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Returning directors can help at box office

Fans would have trouble imagining a “Spider-Man” movie without Tobey Maguire or a “Pirates of the Caribbean” flick without Johnny Depp.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fans would have trouble imagining a “Spider-Man” movie without Tobey Maguire or a “Pirates of the Caribbean” flick without Johnny Depp.

At least as important, however, are the men behind the camera. Unlike Hollywood in earlier days, when any old director might take on a sequel, the same filmmaker continues to oversee the latest installments of most big franchises out this summer.

It costs more going in, but the box-office results can be far greater when a studio can bring back directors such as Sam Raimi for all three “Spider-Man” films or Gore Verbinski for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy.

Maguire says he’s not sure he would have done the “Spider-Man” sequels without Raimi: “I don’t know how that would have gone down. I was contracted to do three of these movies, but to me, Sam really is the heart of these movies.”

“Spider-Man 3,” from Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures, opened in early May with a record $151.1 million weekend domestically and already has grossed more than $800 million worldwide. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” from Walt Disney Co., set a four-day record over Memorial Day weekend with $139.8 million and cruised past $400 million worldwide in just days.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer said there never was any doubt that Verbinski was critical to the “Pirates” franchise’s growing success.

“He’s an enormously talented director, and he created this. It comes out of his imagination,” Bruckheimer said. “You want somebody who has the creative vision for this particular project, and you don’t want to stop that creative vision after one movie. I’m sure we could have come in and hired a director at 10 percent of his cost, but it wouldn’t be the same franchise then.”

Bruckheimer’s “National Treasure” sequel due this fall brings back director Jon Turteltaub, while this summer is loaded with franchises overseen by returning directors, among them Steven Soderbergh on “Ocean’s Thirteen,” Tim Story on “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” Brett Ratner on “Rush Hour 3” and Tom Shadyac on “Evan Almighty,” the follow-up to “Bruce Almighty.”

Paul Greengrass, who directed the action sequel “The Bourne Supremacy,” also is back for “The Bourne Ultimatum.”

The animated blockbuster “Shrek the Third” had a new director, Chris Miller, who worked on the previous two installments and was head of story on the second. But Andrew Adamson, director of the first two “Shrek” movies, remained an executive producer, while DreamWorks Animation headmaster Jeffrey Katzenberg continues to guide the franchise. (DreamWorks is part of Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures.)

“The other constant through all this is Mr. Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is the hardest working man in show business, who has been tireless in maintaining the quality of this movie,” said Mike Myers, who provides the voice of ogre Shrek. “So he’s been there, Andrew’s been there. It’s virtually the same team that have kept the same spirit.”

Things were different in '80s and '90sOther than George Lucas overseeing “Star Wars” (though others directed the second and third films of the original trilogy) and Steven Spielberg on the “Indiana Jones” movies and first two “Jurassic Park” flicks, franchises in the 1980s and 1990s generally were carried on by different directors to diminishing box-office returns.

Most of the time, though, franchises suffered and declined as studios brought in new directors to scrape a bit more money out of a tired idea and stale characters.

Occasionally, new directors on sequels redefined a franchise with a fresh approach and a bold attitude, such as James Cameron did on 1986’s “Aliens,” the follow-up to Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi hit “Alien.”

Cameron expanded on his 1984 tale “The Terminator” with 1991’s smash “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” but the franchise deteriorated without him on 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” directed by Jonathan Mostow.

Likewise, the “Alien” brand descended through two more sequels made by other directors then tumbled to cheesiness with the hybrid knockoff “Alien Vs. Predator,” which has spawned its own upcoming sequel.

The idea of sequels going one better than their predecessors — at least commercially, if not always artistically — became more common in recent years, with such directors as Jay Roach (the “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents” comedies) and Bryan Singer (the first two “X-Men” movies) returning for more.

Directors’ salaries rise after they deliver a big hit, so it costs more to bring the same talent back. But in many cases, if studios commit bigger resources upfront, they can earn far more money on subsequent films.

Last summer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” topped $1 billion worldwide, $400 million more than its predecessor.

“It depends on the film, but I would say when they have something that is boffo, it’s a Vegas lesson. You double down. That’s the fiscally responsible thing to do,” said “Pirates” director Verbinski. “You need to put more on the table so you have more return.”

Peter Jackson set a modern gold standard with his “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, culminating with the third film outdistancing the first two at the box office and winning best picture at the Academy Awards.

“Hollywood studios have recognized if one of these franchises works well, that there’s a certain value in keeping the director and writer and stars aboard,” Raimi said. “Because it’s those personalities, somehow the fusion of all those ideas, that contributed to the thing that people like.

“It’s not just about the name of a character. It’s the heart and soul of the thing, the feel of it, that may or may not be able to be duplicated with another set of directors, writers, producers and actors.”