Wednesday, May 27

Hollywood sequels: part one, again

At the end of 2011, Hollywood received dismal news in terms of box office receipts. According to Entertainment Weekly, box office revenue declined 3.5 percent from the year before, and with higher ticket prices than in 2010, 2011 also marked lower attendance.

But 2011’s movies are disappointing in more than just a financial sense. What’s wrong with movies these days is that they lack creativity. Seven of the year’s top-10 grossing movies, including the No. 1 grosser, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” were sequels or franchise pictures. (In Harry’s defense, his movie was the best-reviewed of the year according to Rotten Tomatoes.)

Determining what went wrong in many aspects of the entertainment industry, from film to pop culture, is one of the many topics this column will explore. This week, I’ll argue that people aren’t going to movies as often because they’ve seen it all before.

On one hand, I would make the case that some of these movies only made so much money because they were part of a franchise, and thus many people flocked to see them. The most obvious example is “The Hangover, Part II.”

The film, with the same director and cast, basically offered a carbon copy of the original film, replacing the setting of the story with a more exotic one and offering cheap variations of the same joke.

Replace a cute baby wearing sunglasses with a monkey in a vest! Look, Stu’s teeth are intact this time, but now there’s tattoo on his face! Look, there’s Mike Tyson! Again! It’s still funny, right? Wrong.

Hollywood is notorious for milking something fresh into something so contrived that it’s no longer successful.

Even within one summer, audiences became fatigued with “raunchy” or “hard R-rated” comedies. The summer started with “Bridesmaids,” which earned over $169 million and benefited from outrageous scenarios as well as breakout performances from Melissa McCarthy and Kristin Wiig, who co-wrote the screenplay. Then, movie studios were suddenly banking on audiences seeing a movie just because it was a comedy and R-rated.

After “Bridesmaids,” 2011 saw movies such as “Bad Teacher” and “Friends with Benefits,” which earned a little less than $56 million ““ the latter might have seemed original if the exact same movie hadn’t come out six months earlier (“No Strings Attached”).

Ultimately, what are audiences looking for? Everyone still loves sequels, but we always enjoy originality. Hollywood has the idea that if something is successful, the audience wants to see that same formula until it gets tired of it. But with the disappointing revenue and reactions to sequels in the Sherlock Holmes and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, the exact opposite is true. Even Pixar witnessed its first box office misfire, and what was it? An uninspired sequel to “Cars.”

“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” is a rare example of a series that continually improves with time, with better action sequences, smarter filmmaking and interesting plots.

Sequels are here to stay in 2012, with “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Scary Movie 5,” “Men in Black III” and “Ghost Rider 2″ (WHY?) all coming out this year. Hopefully, Hollywood has learned from 2011 that moviegoers appreciate and expect more from our sequels.

If you think last year’s movies or sequels got it wrong, email Palumbo at

[email protected] “What Went Wrong” runs every Friday.

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