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The Summer of Sequels

May 30, 2011

By John C.

A selected 4 of the 27 sequels being released in 2011, many of which open during the summer.

When all is said and done, there will be 27 sequels released this year, breaking the previous record of 24 in 2003.  Even though they aren’t all directly following another film, that’s the number of movies coming out in 2011 that will be sold as part of a preexisting franchise or series.  Two of these sequels were released and dominated the box office over the weekend, The Hangover Part II being the example of a sequel done very wrong and Kung Fu Panda 2 of one done right.

The Hangover Part II opened with ridiculously inflated earnings of $118.1 million from Thursday to Sunday, making it the highest grossing comedy of all time.  Kung Fu Panda 2 opened unfortunately lower with earnings of $62.4 million over the same stretch, but still added to the sheer box office power that was felt by Hollywood over the American Memorial Day long weekend.  We should expect third installments for both to get the greenlight in coming weeks.

The Hangover Part II is the sort of sequel that cheapens and diminishes the excellent original.  It was a darker and nastier vehicle than the first film, pushing the boundaries of an 18A rating and often going for shocks instead of laughs.  Although it succeeded in using brand familiarity to sell tickets, it failed miserably when it came time to deliver a product that played well alongside a preexisting film.  It is clearly a force to be reckoned with at the box office, but is not destined to achieve the same instant-classic status that the original received back in 2009.

For better or for worse, DreamWorks Animation has had a long tradition of creating franchises out of preexisting films.  But in the case of the second titles in the Shrek and Madagascar series, they have managed to deliver sequels on par with the originals.  Kung Fu Panda 2 is no exception, as it furthers our appreciation of the wonderful characters and delivers an action-driven story with a heart of gold.  As families are one of the main target audiences for the film, I expect that its box office earnings will spike once the summer season is in full-swing.

This summer has already seen the swaggering return of Johnny Depp as the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney’s entertaining fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film, On Stranger Tides.  But for many the most anticipated movie of the summer remains the eighth and final film in the masterful Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows – Part 2.  It just goes to show the brand loyalty that people feel towards certain films and characters, even though in the case of The Hangover Part II they have sold themselves short for considerably lesser entertainment.

The next big sequel of the summer is Disney•Pixar’s Cars 2 on June 24th, and it looks to be an entertaining and action-driven crowd pleaser.  Many have derided the studio that can do no wrong for choosing to produce sequels to certain titles, but 1999’s Toy Story 2 and particularly last year’s Best Picture-nominated Toy Story 3 are often cited as some of the best follow-ups of all time.  Although the original Cars was underappreciated by many critics back in 2006, it remains Pixar’s biggest property in terms of marketing and is sure to open big at the box office.

Over the summer we’ll also be seeing the franchise reboot X-Men: First Class (June 3rd), as well as the third Transformers film, Dark of the Moon (June 29th).  The upcoming Rise of the Planet of the Apes (August 5th) would technically be classed as a prequel, but you get the idea.  It should be noted that sequels aren’t all bad, and in some memorable cases they can even be amazing.  But there have also been countless disappointments, and this year will likely continue to deliver some of both.

Despite the numerous films this year that could be classed as part of a preexisting franchise, it should also be noted that there has been room for box office domination from original titles this summer.  The excellent Marvel superhero adaptation Thor and the hilarious Bridesmaids have both had their chance to shine, and the upcoming Super 8 looks quite promising.  But in a few short months, when all is said and done, it will be the numerous sequels that are remembered for defining the summer of 2011.

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