Are bad films worse when they are part of a successful franchise, or as a standalone?
The thought was sparked when I somehow caught the opening twenty minutes to the new Pirates of the Caribbean film. I knew full well It was going to be poor, but I had no idea the depths they would stoop to. I sat through the (spoiler alert) bank chase scene, in which they literally rode a moving bank through some streets. What I saw was a hot mess, and I couldn’t bring myself to continue.
Compare this to other critically slammed movies, like After Earth or Jupiter Ascending. These were made with the best of intentions, but they too were fairly atrocious. At least the latter two attempted to write a film with a coherent story, rather than just squeezing out the remains of an already tiring cast and story. Pirates of the Caribbean slowly burned during the second and third movies. The reboot in 2011 fanned those flames, and the latest, Salazar’s Revenge, poured petrol onto the franchise. They hoped to reignite the spark, but instead created an explosion of horrible acting, writing and directing. (Tell us how you really feel).
The point I’m making is, although After Earth and Jupiter Ascending were poor, at least they tried. At least they were trying to create something vaguely original, and fresh. Of course, they failed miserably, but the effort was clear to see. In total, AE and JA grossed $426,000,000 combined. Bearing in mind After Earth had an outstanding marketing campaign, that saw huge opening weekend takings. The quality of the film led to one of the sharpest declines in opening weekend – following weekend movie takings. The point is, while these films were bad, they tried, and they made $400,000,000. Salazars Revenge, which didn’t even try, and looked like it had been cobbled together by someone drunkenly trying to remember the characters and tone of the previous films, raked in $794,000,000.
Almost twice as much than the other two combined! Despite essentially being a parody of the movies it was attempting to follow, Salazar’s Revenge made almost twice as much as the other two. I’m not saying that the other two deserved more money, or that money is even a reliable measurement of a movie’s quality, but that may demonstrate how the cushion of a big franchise is what causes so many reboots and sequels. Forget storyline, forget acting, just stick the brand name up there and make sure the trailer uses the theme music and boom. Receive 200% interest on your initial budget. Easy.
Maybe I’m focusing too much on the train wreck that is Pirates of the Caribbean. What must be remembered is that it is a movie franchise aimed at a demographic that enjoy parting with their money and going to the cinema, young people. It also explains why the latest Transformers movie, an explosive orgy of colour and fire, with little in the way of cohesive story and a 5.2 rating on IMDb, pulled in over $600,000,000 at the box office.
But it’s not just a demographic thing. Even when a more mature movie franchise bombs, it still isn’t considered as bad as a standalone failure. Spectre was the opportunity for the James Bond franchise to put aside the wishy-washy subplot of Bond’s family and private life, but instead was a dull, lifeless film beyond the opening credits. Yet, that made $880,000,000. I agree, it was nowhere near as bad as some of the standalone failures of recent years, but it’s definitely the James Bond name pulling that figure up.
The movie that further compounds this theory that franchised failures get a free pass is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword from Guy Ritchie in 2017. This was a decent attempt at a fresh reboot, telling the classic tale of King Arthur but in classic Guy Ritchie Lock Stock style. But besides a few fun scenes, it was pretty poor. The paying public agreed, and it only made $140,000,000, less than its initial budget.
Ritchie tried to impart his style on the film too soon. He tried to be too adventurous before the franchise was cemented in place, taking a big risk with the cast, tone and writing with the first movie. The risk failed, and it’s unlikely that the franchise will recover. If he had done what Star Wars did, and rebooted the story with Force Awakens (I’m not saying it’s bad, just making a secondary point), a relatively mediocre film that, while not bad, takes few risks to remain appealing to the masses. If a Star Wars movie flops now, people will write it off and just move on to the next one, forgetting all about it. King Arthur, however, cannot just be moved on from.
It would appear that, in answer to my initial question, not really. When it comes to bad films, it’s hard to argue which one is worse, because generally, no one watches them enough to give an accurate judgement. But it does seem that poorly made films in successful franchises either get remembered as better than they really are, or get ignored as fans await the next off the production line. Standalone, independent movies simply cannot compete with crap that big film franchises produce.
And to act as the cherry on the icing, compare two animated movies from the last two years. It shows it doesn’t just happen to bad films. Disney’s Moana is an original, empowering, quirky kids movie with a killer soundtrack and is fully deserving of the plaudits that come it’s way, including a 7.3 rating on IMDb. Compare that then, to Minions. No one quite worked out how Despicable Me needed a sequel, let alone a spin off (and now a third part to the tale), but in 2015 the Minions, barely even related to the initial story, got their movie. 6.4 on IMDb, rushed off the shelf and, I would add, not even part of the Disney collective.
Moana, one of the finest animated movies of the last few years, made $643,000,000. Minions made $1,163,000,000. I’m out.