Warner Bros and the search for a new franchise
Batman is gone. The Hangover is ending. The Titans may just have fallen. Are the days of Warner Bros and big franchises coming to an end?
For the best part of three decades now, Warner Bros – arguably more than any other of the Hollywood majors – has been a franchise studio. Not exclusively so, but the studio’s always had its summer tentpole franchises that provide the room to try a mixture of other films.
So, for instance, we had the Lethal Weapons, the Supermans, the Police Academy movies, the Matrix trilogy, the Batmans, and a host of other attempts to launch major franchises.
But the studio might just be about to find itself at an interesting crossroads. Last year, the most lucrative movie franchise of all time, the Harry Potter series, came to an end. In the same summer, an expensive attempt to launch a new franchise, Green Lantern, struggled both critically and commercially.
Fast-forward to the end of the year, and the performance of Happy Feet Two appears to have ended any chance of a Happy Feet Three. Similarly, Wrath Of The Titans has fallen, commercially, a long way short of Clash Of The Titans. Titans do not look like they’ll be clashing or wrathing again any time soon.
So what else does Warner Bros have in the locker? Well, it’s just lost, for the time being, its second biggest franchise, as Christopher Nolan has brought his Batman saga to an end with The Dark Knight Rises. Then, next year will mark the end of the extraordinarily lucrative Hangover series of films, which have been relatively cheap to make, and enormously profitable for the studio.
Where, then, does Warner Bros look next for its new franchises? Well, it does appear to be taking some risks, but first…
There’s been a very mixed reaction, perhaps understandably, to the decision to split The Hobbit now into three separate movies. It gives Warner Bros, through its New Line subsidiary, a brand new trilogy of films, and will keep the studio pipeline stuffed with big films until at least 2014.
Importantly, the split appears to be filmmaker rather than studio-driven, with director Peter Jackson and his team keen to dig into unfilmed appendices for material for The Hobbit Part III. It is, as things stand, the only sure-fire hit that Warner Bros currently has, and also solves Warner Bros’ immediate lack of new franchises.
While we’re talking The Hobbit, it’s worth also touching on the other New Line properties that Warner Bros may resurrect. A Dumb And Dumber sequel fell apart earlier this year, but there’s a decent chance that an Austin Powers revival may yet be on the cards. Furthermore, New Line is also looking into National Lampoon’s Vacation and Police Academy reboots, which should give the studio cheap, profitable movies for the time being.
Also, New Line has yet to commit to a sixth Final Destination film, but for bottom line profit, the saga has been hard to beat in recent years. The last movie struggled, but the fourth, The Final Destination, did surprisingly strong numbers.
Warner Bros does have an active franchise that’s gradually escalating with each chapter. Earlier this year, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island proved to be a fun little family diversion, and one that equalled the take of its 3D showcasing predecessor, Journey To The Center Of The Earth (a 3D movie in pre-Avatar times). Journey 3 has already been greenlit, and the studio seems able to bank on a reasonable box office take with each subsequent release.
Batman may have come to an end in his current guise, but Warner Bros’ long-term franchise future surely lies with its DC properties. Main production is over on next summer’s Superman reboot, Man Of Steel, for which the studio has high hopes. It’s a gamble it needs to win, too, given that Bryan Singer’s last attempt to breathe fresh life into the Superman saga, Superman Returns, failed to really win people over.
Outside of Superman, it’s going to be a testing few years. Warner Bros will want to get Batman back on the big screen as quickly as possible, but the general feeling is that it’ll wait for a Justice League movie to reintroduce the character, before starting a new chapter in the Dark Knight’s cinematic history.
Warner has come in for much criticism for pressing ahead with a Justice League screenplay, but you can see its strategy. It’s got a tough job, since it’ll have to introduce several heroes at once without the backdrop of several hit movies leading into it (the strategy that Marvel deployed with The Avengers to stunning success). But Warner Bros knows that if it gets a Justice League movie right, then it will spark several franchises in one go. The likes of Aquaman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and a new Batman are the least we’d expect should the studio win its Justice League gamble.
If it fails? Then it’s back in Green Lantern territory, spending big on a new film every year or two, and wagering its chips on single characters until one of them breaks through. Lobo, for instance, has been in development for some time already.
Its US gross may have fallen below that of the first film, but the worldwide box office takings of Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows ensured that the second movie ultimately outgrossed the first. And that’s just with cinematic takings taken into account. Throw in the many, many other sources of income for a modern day movie, and Warner Bros is in comfortable profit here.
Sherlock Holmes 3, then? Well, it won’t be cheap to make, with talent costs escalating with each instalment. But, unsurprisingly, Warner Bros commissioned a third screenplay as early as last October, and the clear intention is for a thus-far unannounced third chapter.
The numbers for Wrath Of The Titans weren’t in when Warner Bros decided to formally press ahead with a 300 prequel. Perhaps if they had been, it might have altered its thinking. Nonetheless, the 300 prequel, going by the name 300: The Battle Of Artemisia is the follow-up of sorts to the surprise smash hit of 2006. Noam Murro is directing, and Warner Bros will be hoping that he can kickstart the franchise enough to get at least one more film out of it.
The pleasant end result for the movie purist is that Warner Bros is also actively pursuing new properties. That its future isn’t just tied to finding franchises and sequels to make has to be a good thing, and some of its films for next year prove that. Warner is gambling big on Guillermo del Toro’s stunning-looking Pacific Rim, for instance, and that’s going to be one of its major tentpole pictures for 2013.
Look, too, towards Bryan Singer’s delayed Jack The Giant Killer. After an initial trailer was released, the film was moved from June 2012 to March 2013, and that doesn’t inspire too much confidence. But it might yet be a success for the studio, and it might encourage it to take more chances on similar one-off projects.
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