Is There a Formula for Box Office Success?

Why Twilight is a Safer Bet than Batman

Twilight Breaking Dawn - Edward and Bella

The future landscape of the box office is filled with ever-expanding universes. There's Star Wars, with its array of sequels and spin-offs. There's the seemingly unstoppable tread of the MCU and its cocktail of sequels, team-ups and standalone superhero stories. There's Fox's ever-lucrative take on the X-Men. Then there's the looming presence of the DC Extended Universe, which will bring some superheroes to the big screen for the very first time.

It might be assumed that recognizable brands like Batman and Star Wars are the most surefire way to score a box office hit, regardless of quality, but actually the safer bet are franchises that are finite. That is to say, series like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Twilight, Divergent, The Lord of the Rings, and even Fifty Shades of Grey - adaptations of books that have defined beginning, middle and final entries. These films, Bruzzese explains, don't really need to blow audiences away, because fans of the source material will know what's coming anyway. "As long as you do a fairly good adaptation of the [Harry Potter] books," he explains. "You're going to be fine." But while there currently seems to be no doubt at all that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will blow the box office away this December, it doesn't mean that the Star Wars franchise is bulletproof:

"If you look at a franchise that has a continuously expanding universe - such as Star Wars, such as Batman or any of the Marvel [movies] - the moment it begins to falter, you only build up so much good will there... This happened with Star Trek. The Star Trek franchise, by the time it was done, every movie began to gross far less than the movie before. The whole franchise had to be completely rebooted, with almost an origin story and a different vision... So the franchises can certainly lose their narrative way - whether it's a horror franchise or science fiction or action adventure - unless it is a self-contained, finite franchise like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or Hunger Games."

Star Trek Beyond charity contest

It's little wonder, then, that so many young adult novel series have been adapted for the big screen, and why it's become a habit for the final entry to be split into two parts. If fans are going to show up to see them no matter what, then why not make the franchise last a little longer?

One aspect of revenue that can't be ignored is overseas performance. In the case of Pacific Rim, 75% of the total box office gross came from overseas ticket sales, with a third of that coming from China alone. Pacific Rim, however, is something of an exception to the rule, in the sense that it was an original film. The Guardian's box office analyst, Phil Hoad, says that in most cases the key to overseas success is - you guessed it - franchising.

"Often what you'll find is that first entries to franchises tend to gross more highly in the States... and then as you release the sequels, as people become more aware of them as the property becomes more established elsewhere, then that percentage [of international box office] will start to increase... I really think that franchising has grown up in tandem with the expansion in overseas box office... It's become really important to provide people with different viewpoints on life and different backgrounds with a common anchor for their filmgoing experience."

As studios grow ever more conscious of the need to make American films appeal to a global audience, there is also a growing conversation about what kind of people are being represented - or not represented - in those films. That brings us to the topic of what could the be most divisive aspect of Hollywood's movie-making habits.

Next: The 'D' Word

Friends Chandler and Monica Wedding
Friends’ Original Chandler Plan Would’ve Killed The Show

More in Featured