By Tom Holste
Jul. 31, 2015
Previously, I noted that Jurassic World’s triumph over Avengers: Age of Ultron at the box office probably had at least something to do with the idea that audiences were becoming weary with trying to keep up with all of the iterations of this franchise. Today I would like to offer a few more possible lessons that Hollywood can glean from JW’s success.
—It’s okay, and perhaps even welcome, for a franchise to take a break. It used to be that sequels that came long after the original movies ended up not being nearly as successful. Superman Returns, TMNT, even Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles—these films all failed financially to revive their respective franchises. They were seen as more of a last gasp than anything else. Rocky, Rambo and Die Hard fared a bit better, earning multiple new entries late in their franchises’ lives, but none were record-breaking successes. But Jurassic has changed the mold. In a world where a new Marvel movie gets released every few months, audiences are quite happy to revisit a franchise that hasn’t had a new installment since 2001. Down with superheroes (a little bit, at least for now); up with dinosaurs!
–A franchise can overcome multiple bad installments. The Jurassic Park movies follow a similar trajectory to the Jaws movies. The first film in each series, directed by Steven Spielberg, was a huge hit at the box office and loved by critics. The second and third films were considerably less well-received. But while Jaws: The Revenge was the final nail in that franchise’s coffin, Jurassic World made nearly as much money as the original film did (after adjusting for inflation). Audiences now seem willing to forgive the cinematic sins of the later films because of their love of the original. Provided that Universal can get the right people in place to make it, Jaws 5 might not be so much of a ridiculous idea anymore.
–Continuity is not as important as it once was. Superman Returns, despite being set in its release year of 2006 (as evident by the technology and the fashion), takes place five years after Superman II, which should set the film in 1985 or so. The timeline since Superman’s last appearance is mentioned multiple times, and due to what happened to Lois Lane in the intervening time, it seems highly unlikely that the events of the franchise-wrecking Superman III or IV could have happened. Ignoring the later, poorly-received entries was a deliberate attempt on the filmmakers’ part to focus on the franchise’s glory days. But based on the way that the viewers stayed away from the theaters, audiences were confused by the filmmakers abandoning some aspects of the continuity while sticking with others.
The characters of Jurassic World indicate that the park has been running successfully for the past 20 years, which means that it couldn’t have been a deserted island at the time of the second and third movies. But this time, audiences don’t seem to care about that. At the very least, it was easier to ignore this continuity glitch than it was to ignore the confusing Superman timeline. This time, “who wants to remember those awful sequels anyway?” was a compelling enough argument.
One caveat: So far, Jurassic is the only film to fit the mold for all of the previous points mentioned. Maybe it will turn out to be a fluke. But it seems like these ideas make more sense than some of the articles I was reading where writers insisted that Jurassic World was going to single-handedly kill the art of cinema, creating a sequel-hungry craze (as if this hadn’t been a phenomenon in Hollywood until just now). All of which leads me to my last point…
—Audiences’ tastes are somewhat fickle and unpredictable. Last year was a disastrous year at the box office, and executives were wringing their hands, terrified that competing entertainment (video games, streaming video, etc.) had finally caught up with them, and that their days were numbered. This year has broken all kinds of records, and it’s the best year Hollywood has had since the mid-‘90s. And how did Hollywood achieve that? By making the exact same type of films that they did last year.
There’s the usual assortment of sequels, superhero films, and comedies aimed at roughly the same audience (mostly teenage, mostly male) as last year, and the year before that, and so on. But this year, for whatever reason, it was just the right combination of those things. This year’s films caught the audience’s attention in a way that they hadn’t for a long time before this, but Hollywood isn’t doing anything particularly unique to make that happen.
While Hollywood can be relieved that they weren’t so far off from guessing what audiences wanted after all, it must be a little less comforting to be reminded that there’s no exact formula for success.
Despite often rising prices at the ticket stand and at the concession stand, and despite the availability of other entertainment options, the audience hadn’t really gone away. It just took the right combination of elements to get people back to the show. Why these elements specifically? As William Goldman once said about making movies: “Nobody knows anything.”
I don’t know what this post-Jurassic wave of films is going to look like – maybe long-gestating sequels to The Goonies and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure will finally get the greenlight, riding on more nostalgia? Next year’s 20-years-later Independence Day sequel certainly seems to be in a good position to take the box office by storm. Whatever the case, it will be interesting and different from (yet, in other ways, similar to) what we’ve seen before.