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‘Transformers’ Demonstrates Franchise Power

8 Jul, 2009 By: John Latchem

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen recently took over the top spot at the box office for 2009, a position it seems poised to maintain. If it does so, or if the new "Harry Potter" movie takes the crown, it would continue a trend that really illustrates how reliant Hollywood is becoming on its core franchises.

Since 2003, each No. 1 at the domestic box office has been a sequel:

2008 — The Dark Knight
2007 — Spider-Man 3
2006 — Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
2005 — Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith
2004 — Shrek 2
2003 — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The last non-sequel was Spider-Man in 2002, which itself was based on one of the beloved comic book franchises of all time. In 2001 it was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, in 2000 it was The Grinch, and 1999 saw Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace take the top spot.

In fact, the last yearly No. 1 not to be based on other source material was Saving Private Ryan in 1998. Other top earners in the 1990s include Titanic (1997), Independence Day (1996) and Forrest Gump (1994). So we went from a decade in which four of the 10 top earners were standalone films with no sequel, to a decade in which nine out of 10 were part of a franchise. And Saving Private Ryan paved the way for Band of Brothers and the upcoming The Pacific.

And the worldwide box office numbers are even more titled toward franchises. According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, since 1989, only four global top box office films (Titanic, Independence Day, Armageddon in 1998 and Ghost in 1990) were not connected in a franchise.

While this is great news for select fanboys who follow certain brands, it could push smaller films out of the studio eye and into the indie fold, as Hollywood seeks to establish bigger and more-lucrative franchises.

Critics such as Roger Ebert postulate the bubble could be about to burst. But as long as audiences reward spectacle over quality, it doesn’t appear the trend is going to curb any time soon.

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