Summer 2016: Why are sequels flopping?
Like any other summer, 2016 has seen its movie theaters packed to the brim with major sequel releases. At least one sequel has been released every weekend since early May. However, unlike any other summer, the vast majority are underperforming both critically and financially. (I’m looking at you, Alice. Through a looking glass.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Neighbors, and Now You See Me are just a few movies that faced modest-to-underperforming results, a somewhat unprecedented trend from usual box office tendencies.
The most surprising disappointment, perhaps, is Independence Day: Resurgence. The popcorn flick opened modestly on June 24, pulling $41 million its opening weekend, roughly $10 million short of what the original Independence Day earned in 1996. When adjusted for 20 year’s worth of inflation, that’s not an impressive figure, especially considering the movie fills two major box office ingredients: being a sequel to a well-renowned original, and being an early-summer CGI destruction fest.
Word of mouth certainly didn’t help the movie, as it received mixed to negative reviews at best. This isn’t that surprising, considering the story’s original pitch was probably worded something along the lines of, “You know how we had that one successful alien invasion movie two decades ago? Let’s do that movie again, but this time the spaceship is longer and wider.”
Besides any artistic merit, the movie is also missing Will Smith in the lead role after he decided not to return. Instead, he’s replaced by Liam Hemsworth, who is the equivalent of a cardboard box filled with mud in terms of charisma. Luckily for Hemsworth, and the audience, there’s a huge ensemble cast to back him up, consisting of returning faces like Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, and a slew of younger actors to keep things fresh.
The movie throws everything at the wall and keeps it there, whether it sticks or not. The action sequences are fun, but leave little impact – there’s never much doubt the heroes will come out on top, even when the odds are stacked against them. The over-the-top quality is endearingly fun, though, and some genuinely beautiful CGI and cinematography make the movie pleasant to look at, if not ogle over. Still, the movie never reaches to be anything more than okay, when it could have set off some serious fireworks if it wanted to.
In a time where movie-going options are as plentiful and varied as ever, it makes sense that audiences would start getting selective and selecting their films based on quality, rather than solely on what’s being offered. Most of this summer’s sequels have received critical reception that could have driven audiences toward more quality choices. Alice in Wonderland has a 30% approval score on Rotten Tomatoes, Ninja Turtles has 38%, and X-Men: Apocalypse, which didn’t flop but underperformed, has 48%, all ‘rotten’ by the site’s standard.
The glowing exception to basically ever rule this summer is Finding Dory, Pixar’s follow-up to its undersea adventure 13 years in the pipeline. The movie sits pretty with 95% approval, has recently become the fastest animated movie to cross $300 million domestically, and is poised to take its third week at the top of the box office totem pole. After Pixar’s spotty record with sequels like Monsters University and Cars 2, the picture is a life raft both in terms of Pixar follow-ups, and critical and box office success.
A year after crossing the ocean to save young Nemo, the beloved fish duo Dory and Marlin again embark on a sprawling journey across all corners of the ocean, this time to find Dory’s parents. Ellen DeGeneres returns to voice the blue fish with short-term memory loss, who this time gets to lead the show. Just like Independence Day, the cast is filled with returning faces and newcomers; Albert Brooks returns as clownfish Marlin, while Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell and Kaitlin Olson make wonderful new deep blue additions.
Dory is one of Pixar’s most well-rounded characters; no matter how much eccentric the script gets to stack the odds against her, she never loses her sense of optimism. The movie is set at a breakneck pace that may alienate anyone who doesn’t have a kid’s attention span, yet still introduces a memorable cast of characters and laugh-a-minute gags. The ocean is again beautifully animated, each bubble and sea weed leaf packed with life that made the first movie so memorable.
There are a lot of options in theaters this summer – each weekend has at least two or three major releases vying for audiences. Audiences are becoming more decisive with their movie-going decisions, flocking to options they know will guarantee a good time. Domestically, the top 5 movies of the year (Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Deadpool, The Jungle Book, and Zootopia, in that order) are all at least 84% approved, and grossed over $300 million domestically, which could be massive successes in any year. In a sea of options, selectivity based on quality may be becoming more prominent. As for rotten movies? They have to just keep swimming.