What’s really happening? How did Hollywood become overrun with sequels, and why does it suddenly seems as if nobody wants to see them? The short answer is that the movie industry has over-learned the lesson that sequels perform well at the box office and has tried to sequelize every marginally successful movie. The deeper answer is that, on top of long-term structural declines in movie attendance, Hollywood is losing its grip on young people.
The construction of the “Sequel Machine,” as my colleague David Sims called it, has been a deliberate Hollywood strategy to control the risk inherent in making an expensive product for tens of millions of people whom studios don’t know and will never meet. Film used to be the dominant visual medium in the U.S. In the first half of the twentieth century, going to the movies was like going to church: Americans did it almost every week. Today, buying a movie ticket is more like going to the doctor—something many Americans never do and most Americans do only four or five times a year for routine cultural check-ups. (Domestic box office is growing mostly because average ticket prices are rising.)
In this environment, where Americans buy only four movie tickets a year, it’s more expensive to create an audience for a film. In 1980, Hollywood spent less than 20 cents on advertising for every $1 it earned at the box office. Now it spends 60 cents to get that buck. In a market where it costs $60 million just to earn $100 million, movie makers are spending an enormous amount of money on fewer blockbusters and advertising the bejesus out of them. (This strategy will also inevitably yield historic flops, since the cost of getting the American moviegoers’ attention is just so high.)
At the same time that movies’ domestic audience flatlined, its worldwide audience bloomed. In the last five years, the Eastern Asian and Latin American markets have grown by $6 billion, while the U.S. and Canadian markets have grown by less than $1 billion. The necessity to create a single product for a global crowd encourages studios to produce the artistic equivalent of Rosetta Stones, interpretable for many tongues. There is no language in the world more universal than heroes destroying bad guys with explosions.
When the market for sequels was sparser, a film could draw attention to itself by the mere fact that it was a sequel. But now every major studio has come to understand that the centerpiece of the movie business is to produce several iterations of fantasy and hero franchises. But the commercial appeal of sequels is so obvious to so many people that movie studios are pumping out sibling after sibling for films that, 10 years ago, would have remained only children. A Neighbors sequel? A Ride Along sequel? Snow White II: The One Where We Sorta Kinda Fired Snow White?
More Info: theatlantic.com