Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Nothing But Sequels And Remakes

Having spent some time discussing the frequent "It's all just sequels and remakes in Hollywood these days" complaint with C and Big G last night, and as a follow-on from MGK's post that I linked to last week, I figured it was time to introduce some actual facts into the mix. Using the Box Office Mojo site, I studied the top 20 and top 50 grossing films of each year from 2008 to 1999 (along with the top twenty films from 1994 and 1989 for comparison), and divided them into "remake", "sequel", "adaptation" (which I decided to define as any film that had a subject matter sufficiently bound to another product to assume brand name interest could increase revenue; "based on real events" films were excused) and "other". In cases of overlap, sequel trumped remake, which trumped adaptation only if it was clear the latter film was based on the first, rather than simply sharing source material (so Batman Begins was not considered a remake, whereas The Time Machine was). Looking at this data should give some idea of whether remakes and sequels are becoming increasingly lucrative.

Here's what I found. For each data point, the first number is the percentage of top 20 films in that category, the second in the percentage of top 40 films in that category.


2005 [1]...10/15.......15/15.............35/35...........40/35
2004......35/25.........0/5...............25/30...........40/40 2003......50/30.........0/7.5.............10/25...........40/37.5
2002......30/30 .........5/10..............25/20...........40/40
2000 [2]..5/12.5..........5/5..............20/20............70/62.5


1994........15...............5..................30................ 50

[1] I've put in The Island as an adaptation because of the Chronus lawsuit, and because there's only so far you can stretch the term "original" before it loses all meaning.
[2] I listed The Exorcist: Director's Cut as a remake, since that seemed most fitting.

Looking at this, it seems fairly clear that truly "original" films are being squeezed out of the top 20. Every data point from before 2001 has at least 50 of the films in the top 20 as originals, the average in the last ten years is 42.5%, but in the last two years the average has been 22.5%. Interestingly, the corresponding average increase for non-original films seems to be down to sequels in 2007, and adaptations in 2008. How much you care about how many films you see are based on books or plays is, I guess, entirely up to you. The sequel issue is more interesting, with the exception of 2005 there hasn't been a year this millennium in which sequels haven't accounted for at least 30% of the top twenty. Even as far back as 1989, though, fully a quarter of the top twenty were sequels. Whether or not this data can be said to represent an overall increase in the reliance of sequels is hard to tell.

What does seem clear is that a stratification effect is taking place, with the sequels in the top 40 heading for the top of the list and the original films the bottom. From this one could infer that Hollywood actually produces far less sequels than original films, it is simply that the former consistently outperform the latter. This presents us with a new conundrum: do sequels do better because they're what the public wants, or because Hollywood throws more money at them because they think they're what the public wants, and the public themselves just get hoovered up by the massive ad campaigns and flashing lights such uberbucks can provide.

In order to consider this question I considered four years, 2008 and 2007 (the years for which the sequel clearly dominated), 2005 (in which the sequel got a good kicking), and 2002 (a year which closely follows the average stats for sequels and original films). In each case I calculated the mean and median of the budgets for sequels and for original films. The results are given below (all values are in millions of dollars).

Year..Sequel (mean)..Sequel (med)..Original (mean)..Original (med)


Note the mean budget for a sequel almost doubles from 2005 to 2007, with almost no increase for mean budget of original films over the same period. Note also that the year in which sequels fared worse is also the year in which their mean budget was only slightly higher than that of the original films. The next step is to compare the ratios of sequels to original films in the top twenty with the mean budgets.

Year......................Budget Ratio......Top Twenty Placement Ratio


Judging by this (and I grant four years is a pretty small sample), it's interesting to note two things. Firstly, increasing the budget ratio in favour of sequels increases their popularity, but a 1 to 1 ratio might well significantly favour an original film. This implies that the public is not inherently biased towards sequels, but are attracted to a fuck ton of money being thrown at a film.

Interestingly, after the massive increase in budgets for sequels in 2007 (up 100% from 2005), 2008 saw a increase in the budgets for original films as well (up 50% from 2005), almost bringing the popularity ratio between the two film types back to 1.

Conclusion: Hollywood makes a great deal of its major bucks from sequels, leading to them accounting for almost a third of the highest grossing films. Despite this policy working, there is evidence that offering comparable budgets to original projects might work even better. Moreover, statistical blips aside, there is no firm evidence that the numbers of sequels and remakes have increased significantly over the last decade, though the number of films based on established material has.

Update: I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Blogspot for not letting me use the tab button; my data columns look like convulsing snakes.


Gooder said...

What is interesting is that as far as I know Titanic is the highest grosser ever and arguably falls best into the original material section!

What is at play here is that the major studios in Hollywood essentially make profit on one of two 'big' films and four of five 'medium budget' films (something like the Bourne series or The Hangover say) in a year. Everything else will either make a loss, break even or see a profit months and months down the line on residuals and video sales. A major stuido is likely to put out around a hundred films in a year.

Thus essentially the blockbusters fund the rest of the studio's output. Thus it's understandable that there is always attempts to reduce the risk here.

But it still happens, LOTR was a massive project and although it was base on popular book there was no guarantee it would be a hit. POTC was also large gamble, the pirate genre had no been popular for a long, long time and yet they spent big on it. (And I for class it as original material, after you can't get much off a theme part ride. And this year Watchmen was a big spend risk for the money spent.

So there is still vastly more original films than not but it seems that the higher profile films are quite often based on familiar source material of some kind. (Although I'd argue something like Spiderman is still gamble at this size of project - before the film how much awareness of Spiderman was there in the public at large?)

And hey why should the film industry chnage this pattern if they continue to have hit films?

In my experience a lot of people complain there is no original films out there and then if you ask what they've been to see recently they'll say 'Terminator 4'! It's there if you can be bothered to look.

Jamie said...

I'm not going to address your other points, they mostly make sense, but there was certainly a massive amount of awareness of Spider-Man in popular culture at large prior to the films, easily as much as Superman and Batman; have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-man#Commercial_success, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-man#Cultural_influence and http://books.google.com/books?id=93Mv-1R5yskC&pg=PA139.

The Spider-Man films were anything but a risk, especially considering the massive success of X-Men shortly before.

SpaceSquid said...

"And hey why should the film industry chnage this pattern if they continue to have hit films?"

The last two years suggest that perhaps they are changing the pattern, just in the opposite way to what a lot of people want (or claim they want). In general I agree with your take on this situation, with the caveat that just because it is unreasonable to expect a corporation to change it's behaviour does not mean it is unreasonable to state your preference for that change.

Gooder said...

Spider-Man was a massive risk when it was made. I'd argue that Spiderman was not on the same level awareness wise as Batman and there genuinely no way for the studio to get an idea how it would perform.

Take Superman Returns for example, that massivily underperformed and was a 'safer bet' than the Spiderman film was.

Hey, I'm not saying its unreasonable to ask for the change, just people should understand why we get what we get and that they, as the audience also play a part.

And of course that's it's not just sequels and remakes!

Pause said...

Not meaning to drag the discussion off onto one minor point, but I'd say Spider-Man wasn't the huge risk Gooder's suggesting. In particular I think you're doing yourself a disfavour comparing it to Batman; Batman may be well-known now, but what reference did the film have when it was released? Some comics and a campy 1960's tv series? Sounds awfully familar.

Pause said...

Correction: I meant a 25-year old tv series (which, comparing the two at time of release, is the exact same history Spider-Man had). The Amazing Spider-Man was of course late 70's.

In fact if anything Spider-Man fared better, since he had additional animated series either side of that.

jamie said...

You could certainly argue that there was not the same level of awareness of Spider-Man as there was of Batman, but you would be entirely wrong.

He was (and is) the flagship character of the most successful comic-book publishing company in the world, with multiple comic titles, cartoons, toys, games, cereal, sweets, and myriad other products marketed under his profoundly recognisable brand. How on Earth could a film, the obvious next step, be considered in any way risky? If the public lapped up Wolverine and Cyclops (amongst others) with so much gusto, characters who are far less distinctive and far more obscure to culture at large, then a Spider-Man movie was about as close to a sure thing as you could get in the business.

Gooder said...

Spiderman as a film is risk becuase although he may be a flagship character of comic publisher there is a big difference in the numbers involved.

A film with the budget of Spiderman needs to eventually effectivily earn triple what was spent on making it(so we're speaking around $300m at the end of the day) to account for marketing and distribution costs for it to start being profitable. Thus you need a lot, a lot of people to see it worldwide.

In terms of size the comic book industry is quite small and I would say a niche part of popular culture so it's leading figures don't immediately give you the audience numbers to make a big film a success. On top of this how well know would Spiderman be beyond the States?

The first Spiderman film was a risk and could have been a big failure. The success of the X-Men is mentioned by Pause, but it would have been impossible to know if the market wanted another Superhero film - for all the Sony execs know people wouldn't be interested in another one. Yes, it helps that X-Men was successful but it is far from a guarantee of success.

Beleive me it was a risk, probably fair to say not a right out there risk but certainly enough to give a lot of people grey hairs I imagine.

And Burton's Batman was also a risk, perhaps even more so, this partly explains why these films have such huge marketing budgets.

Hollywood is an insane industry if would rather if potentially looking at expensive mistake risk doubling it's losses by spending the the budget of the film again on PR than cut it's losses.

A good example for this is if you compare the massive PR campaign for the first Transformers movie a couple of years ago with this years rather subdued campaign for the second. The difference? This time they know it's more likely to be a hit than not.

A keys things to remember, there is no such thing as a totally sure bet home run hit for Hollywood and as an industry it is insane! No one in their right mind goes into if they just want to make money, as you're always one of two bad choices away from losing it all (look at New Line)

Pause said...

Spiderman as a film is risk becuase although he may be a flagship character of comic publisher there is a big difference in the numbers involved.

I'd just like to clarify that I agree Spider-Man was a risk, as all "new" cross-over franchises are, but that I don't believe it was much more or less of a one than the first Batman film was. That was a poor choice for comparison, s'all.

I also wonder, and I'm absolutely no expert on this so I'm throwing it out to you guys as a genuine question, if "my" perception (as a member of the UK public) is somewhat different to that of an equivalent US citizen. If we go back a bit further and take e.g. Superman, how much of a franchise like that is already part of the wider US consciousness?

(P.S. It was Jamie who mentioned the X-Men.)

jamie said...

Seriously Gooder, you are really underestimating the popularity of Spider-Man outside the 'niche' market of comics; we've already talked about all the merchandising and spin-off television series (both cartoon and live-action) outside that market, which I think addresses many of the points you make in your last post. Generations of children, since the late Sixties onwards, have been exposed to televisual adventures of Spider-Man in one way or another, which explains his enduring popularity in periods when so many other superheroes fell by the wayside.

As to the worldwide popularity Spider-Man, hundreds of millions of copies of comics featuring him have been sold worldwide; you only have to look at this page - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-Man_in_other_media - to see the breadth and depth of worldwide coverage, from the Japanese live-action series, to many records and singles worldwide with Spider-Man as either a central focus or (even more tellingly) referenced in passing, to the unofficial 1973 Turkish film, and computer games starting from text-only adventures in the 1970s, to pretty much anything else imaginable that could be reasonably exploited from the franchise in the decades to follow.

The sheer amount of parodies and references in other popular culture (Kenny Everett, for feck's sake) shows that Spider-Man broke out of the comic-book 'ghetto' decades ago.

And of course I'm not suggesting that there was no chance of failure; but seventeen years in development, overcoming massive and intractable legal wrangles in the process, and without being ditched despite all these problems, suggests strongly that there was rather a lot of underlying confidence in its ability to perform, not to mention competition over who gets to squeeze out their portion of cash-cow milk.

You're right, it was a risk; but only insofar as financing any film is always going to be a risk. By way of contrast, in the terms of the industry we're talking about, I sincerely doubt many people were very worried about how it would turn out.

So, to sum up with regards to your original point about Spider-Man: before the film, how much awareness of Spider-Man was there in the public at large?

A: Lots. Massive great piles of it all over the place.

Gooder said...

Ok, ok. I'll beleive you, but I'd still suggest that Spiderman as a cultural property was not big enough on it's own for the studio to be too confident of producing a hit.

Rememeber the film needs to generate around $300m, with around say $4 dollars coming back to the studio out of the ticket price on average thats around 75m tickets you need to sell.

Gooder said...

Of course thats worldwide

Gooder said...

Though I've just checked and it did $403,706,375 in the doemestic market. So thats somewhere between 60-80m tickets sold probably. Do we think that many people really know who Spiderman is?

SpaceSquid said...

Well, yes, I would imagine that 20%-25% of the population do know who Spiderman is, if not more (shit, my grandparents can recognise Spiderman). But that isn't the point; the point is that success for the film required that 75 million people worldwide had to either know who Spiderman was or just want to see the film once it was advertised. Tapping into a massive fanbase is not the same as relying exclusively on that fanbase (this is why the comics industry itself is in trouble, they seem unwilling or unable to sell product to anyone other than their current audience). The advertising of Spiderman was intended to work even if you had no idea who he was, as though he were any other film hero with super powers.

jamie said...

Yep, I think that many people in America easily knew who Spider-Man was, if not (as Squid suggests) far, far more.

Gooder said...

That was why it was a risk (what Ric talks about), ok people may recognise the name but know literally nothing else (sorry but I'm not convinced that around 70m people in American are very familiar with Spiderman beyond the name). Thats certainly not enough to bet $150m on.

Also remember if 25% of the population knows thats great,but how many of those will go to the cinema either on any kind of regualer basis or even to see it. I imagine Ric's grandparents wouldn't!.

The average person goes to the cinema 3-4 times a year. And you have to convince them this is the film that want to see in that particular summer - Spiderman had Men In Black II, Spy Kids 2, Minority Report (with the Cruise factor), Austin Powers : Goldmember, Scooby-Doo and Stuart Little 2 to compete with inside the summer market.

So untested cinema material with laregly unknown cast against established franchises and Cinema heavyweights and arguably Scooby-Doo of similiar brand recognition level and the more obvious choice for 'family' film.

Don't get me wrong I'm not saying Spiderman represented a total shot in the dark but it was a significant risk. This is part of the issue, people accuse Hollywood of not taking risks and quite often it does people don't see it that way.

SpaceSquid said...

I'd agree that the true issue here isn't who recognises Spiderman (and yes, my grandparents would be unlikely to consider seeing such a film), but who wants a priori to see a film with him in. I think Jamie's right so far as Spiderman is in the top tier of recognisable fictional characters, but there's a black box in between those that know him, and those that want to see him in action.

At the end of the day, though, the argument seems to basically come down to there being no such thing as a definite hit, irrespective of the number of fans a given character has, but it would be difficult to find another character with such good odds attached as Mr Parker's alter ego.

Gooder said...

Yep, thats pretty much it.

Gooder said...


Though looking at this Spiderman's cicrculation figures were around teh 150,000 mark before the release of the film. So that suggestion something of gamble as the pre-built audience is tiny compared to what you would need.

Also instresting to the note the comic book industry's turnover in 2002 appears to be slightly less than was spent on making and promoting the Spiderman film (I think indicating what I mean when I say you have to consider the difference in the numbers involved even though Parker is leading icon in his industry)

SpaceSquid said...

I'd argue "those who read the comics" is too narrow a field, just as "those who could pull him out of a line-up" is too wide. Quite apart from anything else, the comics industry has been haemorrhaging readers over the last decade. I can't say with certainty that this has affected Spiderman sales, but it certainly has many other very popular titles (including X-Men), so it doesn't seem unreasonable it's hit Spidey as well (moreover if Spiderman sales haven't dropped, that makes the film less risky than for pretty much any other comic). The right figure to look at isn't people who read Spiderman at the time, but who read or had read Spiderman. The last golden age of comics was (arguably) in the late eighties to early nineties, and there will be an awful lot of people who read Spiderman (in its myriad forms) at that time, all of whom would have been part of the target audience.

Senior Spielbergo said...

I agree with everyone (kind of) – Spider-man was indeed a risk, and quite a big one, but I would concede maybe not as big as if they had done the same thing with a “no name” superhero. I think the factor that everyone on the “it’s not that big of a risk” side are failing to get is that it was a Big Budget film, and by that I mean $139m as apposed to the average $20-30m. You could make probably 5 “normal” budget films for the amount of money they decided to throw at the Spider-man project!

Factor in that Sam Raimi was a bit of a punt, of his previous 4 films 1 had basically broken even and the other 3 lost money. Prior to that he was the Evil Dead guy (and even they haven’t made very much money) and that was basically it apart from Crimewave and Darkman which were big flops. Given the budget on Spider Man was $139,000,000 and his biggest budget previous film was $50,000,000 (which lost money) with all his others being sub $20,000,000 projects, he was a far cry from a bankable director.

You also had no big name actors (William Defoe was probably the biggest name on the cast), and as a concept for a film it was apparently being tossed around the studios for 25 years before it actually got made so you can’t say they were literally clambering at the bit to get it made (which it was in any way a certainty you would think they would have done so – but what the hell I’m sure we in blogger land know WAY more about movie financing than the people who actually work in the industry).

Now maybe if you were making it for $30m you could argue that it was a safe bet because of the already established history etc and all the people who are aware of his character from comic books / cartoon series as you can count on those fans going to see it and it making a few million in ticket sales. The risk factor is investing 5 times that amount (probably more with marketing actually) and trying to persuade people who while they might be aware of Spider-man, wouldn’t go out of their way to go and see a film about him, to actually want to go see it and make it into a Blockbuster.

The bottom line however is that there a very, very few “bankable” films and virtually all of them have some kind of established history associated with them, usually in the form of previous films and that is probably why you are getting all these sequels and remakes. If a metric fuck ton of people went to see Transformers and liked it, chances are they will come back for a second helping.

Senior Spielbergo said...

To add some further meet to the debate, Wikipedia has produced me a list of the top 10 grossing films of all time:

1 Titanic 20th Century Fox / Paramount $1,842,880,197 1997
2 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King New Line Cinema $1,119,110,941 2003
3 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Disney $1,066,179,725 2006
4 The Dark Knight Warner Bros. $1,001,921,825 2008
5 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Warner Bros. $974,733,550 2001
6 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Disney $960,996,492 2007
7 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Warner Bros. $938,212,738 2007
8 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers New Line Cinema $925,282,504 2002
9 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 20th Century Fox $924,317,558 1999
10 Shrek 2 DreamWorks SKG $919,838,758 2004

All but Titanic sitting all on it’s lonesome at the top are sequels of some form or another (and if I was being pedantic I would point out that there has in fact been at least two previous films called Titanic based on the same events).

And as some additional Data, the highest grossing films each year for the last ten years:

2000 Mission: Impossible II
2001 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2004 Shrek 2
2005 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
2006 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
2007 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
2008 The Dark Knight
2009 Angels and Demons (ongoing)

Every single one a sequal.

Clearly someone at Hollywood knows where the money comes from and by the looks of it is sequels.

It should also be noted that when it comes to considering which new projects get money thrown at them, one of the questions now asked is if it has the possibility for sequels. Hollywood knows that the best banker is a sequel to an already successful film, so for the last 20-25 years they have been making more and more films that have the potential for sequels, that way when the original idea strikes a chord and actually makes money, they know they can make more money out of it down the line through sequels. More films that have sequel potential = more successful films having sequels made which make big money.

SpaceSquid said...

Good data, like it; though as I mentioned in the original post I think films like Titanic should be let off for not being the first film to tackle the events in question. I find it hard to believe many people will go and see film X just because they saw film Y about the same subject and want to compare and contrast.

Gooder said...

Truely Cameron's Titanic is the 'Gone With The Wind' of it's age!

Absurdly popular film about romance set against traumatic events