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Peter T Chattaway

are movies becoming less and less original?

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A passing reference in this article on Ratatouille got me thinking (and number-crunching, again):

That originality is a dying value on the blockbuster end of the movie business is no secret. In the last five years, only about 20 percent of the films with more than $200 million in domestic ticket sales were purely original in concept, rather than a sequel or an adaptation of some pre-existing material like "The Da Vinci Code."

In the 1990s, originals accounted for more than twice that share, led by "Titanic," which took in more than $600 million at the box office after its release in 1997.

So, hmmm... there are 73 movies that have grossed over $200 million in North America, 34 of them since 2002, and 39 of them before that.

Of the 34 films released between 2002 and 2007 ...

... 17 were sequels (including prequels):

Shrek 2 DW $441,226,247 2004

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest BV $423,315,812 2006

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith Fox $380,270,577 2005

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King NL $377,027,325 2003

Spider-Man 2 Sony $373,585,825 2004

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers NL $341,786,758 2002^

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones Fox $310,676,740 2002^

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire WB $290,013,036 2005

The Matrix Reloaded WB $281,576,461 2003

Meet the Fockers Uni. $279,261,160 2004

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets WB $261,988,482 2002

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban WB $249,541,069 2004

X-Men: The Last Stand Fox $234,362,462 2006

X2: X-Men United Fox $214,949,694 2003

Austin Powers in Goldmember NL $213,307,889 2002

Batman Begins WB $205,343,774 2005

Superman Returns WB $200,081,192 2006

... 3 were remakes:

War of the Worlds Par. $234,280,354 2005

King Kong Uni. $218,080,025 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory WB $206,459,076 2005

... 6 were based on novels, comics, scriptures and/or theme park attractions:

Spider-Man Sony $403,706,375 2002

The Passion of the Christ NM $370,782,930 2004^

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl BV $305,413,918 2003

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe BV $291,710,957 2005

The Da Vinci Code Sony $217,536,138 2006

300 WB $204,644,259 2007

... and 8 were original:

Finding Nemo BV $339,714,978 2003

The Incredibles BV $261,441,092 2004

Night at the Museum Fox $249,869,448 2006

Cars BV $244,082,982 2006

Bruce Almighty Uni. $242,829,261 2003

My Big Fat Greek Wedding IFC $241,438,208 2002

Signs BV $227,966,634 2002

Wedding Crashers NL $209,255,921 2005

By my calculations, 8 out of 34 movies is more like 23.5% -- more like one-fourth than one-fifth -- but the article is not far off.

And of the 39 films released between 1973 and 2001 ...

... 10 were sequels (including prequels):

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace Fox $431,088,301 1999

Return of the Jedi Fox $309,306,177 1983^

The Empire Strikes Back Fox $290,475,067 1980^

Toy Story 2 BV $245,852,179 1999

The Lost World: Jurassic Park Uni. $229,086,679 1997

Rush Hour 2 NL $226,164,286 2001

Mission: Impossible II Par. $215,409,889 2000

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me NL $206,040,086 1999

Terminator 2: Judgment Day TriS $204,843,345 1991

The Mummy Returns Uni. $202,019,785 2001

... 3 were sort-of remakes (all of which were based on earlier books or comics):

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring NL $314,776,170 2001^

How the Grinch Stole Christmas Uni. $260,044,825 2000

Batman WB $251,188,924 1989

... 7 were based on novels or comics:

Jurassic Park Uni. $357,067,947 1993

Forrest Gump Par. $329,694,499 1994

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone WB $317,575,550 2001

Shrek DW $267,665,011 2001

Jaws Uni. $260,000,000 1975

Men in Black Sony $250,690,539 1997

The Exorcist WB $232,671,011 1973^

... and 19 were essentially original:

Titanic Par. $600,788,188 1997

Star Wars Fox $460,998,007 1977^

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Uni. $435,110,554 1982^

The Lion King BV $328,541,776 1994^

Independence Day Fox $306,169,268 1996

The Sixth Sense BV $293,506,292 1999

Home Alone Fox $285,761,243 1990

Monsters, Inc. BV $255,873,250 2001

Raiders of the Lost Ark Par. $242,374,454 1981^

Twister WB $241,721,524 1996

Ghostbusters Col. $238,632,124 1984^

Beverly Hills Cop Par. $234,760,478 1984

Cast Away Fox $233,632,142 2000

Mrs. Doubtfire Fox $219,195,243 1993

Ghost Par. $217,631,306 1990

Aladdin BV $217,350,219 1992

Saving Private Ryan DW $216,540,909 1998

Back to the Future Uni. $210,609,762 1985

Armageddon BV $201,578,182 1998

So, 19 movies out of 39 gives us ... 48.7%, or almost half.

And if we limit ourselves to the 11 films made in the 1970s and 1980s ...

... 2 were sequels:

Return of the Jedi Fox $309,306,177 1983^

The Empire Strikes Back Fox $290,475,067 1980^

... 1 was a sort-of remake (of a film which was, in turn, based on a TV show that was, in turn, based on a comic book):

Batman WB $251,188,924 1989

... 2 were based on novels:

Jaws Uni. $260,000,000 1975

The Exorcist WB $232,671,011 1973^

... and 6 were essentially original:

Star Wars Fox $460,998,007 1977^

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Uni. $435,110,554 1982^

Raiders of the Lost Ark Par. $242,374,454 1981^

Ghostbusters Col. $238,632,124 1984^

Beverly Hills Cop Par. $234,760,478 1984

Back to the Future Uni. $210,609,762 1985

So, 6 out of 11 gives us ... 54.5%, or slightly more than half.

Incidentally, note how none of those 11 films (with the exception of the Star Wars franchise) generated any sequels or prequels that were equally successful. There once was a time when sequels could be counted on to make LESS money than the original movie -- which always made it seem strange to me that the budgets for sequels always seemed to get progressively bigger.

It is only in the last decade or so that sequels have begun to consistently outgross their predecessors. Make of that what you will.

And if you want to look at this last list as The All-Time Top 11 As Of 1989, and then compare it to The All-Time Top 11 As Of 2006, the current stats are ...

... 6 were sequels (including prequels):

Shrek 2 DW $441,226,247 2004

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace Fox $431,088,301 1999

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest BV $423,315,812 2006

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith Fox $380,270,577 2005

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King NL $377,027,325 2003

Spider-Man 2 Sony $373,585,825 2004

... 2 were based on comics and/or scriptures:

Spider-Man Sony $403,706,375 2002

The Passion of the Christ NM $370,782,930 2004^

... and 3 were original:

Titanic Par. $600,788,188 1997

Star Wars Fox $460,998,007 1977^

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Uni. $435,110,554 1982^

So, 3 out of 11 gives us ... 27.3%, or barely more than one-fourth. And only one of those three was produced after the 1980s.

For whatever that's worth.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Peter, I might be 1 of maybe only 5 super-geeks on this whole web site who actually enjoys box office data. So this artcile did NOT go unappreciated by me. And I can tell you put a lot of work into it. (I likewise have posted similar examples of meticulously presented stats, and it can take me an hour or more to compose such a post.)

In my scriptwriting endeavors, I keep reading again and again from other writers and industry professionals that studios want to see 3 things in your script, none of which have anything to do with drama, characterization, and story structure:

1) merchandizing potential (poster child: Star Wars)

2) product placement opportunities (poster child: E.T.)

3) sequel fodder (poster child: ET and Dirty Dancing and Titanic)

So these 3 bean-counter considerations have been an ever-growing part of the greenlight process in the past twenty years. I am told that current coverage sheets for some studios actually include check-off boxes for these three elements

(BTW, I can't find the original "Superman: The Movie" anywhere here in your data. Did it really make so little??)

ETA: (I added "Titanic" to #3 above)

Edited by Plot Device

INT. HOLY TRINITY CHURCH - SANCTUARY - NIGHT

FATHER LORENZO

So now that you've told me all of this: why do you hold such a deep aversion to discussing angels?

PASTOR DAVID

Because I don't wanna get it WRONG! To stand up in front of my congregation--AND in front of God-- and screw it up! Do you hold much stock in that passage from James that says "We who teach will be judged more strictly"??

FATHER LORENZO

Yes... in fact .... I consider that one scripture to be an occupational hazard.

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Peter, Plot -

I haven't the strength nor patience to read all that data. However,

are movies becoming less and less original?

Yes, duh.

Sometimes the heart knows best.

-s.


In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Peter, Plot -

I haven't the strength nor patience to read all that data.

Then you are NOT part of the Elite Inner-Circle of Five. :lol::PB)


INT. HOLY TRINITY CHURCH - SANCTUARY - NIGHT

FATHER LORENZO

So now that you've told me all of this: why do you hold such a deep aversion to discussing angels?

PASTOR DAVID

Because I don't wanna get it WRONG! To stand up in front of my congregation--AND in front of God-- and screw it up! Do you hold much stock in that passage from James that says "We who teach will be judged more strictly"??

FATHER LORENZO

Yes... in fact .... I consider that one scripture to be an occupational hazard.

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Peter,

I find your research fascinating. And not unexpected.

I once read that everything ever written before the printing press would not be as many words as in the Los Angeles Times on an average Sunday. I don't know if that is true, but it sounds true.

The point is that "content is king" now in this word-saturated, movie-saturated world and there is such a drive to just "say something" or "film something" so that we can keep the money rolling into the industry that this kind of situation is inevitable, IMHO.

One of the things, though, that I argue is that the professional reviewers who see hundreds of films a year are bored with remakes and repetitive story lines while the average film-attending person may see a fraction of that many each year, and what is unique for one is not for the other. And therefore what is most important is the quality of the tale and the impact it has on the viewer, rather than unique for unique's sake.

Denny

Edited by Denny Wayman

Since 1995 we have authored a commentary on film, cinema in focus. Though we enjoy cinema as an art form, our interests lie not so much in reviewing a film as in beginning a conversation about the social and spiritual values presented. We, therefore, often rate a film higher or lower due to its message rather than its quality of acting or film-making.

Cinema In Focus Website

Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara Website

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Is literature different? Doesn't much of popular writing repeat itself? Harry Potter. "The Cat Who" books. Just about everything that John Grisham writes. Myriad romance novels.

Should we expect film to be different? Great lit may not be the stuff that repeats and is serialized (although some of that might be good -- Narnia, HP), but that which stands out from the pack. I would expect Barnes and Noble sell far more trash to treasure. The megaplexes are filled with stuff people pay to see over and over (just different titles), but there is still art that is not plagarism being made.


A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Plot Device wrote:

: (BTW, I can't find the original "Superman: The Movie" anywhere here in your data. Did it really make so little??)

I actually noticed that when I first crunched the numbers, but didn't think to follow it up.

BoxOfficeMojo.com says the film made $134,218,018 in North America, and while that website doesn't have an annual chart for 1978, I would have to say that numbers like that were pretty darn good at the time. Consider that, in 1980, the first year that that website DOES have an annual chart for, only THREE movies made over $100 million: The Empire Strikes Back ($209.4 million), 9 to 5 ($103.3 million) and Stir Crazy ($101.3 million). Ditto 1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark ($209.6 million), On Golden Pond ($119.3 million) and Superman II ($108.2 million). In 1982, FIVE films reached those heights -- E.T. ($359.2 million), Tootsie ($177.2 million), An Officer and a Gentleman ($129.8 million), Rocky III ($124.1 million) and Porky's ($105.5 million) -- but then in 1983, only TWO movies reached those heights, namely Return of the Jedi ($252.6 million) and Terms of Endearment ($108.4 million). It's not until 1986 that FIVE movies reach those heights again, and then in 1988 SIX movies reached it, and then in 1989 NINE movies reached it, and then in 1992 ELEVEN movies reached it.

As far as $200 million grossers go, the first year on record (i.e. since 1980) to have TWO such films was 1984 -- Beverly Hills Cop ($234.8 million) and Ghostbusters ($229.2 million) -- and that didn't happen again until 1990, when Home Alone ($285.8 million) and Ghost ($217.6 million) came out. And then it happened again in 1993, when Jurassic Park ($357.1 million) and Mrs. Doubtfire ($219.2 million) came out. And then, in 1994, TWO films made more than $300 million -- Forrest Gump ($329.7 million) and The Lion King ($312.9 million) -- but no other films made more than $200 million. The first year to see THREE movies make more than $200 million was 1997: Titanic ($600.8 million), Men in Black ($250.7 million) and The Lost World: Jurassic Park ($229.1 million). At least two films have done it every year since, and at least SIX films have done it every year since 2001; a record EIGHT films did it in 2005.

Every year since 1980 has had at least one $200 million film, with four exceptions: 1986 (top film was Top Gun, $176.8 million), 1987 (top film was Three Men and a Baby, $167.8 million), 1988 (top film was Rain Man, $172.8 million) and 1995 (top film was Toy Story, $191.8 million).

Okay, I'll stop there.

Alan Thomas wrote:

: I think movies MUST become less original--simply because there are more movies (e.g. there were fewer sequels in 1927 than in 2007 because it would have been quite difficult to do a sequel back then--although there were a lot of filmed adaptations).

Yes, and there were lots of remakes, too -- partly because nobody was bothering to preserve films, so the originals or earlier versions were constantly being lost to wear-and-tear, etc.

: And I'm not sure box-office take is the best way to measure it. That only leads to the conclusion that audiences favor unoriginal films rather than the idea that filmmakers aren't producing them.

Well, this number-crunching began with an article about summer blockbusters, and how a studio with an "original" film is trying to compete in this sequel-strewn marketplace. But of course, the relationship between audiences and filmmakers is a bit of a feedback loop. And like I say, it is interesting to see how sequels USED to make less money than their predecessors, consistently, yet nowadays, many sequels make more money. I think it is quite possible that audiences used to get tired of franchises more quickly, whereas now, for whatever reason, they don't. But I am open to other theories.

: And, of course, measuring "originality" by mere precedent is problematic. I've seen sequels that were quite original and stand-alone work that was quite derivative.

Oh, absolutely. I mean, Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark are in the "original" category here, yet they are clearly derived from entire genres of films that came before them. You could say the same thing about, e.g., The Incredibles.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Okay, I'll stop there.

No! Don't stop! Don't Stop! I'm in geek-euphoria!


INT. HOLY TRINITY CHURCH - SANCTUARY - NIGHT

FATHER LORENZO

So now that you've told me all of this: why do you hold such a deep aversion to discussing angels?

PASTOR DAVID

Because I don't wanna get it WRONG! To stand up in front of my congregation--AND in front of God-- and screw it up! Do you hold much stock in that passage from James that says "We who teach will be judged more strictly"??

FATHER LORENZO

Yes... in fact .... I consider that one scripture to be an occupational hazard.

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Going back to the original article, it seems that animation is the exception rather than the rule. Although DTV animation is almost wholly sequels(need I mention how many Land Before Time movies there are now?), theatrical releases are usually original. The only sequels in theatres recently have been Ice Age 2 and the Shrek movies. I can't think of any of the other dozen or so animated movies that came out last year that were sequels. Is there a reason that animation does fewer sequels?


owlgod.blogspot.com - My thoughts on all kinds of media

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Bobbin Threadbare wrote:

: Is there a reason that animation does fewer sequels?

A reason? Hmmm, interesting question. Disney's feature-animation department has produced only two sequels in its 70-year history, namely The Rescuers Down Under (1990) and Fantasia 2000 (1999), neither of which did all that well. (The other Disney sequels that have made it to the big screen in recent years -- films like The Tigger Movie, Return to Neverland, and The Jungle Book 2 -- are produced by the TV division, I think. And I suspect that all of those films have done less business than the typical Disney feature.)

Toy Story 2 (1999), of course, began as a DTV project but somewhere along the way it got upgraded to a theatrical film -- and now, after much wrangling over who would get to make it and how, there is a Toy Story 3 in the works.

My hunch is that the Toy Story, Ice Age and Shrek sequels all seem to reflect the way that CGI cartoons are increasingly being treated like regular movies -- both by studios and by audiences. In the old days, each cartoon had to be an "event" of some sort, something unique -- plus they were often based on fairy tales that were so thin to begin with, it took a bit of effort to stretch them out to a single movie, let alone a franchise. Plus there was pretty much only one major studio in town that DID animation on a regular basis, and for years, Disney had a habit of re-issuing films every seven years; producing sequels would have competed with those re-issues.

Then again, come to think of it, who was the first animator to pose a serious challenge to Disney? Don Bluth. And sequels were being made of Don Bluth's films -- with or without his approval -- long before CGI came along. You mentioned all those Land Before Time DTVs, but there were theatrical sequels to An American Tail (1986, 1991) and All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989, 1996), too, before CGI came along and changed everything. Whether those sequels made any money is beside the point. The point is that the earlier films were considered big-enough hits to be sequel-worthy.

Just tossing some ideas out there.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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