Hollywood Franchises: Trend Analysis

August 8, 2007–The third installment in the Jason Bourne series, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” opened August 3, setting records by grossing $70 million at the box office. This success did not come as big surprise to Universal, which made the film.

The first two Bourne films brought in $27 million and $52 million, respectively. The series star, Matt Damon, was returning, as was the director, Paul Greengrass. Like all successful film franchises, it used a winning formula.

The concept of the film franchise, whereby studios mine three or more successive films out of an original hit, has been around for decades, but it has only really been since the late 1970s that it has become a trend.

James Bond

The longest-running franchise is James Bond, who first appeared in 1962's “Dr. No.” Since then there have been 23 Bond films, which have generated more than $4.5 billion in worldwide grosses, making it the all-time franchise money-winner.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has had the best box-office performance, however, with three films grossing more than $2.9 billion worldwide.

This summer has seen many sequels, all of which have been successful. The biggest movie of the summer has been Disney's “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End,” which has grossed more than $951 million worldwide since it opened on May 25.

The second biggest was “Spider-Man 3,” with $890 million in worldwide grosses, followed by “Shrek the Third” at $727 million and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” at $772 million.

The biggest nonfranchise hit of the summer is “Transformers,” which made $594 million, and is still running strong.

Three the Lucky Charm

The biggest franchises have bankable stars, big budgets, and crowd-pleasing scripts. They have a story line that allows the studio to extend the franchise beyond the initial hit, like the hero never gets killed. They have smart merchandising and tie-ins with toy stores, fast-food restaurant, and so on.

But they need to target the right audience. The “Pirates” franchise is entertaining but not exactly suitable for young children, and Disney knows that the money is in attracting teenage boys, who remain the biggest moviegoing demographic.

All of these successful films, with their PG-13 ratings, are calculated to be just gross, violent, action-packed to appeal to millions of male adolescents around the world.

Not all franchises can successfully spawn sequels or prequels. Consider “Jaws: The Revenge,” “Son of the Mask,” “Caddyshack II,” and “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.”

Few if any of the blockbusters that led to successful franchises are considered high points in the art of filmmaking. They may contain the odd memorable performance, usually by a scene-stealing notable, and some impressive special effects, but they're hardly the kind of film that receive Oscar nominations or awards, except in the technical categoires.

The first “Shrek” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” may be the notable exceptions for winning Best Picture Oscars, in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

“The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter” are based on a series of books. But when Hollywood ran out of Ian Fleming's original Bond books, it began recycling them. “Casino Royale” failed the first time around, in 1967, but the 2006 version was superior in every respect, grossing more than $594 million worldwide.

Other franchises, such as The Matrix, just run out of story, and some become too expensive to make as the stars demand higher and higher paychecks, like “X-Men,” or “Rush Hour 3,” about to open in a few days, for which Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan are rumored to have been paid $25 million each!

Then there are those, such as the Bruce Wilis series “Die Hard” and the Spielberg-Lucas “Indiana Jones” movies, which despite aging stars manage to return.

Other franchises may keep on going until the studios stop making money on them. Case in point: “Rocky 6.” It was rumored to be the last, but it made money. Will there be another “Rocky”

Stay tuned.