Box Office Round Up – November 24 – 27, 2016

(l-r) Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie Soke and Brett Kelly as Thurman Merman in BAD SANTA 2, a Broad Green Pictures release.
Credit: Jan Thijs / Broad Green Pictures

Get behind the numbers of last week’s box office! This week, Chris Neumer tries to figure out whether studios will ever stop trying to create franchises out of long dormant hits… like this week’s flop, Bad Santa 2.

by Chris Neumer

I am forever baffled when people repeatedly make the same choices and seem surprised by the fact that the results are always the same. If the cause is the same, why won’t the effect also be the same?

There’s a nifty little quote (that Salon thinks is overused) that is often attributed to Albert Einstein that summarizes this conundrum nicely: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting a different result.”

One of the true beauties of being human is that we can learn from our mistakes and not forever be doomed to repeat them. Whether we actually do this is another matter entirely.

This last weekend—Thanksgiving weekend—a Disney animated movie came out and made a lot of money. Moana took in $81 million.

That isn’t news. I mean, it’s the exact opposite of Einstein’s supposed quote: they’re doing the same things over and over again… and hoping to get the same (successful) result.

On the other side of the spectrum, something called Broad Green Pictures released Bad Santa 2 and its box office take could best be described with a 1960’s era Batman sound effect. ‘Zoppo’ or ‘splat’ or ‘biff’. Whatever onomatopoeia you want to choose, the reaction that studio heads should be having is: gadzooks!

Now this is something worth delving into.

Regardless of whether it’s true or not, everyone involved in the entertainment industry is convinced that the key to financial success is having multiple franchises. Franchises are king! The Avengers franchise has been printing money for the last five years and every studios in existence wants in on that.

Warner Brothers wants in on this so badly, they have ignored everything that Marvel/Disney did with The Avengers in order to skip to the good part. They chose not to release a series of successful introductory stand-alone films featuring the members of the DC Universe in a slow lead up to one amazing collaboration of superheroes, Warner Brothers just dove straight in put everyone together with absolutely no backstory and then seemed surprised that no one cared about any of the characters. That may actually have been the plot synopsis for Batman V. Superman, I’d have to double check.

When studios don’t have access to any (or many) franchises, they use spit and baling wire to try to either A) drum up one from nothing (think: the remake of Point Break), or B) convince people that they have (think: The Maze Runner). Neither approach works particularly well.

Over the course of the last few years, a third option has been added to this mix. Production companies have begun making sequels to very old hits like Dumb and Dumber, Independence Day and, yes, Bad Santa.

The logic behind this is as follows: we don’t have any new properties that we think we can turn into a franchise… and we need a franchise… so let’s make a sequel to that movie that brought in $200 million 15 years ago.

If it sounds desperate, it’s because it is desperate. And wildly so.

Take Independence Day, for example. The film was released in 1996 to middling reviews and enormous financial success, earning more than $305 million at the domestic box office. It was the biggest hit that Fox had ever had at that point in time. And for some reason, in the ten years that followed a sequel was never produced.*

* My guess as to why this never occurred is that director Roland Emmerich wouldn’t sign on unless he got an absolutely ungodly budget approved for Independence Day 2. Emmerich’s follow up film to Independence Day was 1998’s Godzilla, which had a $130 million budget. That is a pretty large sum of money now, let alone in 1997. Hell, the 2014 remake of Godzilla only cost $160 million and that movie didn’t have to have its events set at night in a rain storm to camouflage the poor CG work.  One can only wonder what Emmerich wanted.

For whatever reason, Fox looked at a sequel to 1996’s biggest success as a non-starter. Whether there were issues with the production or major concerns that they had in regards to the script that they just couldn’t get by, they didn’t make one for some reason that they deemed valid. 20 years later, desperately needing a franchise, the executives at Fox simply stuck their heads in the sand, ignored all of their previous fears and hesitations and, in a fit of desperation, green lit Independence Day: Resurgence.

The shocking part about Independence Day: Resurgence’s $103 million domestic box office take wasn’t that is was down about 70% from the original, but rather that it somehow managed to surpass the $100 million barrier.

Contrary to what the current political landscape might have you believe, I think Americans are smarter than ever. They can smell desperation a mile away and are immediately suspect of projects like Independence Day: Resurgence and Bad Santa 2. This isn’t because of some fancy, Hollywood lingo attached to the productions or because of the way that they’re being marketed, but simply because the films are being made in the first place.

Look at it like dating. If you go on a first date with a woman, have a good time with her and want to ask her out on a second date, there is a roughly two or three day window in which you can acceptably do so. If you wait four weeks to ask the woman out on a second date, there’s no way it will come across in any fashion other than weird, awkward or downright assholish.

And this is precisely what the studios are doing with these sequels to long ago hits. My first reaction to learning that there was going to be a Bad Santa 2 didn’t have anything to do with the movie per se, but rather that I didn’t realize that things were going so badly for Billy Bob Thornton.

The original Bad Santa was, with a $60 million box office, Thornton’s second biggest hit as a leading man. His biggest was Friday Night Lights… which earned $61 million. No matter what happened in Thornton’s career, he always had a chip he could play: he could always get paid to come back and play the role of Willie Soke in Bad Santa 2. And here we are. I have no idea how much Thornton got paid to do Bad Santa 2, but I can assure you that it was more than any other project that he has been offered in some time… and that’s how badly things have been going.

And audiences feel this. Even if they aren’t acutely aware of how the stars feel about reprising their roles or why the stars have finally agreed to return, they intuitively understand that something odd is going on. So the audiences stay away.

There have been seven long-time-coming sequels that have been widely released so far in 2016 (‘long-time-coming’ defined as having more than 10 years pass between the original and the sequel) and they read like a cautionary tale against ever doing this again.

Barbershop: Next Cut

Bridget Jones’s Baby

Blair Witch

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Zoolander 2

Independence Day: Resurgence

Bad Santa 2.

None of the aforementioned films came remotely close to matching the original films’ box office take and only one of them topped $60 million: Independence Day: Resurgence. Barbershop: Next Cut and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 may have made some money, but when $59 million is seen as your zenith, it might be best to look for your franchises elsewhere.

Just something to think about when the long-time-coming sequel to Mean Girls comes out next year and underwhelms.


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