Hollywood still hopes to shake off early symptoms, but there is spreading concern that the summer box office will be plagued by a nasty case of sequelitis.
Conditions are ripe: Studios have planted 11 sequels or franchise reboots in the fertile May-August span, up from nine last summer and seven from the 2008 season. Those that have opened so far have underwhelmed, with seasonal box office off by a double-digit margin and studio executives beginning to feel woozy.
Most recently, Warner Bros.' "Sex and the City 2" was expected to outpace its 2008 predecessor and top the Memorial Day weekend. Instead, it lagged the original's bow dramatically and debuted with a tarnished bronze medal, trailing even Disney's disappointing "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time." (A would-be franchise starter, "Persia" will need outsize international contributions to reach profitability.)
DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek Forever After" finished first in the frame. But that offered limited relief, as the Paramount-distributed four-quel missed consensus forecasts for its opening by a nauseating $30 million. Reaction to the latest disappointments came swiftly.
"There very well could be some burnout with moviegoers, who are looking for something new and fresh," a top studio executive lamented Tuesday.
‘Iron Man 2’ gleams
Not everything has been doom and gloom. Summer's first "tentpole" release (a film counted on, as a guaranteed box-office success, to support the rest of a studio's slate), Paramount's "Iron Man 2," soon should top $300 million after initially disappointing those hoping the Robert Downey Jr.-starring action feature would kick-start the all-important season with a record bow.
But the desultory outings of "Shrek Forever" and "Sex 2" have many seeing signs of franchise fatigue. "Watching the decline of 'Sex and the City 2' every day has really surprised us," another top industyite said.
The New Line-produced comedy-drama fetched $14.2 million in its first day of release Thursday but at least $2 million less each day since.
Still, it's possible to explain each picture's disappointment individually. Expectations of a summer-launching record opening by the "Iron Man" sequel probably were unrealistic, and the second-week traction by "Shrek Forever" suggests a run as leggy as that of most family movies. As for "Sex 2," the TV series leading to the big-screen franchise ended a distant six years ago.
Film-specific explanations for box-office wobbles have some predicting smoother sailing through the balance of the sequel-filled summer. But it's too soon to tell if Hollywood can quell its box-office maladies before contagion spreads. The next sequel set to hit multiplexes is Disney/Pixar's "Toy Story 3," which nobody expects to have any difficulty generating impressive box office when it opens June 18. "The interest is immense," Disney distribution topper Chuck Viane said.
The vampires are comingRemakes such as Sony's "The Karate Kid," opening June 11, also will be watched carefully. But prerelease interest in the reimagined "Kid" appears high, and its comparisons with decades-old box-office figures won't be difficult.
So it's possible the best test of moviegoers' attitudes won't come until June 30, when Summit Entertainment sends out the "Twilight" threequel, "Eclipse." All signs point to enormous interest among the fanged franchise's young fan base. But could the vampire romance open well but still be deemed a failure?
Not bloody likely, said a distribution topper at a rival studio citing tracking data.
"Expectations can get out of hand, but I would put the 'Twlight' picture down for a $125 million opening right now," the industryite said. "That's huge."
Just not as huge as the opening posted by the franchise's first sequel: "New Moon" bowed with $142.8 million in November.
Rentrak data show summer box office is off 21 percent so far at $813 million. The season starts on the first Friday of May and got a one-weekend head start May 1 last year. Adding one weekend from the end of spring cuts this year's underperformance to 12 percent. But ticket-price inflation since last summer means admissions are off more significantly.