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A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

Hollywood’s bottom line took a beating in 2016 when audiences turned their noses up at that revered cash cow, the sequel. Not all, of course; Captain America Civil War kept the Marvel flag flying. But only a year ago, Jurassic Park, Star Wars and Fast & Furious rehashes earned mega-bucks. So which nine flaccid follow-ups stand out as part of the problem…?

The ‘Dads with sons’ crowd bolstered this rush-job follow-up to the 2014 surprise hit to the tune of US$82million, but that represents a nearly 50% drop in takings. These kinds of sequels – ‘brand abuse’ fodder used to fill seats for 10 or so days before disappearing to Netflix – are what do immeasurable damage to consumer confidence. There were too many of these shallow cash grabs in 2016. The Numbers: Opening weekend was off 46% from 2014. Represented one of producer Michael Bay’s lowest wide release launches.

This year’s Pan; a garish, charmless cash-grab, Disney shoe-horned ill-suited director James Bobin (who had already dropped the ball on another sequel, Muppets Most Wanted) when Tim Burton, who helmed the blockbuster original in 2010 (??) Everything felt manipulative and manufactured, and audiences weren’t conned. Depp’s falling star and scathing reviews (30% on Rotten Tomatoes) didn’t help. The Numbers: Alice in Wonderland opened to US$117million in 2010 vs Alice Through the Looking Glass topped out at US$27million; down 77%.

In 2012, magical elements came together to turn Snow White & The Huntsman into a sleeper hit. Leading lady Kristen Stewart was hot of Twilight; Chris Hemsworth was on the cusp; the trailer sold the film as an action fantasy epic, just as the Lord of The Ring crowd were feeling forgotten; and, director Rupert Sander’s film punched above its weight, delivering stunning visuals and exciting plotting. The sequel? It stunk. Despite pay-chequeing a trio of top actresses (Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt) and securing a disinterested Chris Hemsworth to front up again, this was a tired, boring, cynical second role of the dice. The Numbers: Snow White & The Huntsman conjured US$155million after a healthy US$56million first weekend vs Winter Wars’ putrid US$19million opening salvo, on its way to a meagre US$44million; off around 65%.

Another ‘Why bother?’ sequel, too long after the original for anyone to care. Opening numbers weren’t too bad; 15 years ago, Ben Stiller’s fashion industry send-up earned US15million, while his sequel hit US$13million. But then the reviews dropped (“Agonizingly paced and bewilderingly outdated”; “The worst thing Ben Stiller has ever done”) and audiences sniffed a stinker. The Numbers: #1 found most its love on home video, its US$45million box office take in 2001 qualifying it for sleeper status at best; the sequel sputtered to US$28million.

Bringing back Matt Damon and series director Paul Greengrass in the franchise they emboldened seemed a good investment. But the script was murky, uninteresting; the small-scale intensity and human interest element of the series best episodes was gone. This fifth instalment felt undercooked and overmarketed, now resembling the soulless action sequels that past Bourne franchise entries had subverted. Not even the presence of ‘It Girl’ Alicia Vikander was enough to woo critics. The Numbers:…were good. Topped out at US$162million domestically, more again worldwide. But have you ever met anyone who liked it? Testament to Damon’s popularity in the role, but #6 (ugh) must be better.   

The crude/sweet vibe of the beloved Christmas black comedy original was always going to be nigh impossible to recreate. But did the sequel have to be so needlessly crass and heartless? Billy Bob Thornton hadn’t headlined a cinema release in God’s knows how long, and his recent support turns had been in expensive duds Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Entourage and Our Brand is Crisis. Thirteen years after the original built word-of-mouth on its way to a super-profitable US$60million, the sequel… The Numbers: …bombed from Day 1, playing to 2920 thinly patronised theatres for an anaemic opening gross of US$6million; final tally, US$17million.

It was only two years ago that Bryan Singer, returning to the franchise that he launched so spectacularly, got some of the best reviews of his career for X-Men: Days of Future Past. In 2016, everything went wrong for the filmmaker and his beloved series, with the latest edition, X-Men: Apocalypse, getting some nasty notices and opening limply in the prime May 27 summer season slot. All the actors looked over it, none more so than Michael Fassbender, who really should give all that money back. A thoughtless ad campaign that featured Jennifer Lawrence being grabbed by the neck ensured bad press; Singer’s ambitious use of next-wave effects backfired, with fanboys complaining of the ‘video game look.’ The franchise has stagnated. The Numbers: The US$65million opening was down 28% on the last instalment, suggesting the fanbase demographic were the only ones who showed. That’s not ideal when your cast boasts Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Oscar Isaac. Still clawed it’s way to an ok US$155million, but that’s $80million down on Days of Future Past.    

Yes, it does seem ridiculous to cite this follow-up as being part of the ‘sequelitis’ problem. It topped US$1billion globally, US$486million domestically; for inflation, that’s kind of on par with the 2003 original. But what we question in the case of Finding Dory is the quality. Pixar set a high standard for themselves, and this story seemed rushed, was certainly without warmth or laughs, and lacked the visual artistry of the original (and most other Pixar pics). One theory is that the company was coming off their first real dud in The Good Dinosaur and needed a sure thing to appease shareholders, meaning this was fast-tracked for a 2016 release before it was entirely ready. The Numbers: They were fine.

Audiences decided, “Nope, don’t need it, don’t want it” from the start. The problem with lightning-strike-twice follow-ups – films that try to recapture the chemistry and dynamic of comedies, in particular - is that THEY NEVER DO! Actually, Neighbours 2 wasn’t that bad a film, but even those that liked the first film felt that once was enough. A little Seth Rogen goes a long way, and Sausage Party was getting lots of coverage, perhaps undercutting Neighbours’ pull. The Numbers: Opened a whopping 56% below the original; closed US$100million behind its predecessor. Internationally, 150+% less than #1.

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