Franchise Films in Hollywood: The True Awakening of the Force

Franchise Films in Hollywood: The True Awakening of the Force

What do Star Wars, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and James Bond all have in common?

The listing above represents a strategic phenomenon that has dominated the trends in current film production in Hollywood. The success of film franchises is irrefutable and the aforementioned ones are exemplary. The following figures just speak for themselves and are nothing short of impressive:

Stats1As at April 2015

While the hugely successful Star Wars franchise is still busy breaking every box-office record known to man, the time is convenient to dive into the magic behind the success of a studio approach that has taken Hollywood by storm…

  • Why and how are these franchises so successful?
  • How are studios approaching the franchise-driven trend?  
  • How are our beloved original films affected?
  • What is in store for the future of filmmaking in Hollywood?

These are a few of the most critical questions that come to mind on the subject of film franchises and are guaranteed to spark some popcorn-worthy interpersonal debates and critical self-reflections!

Let’s take one more look at some critical box-office results for the year of 2015 before we dive into revealing some of the workings behind franchising:

Stats 2

Figures for 2015’s best performing films domestically. Figures: As of January 4 2016. (Some figures subject to rise).

“When sequels account for (at least) seven of the ten top grossing films of the year, there is a clear and present product that studios are leaning on for success, and right now those are franchise films” (Jeff Bock, a senior box office analyst at statistics firm Exhibitor Relations). The top 5 best-performers globally all belong to a franchise and have grossed over $1 billion each. That is almost as staggering as finding the Isla de Muerta, ‘an island that cannot be found except by those who already know where it is’.

But why are franchises so successful?

In the realm of powerhouse studios, such as Universal and Buena Vista (Walt Disney Studios), franchise films bring a degree of financial safety and risk neutralization to the table, in their portfolios of annual film productions and their respective releases. Essentially, the cognitive concept of familiarity plays an imperative role in marketing a new film to audiences. It is simply said, easier to sell known commodities to the public than unknown ones. In this respect, franchising already presents an attractive strategic solution to risk mitigation and the attempt to secure success in the climate of high-budget film-making. Essentially, releasing a sequel or prequel has become so attractive to Studios because they contain built-in awareness with the audience. Amir Malin, managing principal of Qualia Capital (private equity firm, investing in media sector), confirms that “when they work, they can be a license to print money”. Furthermore, the technological changes and rising trend in the international market also support why large franchise films generate enough revenues to financially support an entire year of production for the respective studio, termed “tentpoles”. A loss in the dominant role of DVD sales as generator of profitability can be attributed to the technological innovations such as emerged streaming platforms according to Lynda Obst (one of the producers of the successful original film Interstellar). Additionally, a recently developing geographical trend has been forming, whereby profits are beginning to originate increasingly from outside of the US, in thriving multiplex markets such as China, where 10 screens are being added a day. For example, the Interstellar release marked the first film to take in more than $300 million in China, a larger result than in the US market.

A concept to evaluate in conclusion is: “In Hollywood, familiarity breeds success, not contempt.”

The true awakening in the viability of franchise film-making essentially came through the unusually successful box office returns achieved by the Austin Powers films. The success of the first one, catapulted returns for the second one to the extent that it “powered an opening weekend that was bigger than the entire run of the first film” according to Rentrak’s Dergarabedian.

While franchises have been taking the scene by storm and original film productions have suffered losses in numbers, the Paramount chairman, Brad Grey, notes that striking the right balance between original film and franchise releases is essential.

A highly interesting study conducted by Linden Dalecki (2008), explores the intriguing physics of the ‘megafranchise’; so-characterized by the result of their astounding returns and their consequently strategic expansions into diversified businesses (theme parks, video games, soundtracks…). Dalecki illustrates the elements of success and their necessary interdependence via the 4-S Hollywood Megafranchise Model.


The 4-S Hollywood Megafranchise Model

While sequelization, spectacle, synergy (media synergy) and story are essential factors in contributing to the success of megafranchises, Dalecki notes that, “simply deploying heavy doses of synergy, sequelization, story, and spectacle will not insure success. In the case of any successful megafranchise there is unquantifiable “glue” holding the entire array of elements together” (2008).

In the future, the studio giants Universal and Buena Vista have announced franchise film productions up to 2020, as this trending phenomenon continues to grow in profitability.

For now, we can kickback, get ready to bury ourselves in bags of popcorn as we lose ourselves in upcoming releases of the studios and creative individuals who continue to share their passion and dedication to entertain, stun and inspire with the rest of the world.



Recommended research paper
“Hollywood Media Synergy As IMC”. The Journal of Integrated Marketing Communications (2008): 47-50. Print.

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