October 15, 2000
Savvy Studios See
Savings in Sequals
When it comes to sequels, Hollywood is increasingly making a well-known gambling move: doubling down. Studios are committing millions to movies based on films that haven't even come out yet.
Miramax's Dimension Films is the most recent to consider the move. The company is releasing Spy Kids, an action-adventure family film starring Antonio Banderas, in March, but it is talking about starting production on a sequel to the film before then.
The most perilous gamble is New Line's big-screen trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The studio is spending $270 million to complete them simultaneously -- long before the first one comes out at Christmas 2001. If the first film, which stars Elijah Wood (Deep Impact) and Ian McKellen (X-Men), fails, the other films could be doomed.
But shooting the films in different years would be very difficult, says New Line's Mark Ordesky, because more than a half-dozen of the characters are in all three, and even more are in two. "You would never have been able to reassemble the cast or the crew in any sort of feasible way."
Doing them together is also much cheaper, so if the first movie is a blockbuster, the sequels will have a better chance for big profits.
A slightly safer bet is to get going on a sequel to a sequel early -- at least people know the franchise.
Two sequels to Keanu Reeves' The Matrix will soon start shooting simultaneously, with the first to be released in 2002.
The Mummy Returns, a sequel to the Brendan Fraser's 1999 sleeper, comes out in May, and a movie based on the sequel's villain, the Scorpion King (played by wrestling icon The Rock), rolls in March.
This approach has worked in the past; Back to the Future II and III were shot at the same time but released in 1989 and 1990. They grossed $118.5 million and $87.7 million, respectively.
The strategy remains savvy, says entertainment analyst Art Rockwell of Rockwell Capital Management. "If you've already committed to put up millions of dollars on the first (sequel) and you're certain it will do business, then the additional risk isn't all that great."
The surest wager: Star Wars. The fifth film in the series is in post-production, and George Lucas has already locked in actors for the sixth and final movie.
'SNL' to critics: Well, excuuuuuuse me!
Critics have fun bashing Saturday Night Live movies each October, calling SNL "a farm system for schlock" and joking about not being able to change the channel.
Even SNL alumni are tough on SNL films. On the 25th anniversary TV special last year, Chris Rock said: "Some of the worst movies ever made were made by people in this room. Thank God we're all doing what we do best tonight: television."
Don't expect today's The Ladies Man (review, 6E), with Tim Meadows as a groovy womanizer, to be the last.
Why? Simple: The movies make money.
Though most aren't blockbusters in the USA and do little business overseas, where the original skits are unknown, they cost little (usually in the midteens and just $11 million for The Ladies Man). The most recent SNL productions, A Night at the Roxbury and Superstar, each grossed more than $30 million at theaters and brought in about $14 million on video. Those are "pretty decent successes, considering the cost of the films," says entertainment analyst Tom Adams of Adams Media Research.
"We set out to make these films very cost-effectively, and we have always turned a profit," says Paramount vice chairman Rob Friedman. Though Stuart Saves His Family and It's Pat could be exceptions (each grossed less than $1 million), there's another exception that obliterates those bombs: Wayne's World, the one SNL blockbuster at $120 million-plus.
And you never know what will hit big, Friedman says. "Our primary goal is to create a motion picture that we believe will turn a profit but has the ability to be a breakout movie like Wayne's World."