‘Men in Black: International’ Aside, the Death of Sequels Is Greatly Exaggerated

There's a dozen sequels this summer, from "Toy Story 4" to "47 Meters Down," and most will not suffer the fate of "Dark Phoenix."
Men in Black: International Aside, Sequel Death is Greatly Exaggerated
"Toy Story 4"

This spring, studios seemed almost sequel shy. Since “Avengers: Endgame” opened in late April and became the biggest hit in the biggest franchise of our time, there’s been only four major-studio sequels or remakes. “Aladdin,” both a remake and the live-action redo of an animated classic, has been a breakout hit. There’s the X-Men flop that is “Dark Phoenix;” “Godzilla: King of Monsters,” which will be lucky to see $100 million domestic; and “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” which saw a low-end opening for the studio’s Illumination animated unit.

Now we have two sequels in one weekend with “Men in Black: International” and “Shaft,” the first of a dozen sequels that will be released this summer. It’s a tidy framework to study whether audiences are tiring of retreads. The answer could be key in determining stability of the industry that is now so dependent on them.

Bottom line: While not all of them will be a sure thing, “Godzilla: King of Monsters” and “Dark Phoenix” seem more like outliers than portents of doom. They do suggest that no franchise is truly invulnerable, and suggest the impact of scheduling too many big films too close together. However, there’s a better than even chance that the summer sequels could finally bring 2019 box office on par to to 2018.

Four sequels destined for success

Four films look primed to succeed. Two are from Disney (which, despite its reputation as a seamless franchise hitmaker, stumbled recently with “Solo” and “Dumbo”), then one each from Sony and Universal.

First up is “Toy Story 4” June 20. Tickets went on sale in late May, and set the all-time first-day record for an animated film. (The numbers are not released, only the claim of high volume). Opening-weekend estimates range from $150 million to nearly $200 million.

The last “Toy Story” was in 2010. Among the three previous, two were the top gross of their year, with the middle effort #3 in 1999. “Toy Story 3” was tops for the series (adjusted, $126 million start for a $480 million total; also a mid-June release).

None of its predecessors rank in the top three (adjusted) of Pixar hits. “Incredibles 2” fell just short of $600 million last year, and the “Finding Nemo/Dory” combo both also passed a half billion. Figure “Toy Story 4” to easily match that, and possibly challenge “Incredibles 2” for best. If it falls short, then we’ll know franchise fatigue is setting in.

Two weeks later comes “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” which is closely linked with “Endgame;” it shares a key character, and the story picks up where it ended. Synergy works, as well as timing; this has prime summer playtime and has “Captain America” and “Endgame” to serve as the wind at its back.

With “The Lion King,” Disney has its third live-action reimagining of a cartoon classic in a little over more than three months (after “Dumbo” and “Aladdin”). The 1994 original is easily the biggest animated hit in the modern era ($805 million, only slightly less than “Endgame”). Unlike other Disney live remakes, this one limits human involvement to voices. If that proves to be an issue, it’s likely a minor one.

The end-of-July giant should be “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” the ninth installment of the franchise. The series has seen a domestic decline, with “Fate of the Furious” in 2017 down a third from its predecessor, but it grossed over $1 billion in foreign — almost 82% of the total take. The titular characters are Dwayne Johnson and Jason Stratham, with Vin Diesel sitting this one out and Idris Elba added as a genetically designed villain.

Each of these four films could make over $1 billion worldwide. Pixar films do better domestic than abroad, “Fast and Furious” the opposite. “Spider-Man” might have the biggest hill to climb, but also has with the “Endgame” tie-ins. None have obvious weaknesses.

men in black international
“Men in Black: International”

Reviews say “Men in Black: International” is meh

After a decade’s break, in 2012 the MIB franchise came back strong for a third installment. Though at an adjusted $200 million domestic it was the lowest performer, it made more than 70% of its total overseas. That salvaged an expensive film. Six years later, “Men In Black: International” looks like a committee-made hybrid: Take two actors with Marvel experience (Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson), the latter offering a rising star with female/black outreach; add a proven director from other smashes (F. Gary Gray, “Straight Outta Compton,” “Fate of the Furious”), and throw in international settings (London, Morocco).

At one point, Sony considered melding MIB with the “Jump Street” franchise, with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as leads. That suggests Sony knew this was no sure-fire followup, and suggests it needs reviews to tell audiences that this franchise still knows why it exists. Currently at 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, that’s not the case.

The reported budget is around $110 million, which is reasonable for a film with heavy FX and multiple locations, but the level of audience interest doesn’t seem to support it. Initially viewed as a $40 million-$50 million opener, estimates have dropped to around $35 million. But “Dark Phoenix” showed that low-end guesses sometimes go lower, so don’t be surprised at $30 million or less.

Shaft (2019), Samuel L. Jackson
“Shaft” (2019)Warner Bros.

Seven more sequels with budget, genre, and international on their side

“Shaft” is in its fifth go-round and a .third generation of the character since its 1971 start. What was originally revolutionary in casting a black lead in a police crime story (it was the same year as “Dirty Harry”) lacks that draw, and nostalgia isn’t strong enough to make this a must see. The new film (as of writing, still unscreened) is more of a comedy than its predecessors (Tim Story of the “Ride Along” films directs). But the New Line production is reported to be only $30 million, with half was paid by Netflix for rights to show this outside of North America starting on June 28, two weeks after its domestic release.

“Anna” (Lionsgate) is not officially a sequel or a franchise, but it’s familiar. Like “Nikita,” “Leon the Professional,” and “Lucy,”  it’s another Luc Besson film about it a young female trained as a killer. Those all saw some domestic interest, but thrived more in their native France and elsewhere foreign.

It opens against “Toy Story 4,” as does “Child’s Play.” This reboot of of the Chucky series (five films between 1988-2004) is lower budget and R-rated, aimed at folks with little interest in Woody and Buzz Lightyear. Another horror movie, “Annabelle Comes Home” launches June 26, the sixth film in the “Conjuring” franchise. All have topped $100 million domestic, including “The Nun” last September. This one is the directing debut of series screenwriter Gary Dauberman; with its lower budget (at most, low $20 million level), there’s no risk beyond falling short of its predecessors.

“The Boy 2,” the third horror sequel of the summer, goes July 26. The original grossed $36 million in 2016. No reason to expect this to go beyond that.

“47 Meters Down” was a sleeper success in summer 2017 at ($44 million). “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” —  same director, same British production company — sounds like a stretch to see the same results.

The summer’s final sequel will be “The Angry Birds Movie 2,” three years after the first effort topped $100 million domestic and $352 million worldwide. It comes August 23, after many schools are back in session, but also long enough after earlier family juggernauts kids might be hungry for something new.

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