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Why Studios Continue Banking on Franchises Like ‘G.I. Joe’; Which Sequels Can You Do Without?

Why Studios Continue Banking on Franchises Like 'G.I. Joe'; Which Sequels Can You Do Without?

“G.I. Joe Retaliation,” a sequel to 2009’s “G.I. Joe:
Rise of the Cobra,” took in more than $130 million at the worldwide box
office this weekend–although its three-day $40 million domestic
number was half its foreign take. (The studio cleverly beefed up the
weekend number with a Thursday preview.)

Part of what’s wrong
with movies today is that the studios are willing to throw
foreign-driven movies into the domestic market, where they often get bad
reviews and turn people off, because they’ll make their money overseas
theatrically and via TV output deals, plus licensing and merchandising,
action figures, DVDs, and the like. So it’s no surprise that today sees news of
Paramount already exploring sequel options for “G.I. Joe.”

Variety, there’s no word yet on who from the cast will come back (this
most recent “GI” installment stars Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum and
Bruce Willis), or whether helmer Jon Chu will return to the director’s

Over the decades the movie studios –which are small cogs of huge corporations run by business executives with an eye on Wall Street who are skittish about narrow profit margins– have steadily moved away from risky execution-dependent quality adult films. That’s because they demand painstakingly slow want-to-see building. Studio marketers prefer branded titles that do not require molasses-speed ‘word-of-mouth’ creation for an unknown product that can die in one weekend. That model survives mainly for studio specialty divisions’ fall fest-driven award season contenders.

“Give the people what they already want” is the studio mantra.

Through the 90s and 2000s, Hollywood marketers decided that they were better off selling a beloved James Bond or Indiana Jones than a seven-figure-per-movie star in something no one ever heard of. Better still, they could make films based on established plays (“Momma Mia!,” “Les Miserables”), movies (“The Wizard of Oz,” “Superman,” “Batman,” “The Planet of the Apes”), comics (“Thor,” “X Men,” “Iron Man,” “Captain America,” “The Avengers”), video games (“Resident Evil,” “Mortal Combat”), toys and games (“Transformers,” “Battleship”), TV series (“Mission: Impossible” and “Star Trek”) and classics and bestsellers (“The Three Musketeers,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter”).

It comes down to this: an exec who lives in fear of losing his job won’t take unnecessary risks. Only the most confident studio head with solid performers behind and ahead can gamble on failure. Which is why they need the security multiple vital franchises provide.

Meanwhile, by my count 32 sequels are still to come in 2013. I look forward to a few of them, including Chris Pine as the new Jack Ryan, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the next “Hunger Games” installment, “Catching Fire,” and Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete Kills” and “Sin City a Dame to Kill For.” But “Fast & Furious 6,” “Iron Man 3,” “Wolverine” and the third “Hangover” all hit theaters within the next few months, with a second “Thor” film, “”Insidious Chapter 2,” “Paranormal Activity 5,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,” “Riddick,” and “Anchorman 2” making their way to the big screen in the fall.

Gratuitous? You bet. But alas, many of these films will make money.

What sequels can you do without?

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