These are dark times. An age approaches when old legends will fall, leaving us adrift in uncertainty: the Franchise Apocalypse.
A franchise consists of multiple sequels, not just one, each building up sales, merchandise, audience, and eye-watering profit through sheer repetition. They are nothing new – James Bond has been going since the sixties – but around the beginning of the noughties, Something changed. Now there are more sequels than originals, threequels are standard commissions, and huge franchises swallow any film which dares defy them. Regarding its inheritance, this era began with the new Star Wars, and produced a new Indiana Jones. However, it is also reaching a culmination.
Does anybody remember the first Harry Potter’s release? It has grown with us; shaped a generation. How did stereotypical teenage girls seek non-progressive female characterisation before The Twilight Saga? The Avengers may seem smaller, but it has its own persistency, rewards for loyalty, and repeated box office success. These are the long-term game-changers: Avengers reaches cinemas after five predecessors; Twilight has also stretched into five; Harry Potter ran for a mind-blowing eight. They are just three of the series which have become the mainstays of cinema. And now many – certainly the big ones – are coming to an end.
Harry Potter bowed out – in suitably understated fashion – in 2011, its absence potentially becoming more noticeable this summer. Twilight, already reaching ridiculous levels of “this is it”, ends this year; so will Avengers. Pirates of the Caribbean struggles on, threatening fifth and sixth parts, but it has chiefly been written off, at least mentally. Lord of the Rings returns with December’s The Hobbit, but leaves again next year. The Dark Knight Rises, long-awaited by both comic fans and “normal folk”, completes Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, leaving quite an act for Man of Steel to follow. In fact, superhero movies in general will be stranded, as, save for the Spider-Man reboot, Marvel’s stables are mostly empty, and DC’s non-Batman attempts have largely failed.
It is oddly appropriate that the big projects are all ending within this relatively short period. The looming unpredictability is strange though. What will we do.
This is not absolute. Bond seems unaffected, being clearly immortal; there is a weakened Pirates; there is The Hobbit; there is talk of a further X-Men revival. Studios have been searching for “the next big thing” since the first Potter – see Narnia, abused for being less successful, or The Golden Compass, quickly thrown out. The Twilight replacement is, ingeniously, The Hunger Games, taking the lead from the books’ marketing. The Avengers franchise certainly will not end.
However, in all cases, huge amounts of time and planning have been invested getting here. After the dust has settled, we will emerge into something of a new world. Studios need to remember how to take risks. Not all franchises will be gone, but their grip may be loosened. Adaptations will continue, as will sequel-baiting, but these long games have ended. Time to begin again.