A trend that has become ever more prominent in Hollywood, particularly over the last few years, is the habit of making sequels to films that no one wanted a sequel to. There seems to be a way of thinking that has gripped Hollywood executives, in which any project with a number or subtitle at the end is viewed as a far safer bet than an original property. Cue a glut of follow-ups for films that had a rather small fanbase to begin with.
Perhaps the strangest part of all of this, is that this technique has proven to be anything but a recipe for success. A quick glance through some of last year’s unwanted sequels will bring up a number of under-performers and outright flops including: Independence Day: Resurgence, Zoolander 2, The Divergent Series: Allegiant, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Now You See Me 2, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, and Bad Santa 2.
But Hollywood, often slow to learn from their mistakes, isn’t giving up just yet and the trend seems set to continue. Announced this week, a sequel to a very modest “hit” from 2013, Escape Plan 2 starring Sylvester Stallone. The first film in this aspiring franchise brought in $137 million on a budget of $50 million; a haul which becomes less impressive when considered that most films require around two and a half times their production budget in order to break-even (that’s $125 million in this case).
Still the bare minimum is often all that it takes to greenlight a sequel in a film industry which is increasingly risk-averse, and so the plot of Escape Plan (which received a mixed response from critics), will be continued in a sequel which is currently being written. Stallone is signed on while his co-star from the first film, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is currently in negotiations to return.
While the first movie can be reasonably considered only mildly successful, executives are banking on some newly enlisted Chinese involvement to boost the series to a higher level. Indeed, the Chinese box office has become a major influence in the production of Hollywood blockbusters, as takings in the Middle Kingdom have been rising significantly. Keen to exploit this, many studios have been catering to Chinese audiences, which has had a positive effect on the more frequent assembly of diverse casts.
Escape Plan 2 is to be a co-production between the U.S. company Emmett/Furla/Oasis and the Beijing-based Leomus Pictures, with Chinese story elements one of the few details to be announced about the upcoming new feature. The first film took more money in China than it did in North America, so the financial thought process behind this decision is clear to see.
Where the problem lies is in continued investment away from original concepts, in favour of more films which value the cookie-cutter templates that forgettable blockbusters have followed for decades. The abundance of sequels coming out of Hollywood is a topic that has been under much discussion as of late; the fact is however, that many established franchises do have passionate fanbases which give reason to their existence. The more egregious use of the sequel greenlight, is in cases such as these where subsequent movies are unnecessary and largely unwanted.
The screenwriter of the first film has returned to pen Escape Plan 2, and it seems likely that the sequel will share a similar level of mediocrity. It will come, it will be utterly forgettable, and it will quickly disappear. Better uses of the $40-$60 million soon to be poured into the project can easily be thought up.