Has "Franchise Fatigue" Set In? Box Office Averages Are Down For Sequels And Remakes In 2016

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A fair bit has been written this year about the box office phenomenon called “franchise fatigue." Indeed, at various points during the year, industry followers were caught off-guard by the disparity between projected gross and actual gross for franchise films such as "Neighbors 2," which audiences did not flock to see like they had for the previous installment. However, when one looks at the top grossing films of the year through November 27, four of the top five films are a sequel or remake.

Perhaps we are just in a period where some franchises have begun to run their course and audiences are ready to move on. Maybe there are just too many event films hitting theaters now, and consumers are being more selective in their choices of which movie to watch in the theater.

Keeping these thoughts in mind, we decided to look at the number of wide-release sequels/remakes — including re-released films — that were released in theaters from 2010 through November 20, 2016, and calculate the average opening gross and total gross. We then did the same for the original wide-release films and for all wide-release films combined to compare and contrast the results and see if there are any trends.

Looking first at the number of films released in these categories, there were 23 sequels/remakes released in theater in 2010. That number has grown by a 7.8% compound annual rate to 36 films through November 20, 2016. There were 105 original films released in theaters in 2010, and that number fell to 91 in 2016. Meanwhile, the total number of wide-release films has been fairly steady at 128 in 2010 and 127 through November 20, 2016.

Number of sequel-remake films and original films released

The average opening gross for a sequel/remake fell 27.4% from $55.8 million in 2015 to $40.5 million. Last year included two massive franchise hits, “Jurassic World” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which heavily impacted the average grosses in 2015. If we removed them from the 2015 results, the average opening gross for 2015 sequels/remakes drops down to $45.0 million, meaning the 2016 average opening was still down 10.0% compared to 2015. The average opening gross for sequels/remakes has dropped at a compound annual rate of 5.2%, from $55.7 million in 2010 to $40.5 million in 2016. They have had a rather up and down nature during this period, declining in 2011 before growing in 2012 and 2013. They then dropped again in 2014 before growing in 2015.

Meanwhile, the average opening gross for original films has held fairly steady going from $18.7 million in 2010 to $18.0 million in 2016, a negative 0.8% compound annual growth rate for the period. Originals, too, had an up and down nature over the 2010 to 2016 period. This was also the story for the average opening gross for all the wide-releases we tracked during the period—going from $25.4 million in 2010 to $24.4 million in 2016.

Sequel - remake average opening grosses vs original film average opening grosses

The trends for total grosses were essentially the same, with sequels/remakes averaging a $153.2 million total gross in 2010 and $109.1 million in 2016. Original films averaged a $59.8 million total gross in 2010 and $51.5 million 2016, which is up a slight 0.5% from the $51.2 million average in 2015. Overall, the average total gross for all wide release films dropped from $76.6 million in 2010 to $67.8 million in 2016.

It’s important to note that the 2016 figures should go up some, as there's more than a month left in the box office year at the time of this analysis. “Rogue One: Star Wars Story” will be released on December 16 and is poised to be another massive hit that should boost the sequel/remake figures. There are also a number of original films yet to come with box office potential, like “Sing” and “Assassin’s Creed.”

Sequel - remake average total grosses vs original film average total grosses

Still, it appears that there is a downward trend when it comes to the numbers that sequels/remakes are making at the box office. However, don’t expect studios to dramatically shift course anytime soon. The averages may be coming down some, but sequels/remakes are still making over twice as much at the box office as original films, which generally translates into greater revenue down the line. 

So, grab your popcorn and large soda, lean back in your reclining theater chair, and get ready for more big-budget franchise films to grace the silver screen.