Milking The Movie Cash Cow

In recent years, yearning for a bigger slice of the money pie, movie studios have poured more resources into fewer films.

Trivia Blast! - In 2012, 135 films made up 95% of the total Box Office in the United States.

So, despite a huge increase in accessibility for fans (more theaters, online vendors), fear of losing profit dictates the movie slate and opportunities are dwindling to get an original idea made into a movie.


Franchises are nothing new. When a studio hits on a money-making idea, they are not shy about green-lighting a sequel almost immediately.

Generally, there are two types of franchise: "programmed" and "opportunistic". A programmed franchise example would be Harry Potter - a successful line of books purchased with the intent to make the entire series. Of course, if the first of these movies tanks, or even if it struggles later in the series, the franchise can be quietly buried and forgotten. (see: John Carter or The Lone Ranger)

I will talk more about these in a later post. Here though, I'm going to talk more about the "opportunistic" franchise.

Cash Cow

Trivia Blast! - Movie theaters in the US draw more people than all the theme parks and major sports (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) COMBINED!

There is always a glint in a movie producer's eyes when they can lure a big (or upcoming) movie star into a movie specifically designed to their perceived strengths (see: Beverly Hills Cop). If the first one works, it will spawn as many sequels as can be milked from the idea. Often the sequels fail because they are too repetitive and stale. (see: Beverly Hills Cop 2 & 3)

The most extreme version of the opportunistic franchise is when a movie is assembled with familiar, but not A-List, stars in a movie that is expected to make a decent profit and the movie then goes on to blow away the box office. Now the movie studios have something unexpected and they need to cash in...immediately.

Unfortunately, fresh ideas are less important than quick turnaround and so you end up with movies like... 

The Hangover

Made for around $35M, The Hangover was a silly, outrageous comedy and a surprise hit around the world. It pulled in almost $470M in worldwide box office. A sequel was quickly announced and released two years later. Hangover 2 was basically a carbon copy of the first, but this time the studio spent more money making it. It raked in $586M so part 3 was inevitable. Hangover 3 had a budget of $103M and despite making over $360M around the world, it was clear the well was drying up.

The Hangover is considered a successful franchise ($1.4 billion in worldwide box office), but it only contains one movie that the IMDB users rate above a 7/10

So what...?

I'd like to be clear that I'm not against taking a good movie and creating a sequel IF there are more stories to tell. I will happily fork over my cash to watch them.

However, turning one small idea into a trilogy, or more (yes, I'm looking at you Friday the 13th), is taking money and opportunity away from a broader range of films. If the choice is to pour $100 million into 4 or 5 new ideas or to squeeze out another Hangover, the studio will pick the Hangover every time.

Trivia Blast! - 18 movies have passed the $1 billion mark in the worldwide box office. Only 4 of them are stand alone movies: Alice in Wonderland, Frozen, Titanic and Avatar. However, three sequels have been announced for Avatar and rumors continue to circulate that there will be a Frozen sequel.

Open Big

It's important to have a big first weekend too. To make that happen you have to advertise and the more you advertise the more chance there is for having the big opening. And it has to be the first week because the next big franchise will hit the week after...and so on.

So, originality takes a back seat to...profit. And while the studios would have us believe they're giving the audience what they demand, they're not. They're cashing in on the goodwill created by the first movie of the series and cynically exploiting it.

Trivia Blast! - Only 4 of the Billion Dollar movies make it into IMDB's top 100 best rated movies: Toy Story 3 (65th), The Dark Knight Rises (50th), Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (9th) & The Dark Knight (4th)!

How many of your favorite movies are sequels, reboots or part of a series?

Next time, I will discuss the programmed franchises and the creation of new Super-Franchises!

Trivia blast information taken from MPAA 2012 Theatrical Market Statistics Report & MPAA 2013 Theatrical Market Statistics Report & All Time Worldwide Box Office & IMDB Top 250 Movies


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