Do audiences want original movies?

There are lots of grumbles about a lack of original films - but are people secretly happy with sequels, reboots, remakes and franchises?

This article contains spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness.

A question, then. Do people really want original movies, or are they happy with sequels and franchises and reboots and remakes?

Short answer: I don’t know, I haven’t asked everyone, but I think it’s truer to say that audiences just want movies.

Long answer with pie charts:

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By ‘audience’ I mean ‘everyone who goes to see films at the cinema’. By ‘original’ I mean stories that are new and written for the cinema, not adaptations, sequels, prequels, reboots or remakes. Real life stories count as original, unless the film is taken from a book or documentary on the subject.

What I’ve done is look at the top ten highest grossing movies worldwide for the last 20 years, and counted the number of original movies, remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels and adaptations. Some films can, of course, be an adaptation as well as another kind of non-original film. Most comic book movies are both sequels and adaptations for example. A remake is specifically a new version of a movie, compared to an adaptation being a cinematic version of a story from a different medium. Here’s what that looks like when the numbers are crunched:

Clearly most of the films in these top tens are sequels. Adaptations are the second most popular movies, and then come original films. They are clearly declining while sequels are on the rise. Looking back even further, we can see that this is a recent development. The figures of the previous 20years show that sequels were fairly consistent, not unpopular or rare, but not a majority of the biggest movies.

Clearly sequels have been with us for a while, but also note how many more original movies used to dominate cinema. That this has changed could be taken to mean that audiences no longer want original movies, that studios are just responding to demand. Let’s look at the figures, focusing on 2003 where the number of sequels rises significantly.

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In 2003 we saw the final film in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the continuation of the Pirates Of The Caribbean, X-Men, and The Matrix franchises, plus the return of The Terminator and Bad Boys after a long wait. Ever since then the number of sequels has generally increased.

The one obvious blip in this pattern is 2005, where only one sequel appears in the top ten, but in that year we have three franchises being started (The Chronicles Of Narnia, Madagascar and Batman Begins – two of which are being rebooted). A lot of sequels appear in these lists, and so even if the first movie doesn’t make it into the top ten a lot of movies are now made with a view to franchise potential.

You can find standalone movies in cinemas, and the Oscars tend to favour non-franchise films, so it’s not as if they aren’t being made. However, as we’ve discussed previously, studios have worked out that people just want to go to the cinema. Even with increased prices, it’s a standard option for a night out, a possible family activity that doesn’t involve moving around too much. What people see consistently advertised is what many will decide upon seeing in the cinema.

Another facet is ‘oh, it’s another Marvel film, you liked that one about the space vikings’, or ‘oh, it’s a Pirates Of The Caribbean film, I vaguely remember one of those being good’. Franchises also create a sense of involvement in the overall story, a fondness for returning characters, and a guarantee of entertainment. You know exactly what kind of film you’re going to get, and that is valuable to people who don’t want to spend their money on Leonardo DiCaprio’s divisive interpretation of We Are Going On A Bear Hunt.

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Thinking back to the term ‘audience’ as described earlier: Den of Geek is a website that attracts geeks (Hence the name. We think about this stuff you know). Geeks are about unashamed enthusiasm, ideally, which means there’s a level of insight and passion where we look forward to specific films, genre movies that maybe receive critical acclaim but simply don’t have enough of a budget to be on at a lot of cinemas. A lot of us have spent time cogitating about Star Trek Into Darkness. Now, you don’t have to be a Star Trek fan to think ‘gosh, they’ve cured death, that’ll be handy’, but equally you might not care as much about the quality of the movie.

A lot of people just went to see Star Trek Into Darkness thinking ‘This’ll be fine’, and moved on swiftly, rather than getting properly angry about how Kirk’s resurrection wrecks his hubris-heavy storyline. A lot of people saw a disposable popcorn film without Sherlock crushing Robocop’s skull in, thought it was alright if a bit silly, and only ever mentioned it twice for the rest of their lives.

So, the question is whether or not the fraction of the audience that we belong to can do anything about the films we’re offered.

It’ll be interesting to see how Ghostbusters does, because obviously that’s got a lot of people who don’t want to go and see it for various reasons. One of these is simply that it’s a remake of a popular movie. It’s worth noting from the figures we have suggest that remakes rarely make the top ten of the highest earners. If Ghostbusters underperforms it could be due to not enough people being willing to see it in the cinema, as has recently happened with Fantastic Four or The Amazing Spider-Man. What these two movies demonstrate is that it is possible to vote with your feet and wallet, but not that people are unwilling to see sequels or reboots. Spider-Man is returning as part of a different franchise in a film that is adaptation, prequel and sequel. Has anyone stated they’re unwilling to see Captain America: Civil War? People are generally fine with reboots of Fantastic Four and Spider-Man because previous attempts at franchises produced poor films.

And this is where the studios have got us, because the majority of people who visit this site are excited for Captain America or Batman Vs Superman, and a fair few people who aren’t excited for these films will end up seeing them anyway.

I mean, who has the time and peer group to be able to boycott the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a point of principle?

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