For the second year in a row, movie audiences have sent a message to studios: Stop with the sequels already. Big franchises were reliable box office generators for years, but suddenly viewers were over them. Summer ticket sales in 2017 didn’t top $4 billion for the first time since 2006.
“Transformers: The Last Knight,” “Alien: Covenant,” “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and “Cars 3″ failed to bring in as much as their previous installments. The question remains of whether that means changes are coming.
“Hollywood isn’t going to stop making sequels — that’s the only thing on the release calendar,” said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “It’s just a matter of Hollywood retooling these sequels.”
He said studios have a lot to learn from the three exceptions to the rule this summer. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Annabelle: Creation” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” — which was really more of a reboot — all bested their forerunners.
But no sequel this year has outperformed a predecessor the way “Blade Runner 2049″ is about to.
In 1982, Ridley Scott’s futuristic neo-noir thriller took home nearly $33 million worldwide — not a lot considering the budget was reportedly $28 million. According to Box Office Mojo, that would be about $83 million in today’s dollars.
This weekend, Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049″ is set to bring in at least $45 million in the United States, according to Deadline, and about as much overseas, meaning that in one weekend, it could outdo the original.
According to Comscore’s senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian, early tracking indicates stellar audience response and the potential for long-term success, which he said was, “remarkable for 35-year-old IP and a dark, brooding R-rated 160 minute-plus sci-fi sequel.”
Granted, outperforming the original “Blade Runner” isn’t all that difficult. The movie opened second place behind “E.T.,” which had already been in theaters for a couple weeks. But over time, the love for “Blade Runner” grew, which is just one reason that “2049” will be a successful sequel. Here are some of the other reasons, which could offer lessons to Hollywood.
“Blade Runner” wasn’t just a great movie. It was a Great Movie.
Few critics predicted how enduring or influential “Blade Runner” would become. It frequently shows up on lists ranking the best science fiction films of all time, and it was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1993. Both the dark style and the substance of the movie — about the dynamics between humans and androids — have inspired so many films, including “The Matrix,” “Batman Begins,” “The Fifth Element” and “Strange Days.”
That’s one thing that sets “Blade Runner” apart from, say, “Zoolander,” “Neighbors” and other movies with sequels that bombed. The originals may have had memorable lines or solid action, but they didn’t leave a lasting impact to keep audiences wanting more.
The screenwriter had quite a bit of time.
According to Bock, the four sequel successes of 2017 have something in common.
“All of those films really relied on the script and made sure it was where it needed to be,” he said. “They didn’t get a green light until it was ready to go.”
Hollywood likes to capitalize on a sure thing quickly, but time can work to a movie’s advantage. Hampton Fancher, who wrote the original, had 35 years to come up with another great story, and he did, this time co-writing the screenplay with Michael Green. The pair avoided simply rehashing the original; they came up with a totally new tale with fresh characters who deepened our understanding of the dystopian world.
The audience is pretty broad.
Because “Blade Runner” was a cult classic that gained mainstream appreciation, the appeal is surprisingly broad. “2049” will inspire not just sci-fi enthusiasts to buy tickets, but also cineastes, action fans and those nostalgic for the original. Plus Ryan Gosling fans — which is everybody, obviously.
It’s actually good.
Reviews haven’t made sequels bulletproof in the past, otherwise “War for the Planet of the Apes” would have done better. But the reception for “2049” can only be described as euphoric, with just about every critic using “dazzling” to describe it. In his four-star review, The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan wrote the movie “doesn’t just honor that legacy, but, arguably, surpasses it, with a smart, grimly lyrical script; bleakly beautiful cinematography (by Roger Deakins); and an even deeper dive into questions of the soul.”
It included familiar faces…
Even though moviegoers don’t want to retread the same territory, they welcome the reappearance of old favorites. There was only excitement when Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill cropped up in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Not only do old characters ignite our nostalgia, but the fact that the actors would sign up for another go lends credence to the movie.
In this case, Harrison Ford reprises his role as Deckard, and he isn’t the only original character to return. But you’ll have to see the movie for yourself if you want more information than that.
…and some fresh talent
Another example from “The Force Awakens”: It’s a good idea to balance the old standbys with newcomers, who drive the story forward. In “2049” it’s Gosling, playing a blade runner, plus the reliable Robin Wright as his boss, up-and-comer Ana de Armas as his love interest and dependably villainous Jared Leto as — you guessed it — the villain.
There’s also new eyes behind the camera, with Denis Villeneuve directing. Unlike directors who get signed on to do sequels that are lazy rehashes or tightly managed by the studio, Villeneuve had vision and freedom. He also had both a lot of respect for the source material and enough gall to stray from it to make the movie his own.
…plus a bit of mystery.
As pop culture consumers, we’ve become addicted to puzzles and big twists we can tease out and overanalyze around on message boards and in real life. In that case, “Blade Runner 2049″ is the ideal movie for the moment — especially when we’re on hiatus from “Game of Thrones” and “Westworld” — because it leaves enough ambiguity to start discussions about what’s real, what’s not and what it all means for the inevitable sequel.