In this Variety article discussing the oft-repeated phrase “franchise fatigue,” author Owen Gleiberman calls the phrase itself into question. He says that those who use the phrase to decry the lack of originality and quality in films are using the wrong metrics. He claims that using low box office numbers for new entries in franchises opens up a back and forth conversation in which the number of spectacular failures does not overwhelm the number of incredibly financially successful sequels and reboots. The article makes a very poignant point in discussing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, much derided films critically and by audiences, still made large splashes at the box office, all but completely destroying the concept of box office returns as the telltale sign of moviegoers becoming fatigued with franchises. The very existence of the going on 30 film extravaganza pouring out from Marvel all but proves this, given that while some have fallen short of projections, none has lost money.
This article by Matthew Ball stands in direct support of that by Gleiberman; going so far as to call the concepts of sequelitis and franchise fatigue as causal of lower box office returns absurd. He dives deeper and explores what is causing overall movie ticket sales to fall, especially in a time when it seems that sequels, franchises, blockbusters and films based on pre-existing intellectual properties such as books, which Ball shortens to “SFBIP,” are failing on a consistent basis, which they actually are not. Ball then shifts to what is causing lower ticket sales to movies as a whole since we know that it is not franchise fatigue. The first reason is that moviegoers are increasingly less likely to watch movies in the theater, and as better technologies become increasingly available in the home, more and more people choose to stay home and wait for movies to see digital or at-home releases. This is compounded for films that rely on more traditional, basic storytelling methods as opposed to being effects-driven spectacles, because there is less reason to see them in a theater. Most households have a screen large enough and a sound system robust enough to gain the full effect of an intellectual drama or comedy in their home, but to get the full visual and audio experience of the latest Marvel movie, most people have to go to a theater. The next explanation that Ball uses is that box office numbers are not nearly as polarizing as we think they are, it is simply an effect of fewer movies being made, and budgets especially for SFBIP films are increasing faster than box office returns and inflation can keep up with. This means that it is actually easier for a movie to land in the top 20 grossing movies in a year, but many of these films are budgeted and advertised so highly that unless they land in the top 5 or 10, they are not likely to break even or make a profit. Finally, Ball discusses the falsehood of franchise fatigue. Year after year, large franchises represent higher shares of ticket sales across the industry. This means that as the market is now, despite the lowered odds of success, SFBIP films are still a studio’s best chance at achieving the returns necessary to offset the increased costs of creating and advertising Hollywood films.
While this “article” (it’s an online high school newspaper) has a lack of journalistic standards and not nearly as much research behind it, it gets a little more at what I want to talk about, the way that the increased focus on SFBIP films is worsening the artistic quality and originality of the films in theaters. This article drew my eye also because the author is more representative of the audiences of the previous articles, the general moviegoing audience. Matthew Wikfors uses more anecdotal references to moviegoing experiences and films that are used as examples of poor and excellent quality in Hollywood films. This is sort of where I want to go with my project, just a little more focused and with research on budgets and prevalence of these films and how they are squeezing the life out of unique moviegoing experiences that can now often only be found in small arthouse theaters, a resource much less prevalent and in some places completely unavailable to the public.