A film franchise or tent-pole is a sequence of correlated films sharing the same fictional realm. If we closely look into the slates of major studios, it is clearly evident that their investment goes predominantly into developing and producing sequels, which are commonly based on intellectual properties.
History suggests that the inception of sequels began in the 14th century when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, years prior to the discovery of moving pictures. It tremendously benefited the publishing industry, primarily literature, by paving the way for people to get access to novels. Stories that were hailed as bestsellers by critics and enthusiasts made it possible for authors to create more sequels and spin-offs, which ultimately gave them financial success in the long run.
Building a Following
As moving pictures gained more popularity, filmmakers were inspired to adapt this concept of franchising successful films. One of the earliest recognized film trilogies was The Golem (1915), which was written and directed by Paul Wegener and Henrik Galeen. It was followed by The Golem and The Dancing Girl (1917), then The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920) – which garnered positive responses from distinguished critics and publications across the globe.
Hollywood saw this as an effective structure because it ensures a constant stream of box office profits made possible by devoted followers or audiences that franchises build throughout the years.
…they have 23 produced films and there are reportedly 8 more currently in development, and its all-time box office record has grossed $22.2 billion worldwide.
Today, the highest-grossing franchise in the history of cinema is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The superhero centered media franchise has evolved and branched out into different areas such as TV series, comic books, short films, and digital series. Overall, they have 23 produced films and there are reportedly 8 more currently in development, and its all-time box office record has grossed $22.2 billion worldwide.
Other notable film franchises include Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, James Bond, Jurassic Park, DC Extended Universe, and Disney Classics such as Toy Story, The Incredibles, Cars, and Indiana Jones.
The Almighty Dollar
The driving force behind this strategy is simple: risk aversion. Studios and production companies aim to eliminate as much risk and uncertainty as possible that usually comes with producing original ideas without a following, considering that they have millions of dollars on the line. So, based on data and results, rebooting past content or creating sequels has proven to be successful just because the audience already has an idea of the story, plot, and characters. It also gives the audience a sense of familiarity and attachment that they have developed from previous installments, which encourages them to invest their time and money all over again. Not to mention, it could reach new audiences who could revisit prior entries and support future ones.
Not only has Disney brilliantly mastered the art of storytelling but also the business of entertainment. Their tent-pole films remain successful because they develop and give importance to the story that is altogether entertaining, emotional, original, and all-encompassing, which naturally attracts and encourages audiences from all quadrants to invest their money.
For instance, the release of Toy Story 4 validated more that Disney is an unstoppable force that only gets stronger and stronger over the years. I honestly had reservations when Disney announced that they were going to make another Toy Story film after 9 years since I absolutely loved the 3rd installment and believed that it should’ve been the last one. However, after seeing the latest addition to the franchise, I realized that it might actually be my favorite installment. In fact, it has been deemed as “The Model of a Good Hollywood Sequel” by TIME which other franchises could learn from.
…I absolutely loved the 3rd installment and believed that it should’ve been the last one. However, after seeing the latest addition to the franchise, I realized that it might actually be my favorite installment.
It’s easy to blame the studios for their endless fascination with expanding their respective franchises time and again instead of investing more in experimental and original stories. But it’s called show “business” for a reason. Studios need to make a profit and earn back the hefty amount it took to produce their films, and tent-pole films can easily do the job. As long as moviegoers keep hitting the target ticket sales, Hollywood will continue to produce these films and even remake them to cater to different audiences and generations. They are a necessary evil of the film industry.