As most moviegoers know, the film industry is supported largely by massive franchises. The $1 billion intake of projects like Jurassic World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are proof of this, illustrating why executives are so keen on developing longterm series that they can frequently return to. With popularity for these properties as high as they've ever been, typically studios will plan out an entire slate of films years in advance to generate even more excitement. Even though Star Wars 7 has just been released, fans know when the final two installments of the sequel trilogy are coming out, and are already counting down the days.
While it's great to have a master plan to stick to, the best thought-out ones can be completely derailed if just one of the films in a franchise underwhelms critically or commercially. The case of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has been well-documented (leading to Sony making a partnership with Marvel Studios). Also, it's easy to forget Fox had a sequel scheduled for its Fantastic Four reboot, and that clearly is not going to happen anytime soon. With so many major tentpoles competing for ticket sales and the love of audiences, the blockbuster game has become an extreme example of "what have you done for me lately?" where the movies always need to deliver or else they could fade into obscurity.
2016 has no shortage of genre pictures hoping for tremendous box office success, but the series some of them are a part of enter the year on relatively shaky ground. Due to the reception of their previous entries, certain franchises are on the bubble in the eyes of viewers, and just one bad movie could make it burst, sending the studio scrambling for a damage control plan. Here are 4 movie franchises on the bubble in 2016:
The DC Extended Universe
While Zack Snyder's Man of Steel has its fair share of supporters (including this writer), there's no denying that it was one of the most controversial comic book films in recent memory. Several took issue with the darker and more realistic portrayal of Superman, and the destructive Battle of Metropolis finale inspired an impassioned debate that is still going on, more than two years after Man of Steel came out. The film really split critics and moviegoers right down the middle, which seems like shaky ground to build a shared universe on. Say what you will about the MCU, but at least the first Iron Man had near universal acclaim when it was released.
So there was already a number of fans unhappy with the way Man of Steel turned out, and that negative reaction was compounded by just about everything Warner Bros. has done leading up to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - from casting to marketing. Though Ben Affleck seems to have won the naysayers over with what we've seen from his Batman, Jesse Eisenberg has a long way to go before he sells the doubters on the new Lex Luthor. He seemed sinister enough in the San Diego Comic-Con trailer (which was well-received), but his comic relief appearances in the most recent preview didn't go over so well. And speaking of that third trailer, many felt it gave away too much of the film's plot (even though crew members state otherwise), which killed the enthusiasm the earlier trailers had generated.
Much like how Lucasfilm needed The Force Awakens to be beloved, WB is in a similar position with Batman V Superman. If the film receives a similar reception to Man of Steel, it could greatly diminish the excitement for future DCEU installments. There's a great amount of pressure on Dawn of Justice to deliver and be a marked improvement from its predecessor, especially since WB/DC have already fully committed themselves to the series. David Ayer's Suicide Squad is arriving in theaters five months after Batman V Superman, and the solo Wonder Woman vehicle is in production. Plus, Snyder will be rolling the cameras on Justice League Part One reportedly in spring 2016. Word-of-mouth is arguably more important than box office revenue in certain cases (look at Amazing Spider-Man 2), and if people are left unimpressed, things could get ugly real quick.
Much like he did with Star Wars, J.J. Abrams reinvigorated the Star Trek brand back in 2009 with a critically acclaimed reboot that was nominated for Best Picture by the Producer's Guild. Though hardcore Trekkies took exception to the movie's reliance on Star Wars inspired action, it helped open the world to a whole new audience while still honoring its tradition. Many were in agreement that Trek had a bright future and couldn't wait to see the sequel.
That sequel, 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, is a curious case indeed. Its overall critical reception was largely positive (it is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and it made a decent amount of money at the box office (though, it was under $500 million worldwide). However, the film did not sit well with fans, who saw it more as a retread of the classic Wrath of Khan instead of its own thing. Even Abrams admits that the project relied too much on fan service, and just about everyone is in agreement that the major Khan reveal was a botched opportunity. The 2009 film restored faith in the franchise, but Into Darkness did not do Trek any favors and seemed to cool the newfound passion for the adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Now, in a world where we're getting a Star Wars movie every year and Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy has become as marketable a name as The Avengers, Paramount is celebrating Trek's 50th birthday by way of Star Trek Beyond. They have a responsibility to make the movie stand out from the crowd, and the first trailer did anything but that. The combination of fast-paced action and the Beastie Boys' legendary tune "Sabotage" left a sour taste in fans' mouths, considering it a huge departure from what made Star Trek... Star Trek. It speaks volumes that even director Justin Lin and co-writer Simon Pegg weren't crazy about it, and now the studio has to work overtime to get everyone back on board before its July 2016 release. Audiences have plenty of other places to go for a fun space adventure, so if Beyond isn't well-received, it could spell trouble for Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.
A defining action series of the 2000s, the Bourne franchise was one that just got better as it went along. Even though 2007's The Bourne Ultimatum seemed to wrap the story up nicely, there was still a sense that Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass had only begun to realize the height of their powers together. Despite the wishes of fans, the duo stated they were finished and moved on. However, Universal did not, and in 2012, the spinoff The Bourne Legacy (starring Jeremy Renner as new character Aaron Cross) was released to a lukewarm reception. It scored by far the most negative reviews in the series, and the lowest box office returns.
Though a Legacy followup has been in development for a few years, the studio instead has turned their attention to a different project - one that sees Damon and Greengrass return to the franchise they established as one of the genre's greats. There's much promise on-paper for its potential quality. Damon maintained for years that he would not come back for a fourth go-around unless the story was right, and the fact that he has a hand in writing the sequel's screenplay indicates he's passionate about the narrative. The creative team seems to be taking the property in exciting new directions that ideally will make the currently untitled Bourne 5 a worthwhile successor to Damon's trilogy and not a retread of the glory days. Everything's looking up right now.
So why do we have it listed? On the off chance Bourne 5 is a dud similar to Legacy, it could spell doom for the franchise. Universal had one of the best box office years of all-time in 2015, with massive hits like Jurassic World and Furious 7 clearly illustrating that they have a few cash cows to milk whenever they need a tentpole. If Damon's return to his classic character is a better idea in theory and ends up as a disappointment, Universal is not going to feel compelled to continue the adventures of the super spy or force a crossover featuring Bourne and Cross. The talent appears to be in place for another good movie, but if it isn't a hit, it may be the last we see of Bourne for a while.
Well before Warner Bros. went all-in on their library of DC characters, the wizarding world of Harry Potter was their big money maker. Adapting J.K. Rowling's seven book series into eight blockbuster films, the fantasy flicks saw strong critical acclaim and massive commercial profits from 2001 to 2011. But when Deathly Hallows - Part 2 rolled around, it seemed to be the end for the franchise. After all, there were no more stories left to tell... until there were.
In 2016, WB will release Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a feature film that is based on a Hogwarts textbook featured in the Harry Potter films. Starring Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, it follows his exploits to find and capture a variety of magical beasts when they are accidentally set loose in New York City. The movie's teaser trailer played up the nostalgia element of going back to the universe, but the project is still a slight gamble on the studio's part. It's a film set in the Harry Potter world without the title character present (Harry hadn't even been born when Fantastic Beasts takes place), and it is not really connected to the core story (unlike, say, the Star Wars prequels). So will people (particularly casual audiences) care?
The jury is still out to determine if people will come out in droves like they did when Harry, Ron, and Hermione were battling against Voldemort. WB seems confident they will, considering that the studio has already scheduled release dates for potential Fantastic Beasts sequels, but they are wise to take things slow. This is the first real test for the Harry Potter brand on its own, without any of the familiar faces fans have come to know and love. Simply put, there probably won't be a "Chewie, we're home" moment in the advertising campaign. Word-of-mouth will be vital in determining its success. If critics and fans see it as an inspired extension of Rowling's world, then WB will be home free. The flip side is a shameless cash grab meant to capitalize on the franchise's enduring popularity, and if that happens the studio will have to cast the killing curse on future installments.
We cannot stress enough that we are NOT saying (or hoping) any of the films listed above will be bad. This is merely an examination of where certain Hollywood franchises are at as we head into 2016. We've seen in the past how things can go terribly wrong with just a single poor entry, and not every tentpole series has firm footing right now. The best case scenario is that all of these movies have strong outings, giving studios several beloved properties that constantly excite and thrill audiences. Fingers crossed we do not get another Amazing Spider-Man 2 situation.
Which franchises do you feel have something to prove in 2016? Let us know in the comments section below!
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice opens in theaters March 25th, 2016. It will be followed by Suicide Squad on August 5th, 2016.
Star Trek Beyond beams up to theaters July 22nd, 2016.
Bourne 5 (not the official title) opens July 29th, 2016.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them comes out November 18th, 2016.