While normal Americans spend each waking moment trying to figure out ways to tighten their belt strings in this economy from hell, Hollywood is throwing money around with a devil-may-care attitude that seems left over from 2006. In an alarming recent trend, studios are moving ahead with plans for sequels… before the original films even get released. Within the last month, Paramount has announced follow-ups to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, despite the fact that neither film comes out until the summertime. And, just yesterday, Warner Brothers signed a multi-million dollar deal with director Todd Phillips and screenwriter Scot Armstrong to pen a sequel to Mr. Phillips’ yet-to-be-released comedy, The Hangover, which hits theaters in June. While we applaud studios for having faith in their products, doesn’t this all seem a little too presumptuous?
Granted, both Star Trek and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will be runaway smashes come their releases—it doesn’t take a genius to expect box office results that warrant sequels—but there is still risk involved. Throwing a bunch of money at a third Transformers movie might seem like a smart move right this second, but, by August, Paramount could be singing a different tune. If fans don’t like the second film, they won’t come back as strongly for a third go-around (see the $113 million drop off between the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films). These movies cost too much money to result in a diminishing return. By trying to stay ahead of the curve on Transformers, Paramount could end up falling behind.
Meanwhile, Star Trek’s vocal fan base is already excited about what they’ve seen—the early geek reviews have been ecstatic. But the decades have not been kind to the franchise in the eyes of the general public, and as the failure of Watchmen taught Hollywood, they can’t just market to the geeks and expect to turn a profit. Star Trek will make money, but whether it makes money remains to be seen.
The go-ahead for The Hangover sequel has us scratching our heads even more. Mr. Phillips’ film should be one of the sleeper hits of the summer—a kind of Wedding Crashers-lite that could make Warner Brothers upwards of $100 million. (That it looks absolutely hilarious certainly doesn’t hurt.) But what happens if The Hangover doesn’t hit? It’s not like Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms are superstars; there is some inherent risk here that the film won’t attack the zeitgeist like everyone expects. Does Warner Brothers have so much left over in the coffers from The Dark Knight that they could just throw a bunch of cash at Messrs. Phillips and Armstrong on the off chance they might produce a sequel?
Call us old fashioned, but we preferred things the way they used to be: movies became hits and then lazy sequels were announced. Is Hollywood so excited to stamp down originality that they can’t wait an extra few months to do it?