friday, when Captain America dons his red-white-and-blue superhero suit for the U.S. debut of Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and continues through summer, Hollywood’s most lucrative season.
Studios generally don’t have to spend as much to raise awareness of sequels months in advance, as they do with other big-budget films, executives say. And when sequels reach the big screen, ticket sales in foreign markets, which can account for up to 80 percent of a film’s box office, often exceed their predecessors.
“When you can say, here’s Avatar 2, and you’ve got six billion people ready to see it, it doesn’t take a lot of marketing to get them into the theater,” said Jim Gianopulos, chairman and chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment. “It’s a self-propelling marketing message in a very big world.” The first installment of 20th Century Fox’s animated Ice Age series took in $207 million overseas in 2002. The fourth Ice Age from the studio owned by Twenty-First Century Fox earned $716 million at international box offices in 2012.
Sequels are hardly a new Hollywood phenomenon. But in recent years, as DVD sales crumbled, movie studios began to cut back on the numbers of films they produced to trim the risks.
Starting in 2008, they began to churn out more sequels and big-budget event films, turning away from riskier original films like independent dramas and romantic comedies.
This year’s sequels include superhero films The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from Sony Corp, Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past,” and Transformers: Age of Extinction from Viacom Inc’s Paramount; animated movies Rio 2 from Fox and Dreamworks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2; and Sony comedies 22 Jump Street and Think Like a Man Too.
What mostly drives the studio top brass is that audiences keep buying tickets for sequels. In 2013, nine of the top 12 films in the U.S. and Canada were sequels or prequels, including Marvel’s Iron Man 3 and Lions Gate’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Those films generated $2.6 billion in domestic ticket sales, nearly one-quarter of the year’s $10.9 billion total, and another $4.5 billion worldwide.
Operating margins at Time Warner Inc’s Warner Bros., the studio behind the Harry Potter franchise and The Dark Knight Batman series, hovered around 7 percent in 2007 and 2008, Wible said, before rising to about 10 percent for each of the next five years.
At Walt Disney Co, the focus is on a smaller number of films with the potential to produce sequels, drive toy sales and inspire theme-park rides. In a typical year, Disney is aiming to release one film each from Pixar, Disney Animation, and Star Wars producer Lucasfilm; two from Marvel, and four to six from its Disney live action division, said Alan Horn, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios. “We choose our sequels carefully,” Horn said. “If we have a picture that has earned a right to have a sequel, it’s because the audiences loved it.”
Next year’s crop of sequels may set even bigger records. Studios are already planning to release new installments of some of the biggest films of all time, including Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Marvel’s The Avengers.
A tribute to the genius
Alain Resnais reinvented cinema as a medium; he emphasised not only on stories but also on how to go about telling them,” said noted film historian Suresh Chabria. He was speaking at an event which was a tribute to the late French filmmaker Alain Resnais. The event was organised by Pune International Centre (PIC) in collaboration with Alliance Francaise and the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) on April 4. Resnais, one of the forerunners of French New Wave cinema in the ’60s, passed away in March this year. Two of his most poignant films,Night And Fog and Last Year In Marienbad, were screened at the event. “An established documentary maker, Resnais was known for his precise and formal style of film-making. However, with the advent of the New Wave in the ’60s, Resnais moved on from his formal yet haunting style to a more intimate approach. His films reflected a classic theme of memory and time,” explained Chabria. He further added that Resnais handled deep and moving subjects from his experiences post World War II and France’s association with the Nazis by portraying mental images of characters. Talking about Resnais’ contribution to world cinema, he said, “The New Wave, heralded by Resnais, introduced cinema that went beyond drama and explored different narrative styles, providing thought-provoking content.”
The programme was initiated by Latika Padgaonkar, an eminent member of PIC. “I was struck by the visual beauty and quality of his films,” said Padgaonkar in her introductory address. Also present at the event was Luc Didon, director of Alliance Francaise (Pune). Didon expressed his gratitude to PIC for organising a tribute to the legend, and the French Embassy for access to his films. Prashant Pathrabe, director of NFAI and Dileep Padgaonkar, programme committee chairman of PIC, was also present for the occasion.