TWO NUM­BERS: SUM­MER MOVIE AU­DIT

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Been to the movies this sum­mer? Then you prob­a­bly no­ticed that se­quels, pre­quels and re­makes dom­i­nate the box of­fice, while orig­i­nal films are scarce.

De­fine an orig­i­nal movie as any film not di­rectly based on another movie or a TV se­ries (it doesn’t have to be an “orig­i­nal screen­play”—book and comic book adap­ta­tions are OK, if not pre­vi­ously adapted for the screen), and the

num­bers are strik­ing. Take the top 10 high­est-gross­ing movies of the past sum­mer. Only four of them are orig­i­nal by this def­i­ni­tion, and only one of those cracks the top five.

The top 10 sum­mer movies pulled in $2.8 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from Ren­trak, but the four “orig­i­nal” movies of the bunch gen­er­ated only $828 mil­lion of that, much of it from the Pixar in­sta-clas­sic In­side Out. And that’s be­ing gen­er­ous, count­ing Ant-man, part of the Marvel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse fran­chise but not a se­quel, as orig­i­nal. The two top-earn­ing movies—juras­sic World ($647 mil­lion) and Avengers: Age of Ultron ($458 mil­lion)—are both se­quels.

“There's a real herd men­tal­ity [in Hol­ly­wood],” says Stephen Fol­lows, a pro­ducer and film data re­searcher. “When one thing works, they dou­ble down.” The flood of su­per­hero movies, for in­stance, can be traced to the sur­prise suc­cess of Iron Man in 2008. Want to un­der­stand the ap­petite for end­less fan­tasy and sci-fi se­ries like The Hunger Games? Look at how Harry Pot­ter and Lord of the Rings rocked the box of­fice again and again in the 2000s.

It’s a symp­tom of Hol­ly­wood’s quest for com­mer­cial pre­dictabil­ity. “The Hol­ly­wood ex­ecs are look­ing for ex­ist­ing con­tent that has proved it­self some­where,” Fol­lows says. “If you adapted it from some­thing else, there is al­ready a fan base out there.”

This plan doesn’t al­ways work. “The rel­a­tive fail­ure of some re­treads this sum­mer shows that there is no such thing as a sure­fire hit,” says film critic and his­to­rian Leonard Maltin. “Magic Mike XXL wasn’t the smash its stu­dio was ex­pect­ing, and even fanboys sensed that Fan­tas­tic Four wasn’t go­ing to live up to their ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Mean­while, there are fewer and fewer gen­uinely new char­ac­ters to fall in love with out­side of art houses and Pixar. (Pixar’s In­side Out, like Up and Cars be­fore it, is that

rare breed of purely orig­i­nal films that wins big at the box of­fice.)

At least the fran­chise fever has pro­duced some de­cent movies. As Fol­lows points out, The Dark Knight was a se­quel to a re­boot to an adap­ta­tion of a comic book. Go fig­ure.

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