Typing Faster

January 28, 2010

Lessons From Twenty Successful Sci Fi Films

Filed under: Avatar, Features, Kvetch, Movies, Stuff I Like, the biz — petertypingfaster @ 10:12 am

I meant to write about this article a while back, but just forgot during the holiday craziness. Ah well, I’m making up for it now. Anyways, on to the article.

John Scalzi wrote an interesting article about the twenty most successful Sci Fi movies of the 2000’s, and correlates their success to whether they’re based on toys, comics or if they’re sequels.

It’s an interesting, if somewhat depressing, list.

Here’s the list, as ranked by IMDB Pro. Avatar‘s missing since the article was written before it was released.

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($402 million): Sequel, Toys
2. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith ($380 million): Sequel
3. Transformers ($319 million): Toys, Remake (if you count the ’80s animated flick)
4. Iron Man ($318 million): Comics
5. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones ($311 million): Sequel
6. The Matrix Reloaded ($281 million): Sequel
7. Star Trek ($250 million): Remake and Sequel, which is a nice trick if you think about it
8. I Am Legend ($256 million): Remake
9. X-Men: The Last Stand ($234 million): Sequel, Comics
10. War of the Worlds ($234 million): Remake

So the entire top ten science fiction movies of the 2000s were Toys, Comics, Sequels, Remakes. What about the next ten?

11. Signs ($228 million): Original
12. Wall*E ($224 million): Original
13. X2: X-Men United ($215 million): Sequel, Comic
14. Superman Returns ($200 million): Sequel, and also sort of Remake in that it follows Superman II, thus snipping off the storylines of Supermans III and IV.
15. Monsters Vs. Aliens ($198 million): Original
16. Men in Black II ($190 million): Sequel, Comics
17. The Day After Tomorrow ($187 million): Original
18. Jurassic Park III ($181 million): Sequel
19. Planet of the Apes ($180 million): Remake
20. X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($180 million): Sequel

IMDb Pro’s list chooses not to include any of the Spider-Man or Batman movies, but if they were there, they wouldn’t change its overall composition, as they are all remakes, sequels or based on comics.

Pretty crazy. Only four films out of twenty are original. Twenty percent. That’s pathetic.

So what are the lessons?

What does this list and its oversaturation of Toys, Comics, Sequels and Remakes tell us? Basically, it tells us what we should have already known, which is that Hollywood, despite its reputation of being a city of crazy liberals, is in fact horribly conservative with its business; if something is successful, the thing to do is make more of it. If it was successful once, redo it so it will be successful again. If it’s a huge success in another medium, leverage that success into another medium. And so on.

I think we all know that in the back of our minds, but it helps to be reminded of it every now and then.

I always wonder if it’s an internal or external problem. Whether this drive to continually retell the same stories comes solely from within the industry, regurgitating past successes, or if the audience is really demanding the same, comfortable stories over and over again.

Either way you slice it, it certainly helps to explain Avatar‘s success. A lot of people I know who hate the film cite the lame, tired retelling of the Pocahontas story as the main reason. What I keep coming back with is that’s the very reason for the film’s success. People like comfortable, familiar stories. Execute them well and the masses will flock to see your movie.

There’s nothing new under the sun folks, and to drive that point home lets go back to our list and see just how long we’ve been recycling those stories…

Transformers are more than a quarter century old. Star Wars is 32 years old; Star Trek a decade older than that. The 1954 novel I Am Legend was first made into a movie in 1964. Iron Man made his first appearance in 1963, as did the X-Men. And as for War of the Worlds, it was a remake of a 50 year old movie, based on a novel that came out 111 years ago now. Science fiction is the genre of the future, but on the business end, it’s very much rooted in the past.

111 years, that’s an awfully long time.


1 Comment »

  1. I’m still stuck on the well part.

    Wait. I said I wouldn’t argue this point anymore.

    I’d be interested in checking the note of original VS remake/sequel/adaptation when it comes to the top grossers in other genres, though.

    According to this list the first non-sequel, non-adaptation/remake is Finding Nemo at 19, followed by Independence Day. A majority of the top bunch are – as well known – sci-fi.

    Conversely, looking at the list from 1918 to today with top-grossing films is highly lit with adaptations of stories, plays and musicals, so I’m not sure this would be a new thing, specific to sci-fi.

    Comment by Elize — January 29, 2010 @ 9:13 am

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