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The 70s was the dawn of the modern day blockbuster: “The Exorcist,” “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” etc. all shattered the notions of how much movies could really earn in the modern day. In the wake of the blockbuster, the 80s saw the rise of sequels, which makes economic sense. Sequels traditionally gross no worse than 60% of the previous film and 60% of a hit is a far better investment than 100 percent of an unknown quantity (even if the movie has bankable stars in it.) Consequently, studios became very sequel-friendly and in the 80s and 90s and it seemed like just about everything had a “Part II.”
A combination of factors, including the sharp increase in ticket prices, the rise of cable channels, and televisions getting bigger and better suddenly made sequels even more appealing to produce. 1997s “Austin Powers International Man of Mystery” wasn’t an easy sell to the moviegoing public. Yes it starred Mike Myers who had already been in the “Wayne’s World” movies, but it was a spoof on Eurospy films from the 60s, which many people, especially kids, weren’t exactly experts on. Although the movie only grossed $53 million, word-of-mouth was strong and it picked up a ton of fans at the video store and cable. People were dying for the sequel by the time it came out, which went on to make over $200 million domestic.
Franchises were already attractive and this trend simply grew and grew. However, it’s more difficult to create one out of thin air than it is to try and cash in on something that is already bankable. But because there are a very finite number of already-existing popular franchises, the idea of rebooting comes into play.
When a movie franchise peters out, extending continuity with even more sequels doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (or cents.) The respective grosses of “Star Trek: Nemesis”, “Batman and Robin” and “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” certainly didn’t warrant picking up where they left off, even though they were entries in hugely valuable properties. Batman, Superman and Star Trek are all franchises still relevant to young and old people alike. The way to go is to simply start over.
But this only makes sense if a franchise is getting tired and the last entry is earning a gross where at least 60% of it isn’t worth chasing…right? I mean, if the last entry in a movie franchise is a hit, a studio should keep going with it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The biggest downside for a studio in regards to sequels is that the representation of the talent has a ton of negotiating leverage. A studio can’t attempt the ploy of claiming to make a little artistically-minded film with a sequel. Studios are asking agents to have their client return for the thing that just made them a ton of money the last time around. Agents and managers ask for big increases in pay and the studios mostly have to give in -even though they’d really rather not. Hollywood loves movie stars, they just hate paying them.
And now rebooting gives them a way not to. Each one of the four Pierce Brosnan James Bond movies made more money than the last one. Yet, MGM decided to reboot. “Spiderman 3” grossed the least of the three Tobey Maguire-starring movies, but that was still $333 million dollars domestic. There were problems in the development of “Spiderman 4,” but it certainly could have happened if Sony wanted it to. There’s too much money to be made – just not as much for them to keep vs. a reboot.
When a studio reboots a franchise, they are also rebooting the contracts of the talent.
Hollywood has adopted the attitude that the franchise is the star, not the actors. And when making deals with non-established talent, studios can have their way with them.
Andrew Grover’s pay for the Spiderman reboot is an astonishingly low 500K, which may be less than what Peter Parker won in the wrestling match against Crusher Hogan. Tobey Maguire was set to receive over $20 million for “Spiderman 4.” When studios are looking at shelling out tons of money to an actor playing an incredibly well-known character, they have to ask themselves if they really need to. The answer is increasingly becoming “no.”
The Andrew Garfield salary is the sort of deal that the studios will make whenever they can: take a risk on the talent when you’ve got a franchise that’s a star. Artistically, rebooting can be the wrong way to go sometimes. This is especially true in the case of known superhero properties since one of the things that comic books do best is expand continuity. However, it’s tough to shed too many tears over cinematic reboots of comic book properties since A: comic book companies are arguably just as reboot-trigger-happy as movie studios and B: There’s a reason they don’t call is show-art.