When to release your sequel

“The Lego Movie Sequel” just had its release pushed back another year to 2019, meaning that it will come out a full five years after “The Lego Movie.” So anyone who saw it as a five year old will be 10 when the sequel comes out. Anyone who was 12 will be 17. Is that too much time between sequels? Will the film do worse because of the five year difference or will it not matter? What is the ideal time to release a sequel?

Strictly looking at box office numbers and not the quality of sequels, time apart between movies does seem to acutely matter.

Take a look at the recently released “Independence Day: Resurgence”, a sequel to a movie that came out twenty years ago. The original “Independence Day” made $306 million in the United States, a huge amount at the time. “Resurgence” made $103 million. That is a major drop.

Another recently released sequel, “My Big Fat Greek Weeding 2”, completed its box office run with $59 million, a far cry from the $241 million its predecessor made 14 years ago.

“Alice Through the Looking Glass” grossed $77 million this year, well below the original’s $314 million gross six years ago.

“Zoolander” grossed $45 million; its sequel, released 15 years later, grossed $28 million.

“300” grossed $210 million; its sequel, released 7 years later, grossed $106 million.

When looking at recent sequels released within just a few years of their predecessor, the numbers appear more similar:

– Ride Along (2014): $134 million/ Ride Along 2 (2016): $90 million

– X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) $233 million/ X-Men: Apocalypse (2016): $155 million

– Man of Steel (2013): $291 million/ Batman V Superman (2016): $333 million

– The Conjuring (2013): $137 million/ The Conjuring 2 (2016): $102 million

This is not to say that all sequels are as relatively successful as their predecessor. Sequels such as “Now You See Me 2”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2”, and “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” all grossed significantly less than their predecessors even though they were released just a few years apart.

So it is not a given that a sequel will perform well if made soon after the first film, but it certainly helps. The exception would be the comedy sequel; “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”, “Neighbors 2”, “Ted 2” and “Horrible Bosses 2” all grossed significantly less than the original despite not a lot of time between releases, further strengthening the theory that a comedy sequel is a terrific challenge for any studio.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and those exceptions are big name franchises that have not lost muster over time, specifically “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park.” Nostalgia and love for the original drove those films sequels to blockbuster grosses even though it has been decades since their releases.

Looking even closer at sequelitis, compare the original film to its second sequel.

– Divergent (2014): $150 million/ The Divergent Series: Allegiant (2016): $33 million

– Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007): $217 million/ Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011): $133 million

– Blade (1998): $70 million/ Blade: Trinity (2004): $52 million

– Taken (2009): $145 million/ Taken 3 (2015): $89 million

– The Hobbit (2012): $303 million/ The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014): $255 million

So even if a film has a successful sequel, a third sequel rarely works unless again, you are working with one of the premier franchises with a built-in audience.

However, one of the common exceptions to the law of diminishing returns for box office receipts is the animated sequel. One need only look at the box office records of “Finding Dory” to see that an animated sequel, even if it is released 13 years after its predecessor, can still be highly profitable.

Sequels in the “Shrek” series, the “Despicable Me” series, the “Kung Fu Panda” series, the “Madagascar” series, the “Toy Story” series, “Monsters University”, “Rio 2” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2” have all proven successful no matter the length of time between films. There are still sequel flops in the animated genre (The Smurfs 2), but in general, the family-friendly audience supports most of whatever is in theaters no matter quality and length of time between films.

So, if you are a studio, and you are contemplating a sequel, you should consider the following:

– If your film was released in the last three years, go ahead and make a sequel, but make sure it is of high quality.

– If it has been longer than three years, and it’s name is not “Jurassic Park” or “Star Wars”, don’t make it.

– If it is the third of an entry, don’t make it unless you have lady luck on your side.

– If it is an animated film, go ahead. It doesn’t particularly matter if the film is any good.

– If it is a comedy, don’t make it.

So “The Lego Movie Sequel” should be fine since it’s an animated film, not to mention the fact that “The Lego Batman Movie” comes out next year to tide fans over. But “Super Troopers 2” and “Bad Santa 2”? Probably not so much.


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