Humdrum numbers leave some brands in question, with lower budgets and younger casts likely for those that return.
The mixed box-office bag for this summer's tentpole films is forcing studios to revisit their strategies for keeping individual franchises going.
A version of this story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Even before Homecoming hit theaters, Sony ordered a sequel for July 5, 2019, with Jon Watts now in negotiations to return as director.
The sequel will spin out of the events that unfold in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War (May 4, 2018), which also will star Holland.
But the real test will come as Sony expands its Spider-Man universe without Marvel's help. Venom (slated for release on Oct. 5, 2018) shoots this fall with director Ruben Fleischer and star Tom Hardy; and the female-superhero-led Silver & Black (which doesn't have a release date yet) will be directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. The studio is convinced that emphasizing Homecoming's high school setting was key to the reboot.
"It’s a trap to mistake extra bombast for heightened emotion,” says Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Rothman. "Even huge spectacle, absent of great characters, is ultimately numbing. Making the audience care is a lot harder than making things blow up."
The fifth installment, The Last Knight, opened to a series low ($69.1 million in its domestic debut over the Fourth of July holiday weekend). While it has seen more action abroad for an international gross of $392.4 million, it is still expected to be the lowest-grossing entry in the Transformers franchise to date, and has only earned $517.3 million worldwide in four weeks.
Now, Paramount is cutting costs. Its Bumblebee spin-off is pegged at $70 million-plus (according to sources), compared to Last Knight's $217 million.
A younger cast, headed by Hailee Steinfeld, 20, will be directed by Travis Knight when filming starts in August. The story, centered on the yellow bot, will be set in 1987.
"We are trying to please the fans and also give them a new experience," says producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. "Plus, there’s a new audience introduced to the franchise every 10 years, and we have an obligation to that new audience."
By waving a feminist flag, director Patty Jenkins breathed new life into the DC universe. Wonder Woman has earned $765 million to date, and not only earned critical praise, but, eight weeks in, boasts the best hold of any superhero film in more than 15 years at the North American box office.
Warner Bros. quickly started negotiations with Jenkins for a sequel (star Gal Gadot already has signed on for multiple DC films), which it will officially unveil July 22 at Comic-Con.
Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant dropped 71 percent in its second weekend, and has earned $232 million worldwide. Sources say Fox will have to reassess two intended sequels Scott has pitched while he is off helming Getty kidnapping movie All the Money in the World and then drug lord drama The Cartel.
Despite the film's lackluster performance ($389.6 million worldwide to date), Universal is moving forward with its monster-filled Dark Universe, but slowly, to allow for more script development. The stories will be tied together by Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll.
Convinced Tom Cruise saved Mummy from being a bigger flop, the studio is betting on names, prepping an offer to Angelina Jolie for Bride of Frankenstein (slated for release on Feb. 14, 2019) and polishing the script for Van Helsing, aimed for Channing Tatum. Johnny Depp is attached to star in The Invisible Man.
The current trilogy has run its course as War for the Planet of the Apes opened lower domestically ($56 million) than its predecessor. But while director Matt Reeves has moved on to Warners' The Batman movie, he is still interested in returning for a spin-off based on one of the other apes.
"The whole idea of Bad Ape is that there are other apes out there, and those apes don’t have the benefits of Caesar's leadership. The conflicts of the future are not going to be humans and apes, they will be apes and apes," Reeves told THR. "I wanted to seed that idea because I thought there were a lot more stories and there are characters that I have grown to love."
Cars 3's $54 million domestic opening was a franchise low, and there are no official plans for a sequel, though Disneytoon Studios (which made the Planes films), planning an untitled movie about fighter jets for 2019, isn't giving up on anthropomorphic transport. At the D23 convention on July 14, the studio debuted some early footage that had a feel similar to Top Gun.
With The Fate of the Furious' $1.2 billion worldwide gross, the franchise appears impervious to fatigue. So it’s no wonder that the studio is chugging ahead with the ninth (April 19, 2019) and tenth (April 2, 2021) installments and exploring a spin-off movie that would star Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.
Although Despicable Me 3, which opened on June 30, is trailing behind Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 in box-office revenue (at press time it had earned $191 million in North America and $625 worldwide), Illumination Entertainment is already well on its way to extending its popular, $3.3 billion franchise with Minions 2, which is slated to arrive July 3, 2020.