By Anousha Sakoui
The duds just keep coming this summer in North America, from “The
Mummy” to “Alien: Covenant” to “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell
No Tales.” The season has been what critics politely call lackluster for
Hollywood studios -- but don’t expect them to stop churning out more
That’s because as badly as so many franchise films and
reboots have done in the world’s biggest cinema market, they’ve racked
up solid ticket sales elsewhere. Theater-goers in America thought Paramount Pictures’ fifth “Transformers” was pretty much a yawner, but in China they liked it. And No. 6 is already in the works.
at the casualties just this summer,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a Los
Angeles-based analyst for ComScore Inc. “If they only had North America,
it would be a monumental disaster for the studios.”
For now at least, the rest of the world -- China in
particular -- is supporting Hollywood’s love affair with series, sequels
and rehashes like “The Mummy,” Universal Pictures’ new take on a story
that’s been told dozens of times. The risk is that sequel fatigue will
set in overseas too. Chinese moviegoers are becoming more choosy, and
the fastest-growing film market is slowing down. That’s a challenge for
studios such as Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., which plan and schedule movies years in advance.
Papish, an analyst for China Film Insider, described as a “disaster”
the $250 million that “Transformers: The Last Knight” is projected to
record in the world’s most-populous country. The reason: the previous
version from Viacom Inc.’s
film division pulled in 17 percent more, “a worrisome sign for both
Paramount and other Hollywood studios who have become far too complacent
thinking that Chinese audiences will swallow whatever garbage they
shove down their throats.”
This “Transformers” opening in China, at least, was about 30 percent
bigger than the opening for the previous one, according to Box Office
Not every sequel or franchise entry has fallen flat in North
America, of course. “Wonder Woman,” Warner Bros.’ fourth episode in the
DC Extended Universe series, has taken in $346 million domestically and
is one of the year’s top films. Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.
2” topped the box office for two weeks and has taken in $383 million
And there are some big-hitters coming. Sony Corp.’s
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is expected to take in $301 million in North
America after its release this weekend, according to BoxOfficePro.com.
“War for Planet of the Apes,” out July 14 from 21st Century Fox Inc., could grab $165 million.
But the second-quarter domestic box office ended down 3.6
percent from a year ago at $2.7 billion, Barton Crockett, an analyst at
FBR & Co., said in a note. He blamed disappointing sequels; even
with a better-than-expected “Wonder Woman,” he predicts a 15 percent
decline for the third quarter.
Chinese box-office sales fell in
June, as local movies as well as Hollywood imports failed to meet
expectations. This month, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC pushed back its forecast for China’s movie market to overtake the U.S. to 2021 from 2017.
weekend, Universal’s “Despicable Me 3” will test the Chinese market,
after opening in first place in 44 out of 46 countries, according to
data from the film division of Comcast Corp.
A new installment in another Universal series, “The Fate of the
Furious,” enjoyed strong demand in China, taking in $393 million there
earlier this year.
Even with big budget films flopping at home, movies can earn money for years to come from digital downloads and sales to Netflix Inc. and other streaming sites and cable-television channels. The latest -- and last -- “Pirates of the Caribbean” may have missed
expectations when it came out May 26, but it could end up generating a
net profit of $219 million, according to an estimate from Wade Holden,
analyst with S&P Global Market Intelligence.
That hasn’t stopped some analysts from complaining that studios have focused too much on making big-budget features.
is an over reliance on sequels,” said Richard Greenfield, a media and
technology analyst at BTIG LLC. The major studios “are so worried about
investing in an unknown property that they are all just relying on
sequels and hoping that sequels will save them.”
While Disney has
had tremendous success, Greenfield said it’s not bullet-proof. “The
danger is that investors are essentially assuming that a movie like
‘Star Wars’ will be successful forever.”
As much as any studio,
Disney has tied its future to sequels and remakes. The company’s 2017
schedule includes eight films, of which six fit that profile, according
to Box Office Mojo.
Disney said its strategy sets it apart from
the competition -- in 2016 its film business had its most profitable
year ever. Other studios trying to ape it have had less success. Sony,
for example, tried and failed to refresh its 1984 hit “Ghostbusters”
last year in the hope that it could spawn a new series.
event, many future slates are laden with new installments of existing
worlds of characters. 21st Century Fox and Sony, which license Marvel
characters, are planning more “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” chapters.
has laid out several years worth of Marvel superhero offerings and at
least a six-picture series of “Star Wars” movies. Meanwhile, the company
is revisiting “Mary Poppins” and “Mulan.”
“Studios are rushing
these sequels,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations
Co. “If you want to get the domestic audience back, you’ve got to do
something a little outside the box.”