OPINION: Are franchise movies dying?

(Illustration by Cole Bertelsen | Collegian Media Group)

The average moviegoer’s experience with a film ends when they leave the theater. Most don’t follow the success of a movie beyond word of mouth recommendations, and when movie studios announce some gigantic number for gross earnings, each movie sounds like a success. That often isn’t the case. 

A movie’s reported budget and marketing cost need to be measured against its profit. While box office numbers look impressive, not all of that goes back to the filmmakers. A little over half of domestic box office earnings return to the distributor, and it’s less overseas. U.S. studios only get 25% of the revenue from their movies playing in China. 

Because of these factors, the general rule of thumb is a movie needs to make 2.5 times its budget to not simply break even, but succeed. Applying that rule, many recent franchise movies have been failures. Marvel hasn’t had a significant success since 2020 aside from “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and Disney has lost an estimated $900 million in 2023 according to Screenrant.

So why are these big-budget movies not succeeding like they once did? 

The most clear and consistent issue with these franchise films is the studios’ mismanagement of resources. Studios like Disney don’t value their time and money during filming like they once did. CGI has allowed directors to wander aimlessly during production with the cushion that everything can be fixed in post or reshot later. 

CGI artists are notoriously given extremely tight deadlines for blockbuster movies. More and more movies are filmed in front of a green screen, when the scenes could easily be shot on location for less money. This is done for the flexibility to easily alter scenes if major changes are made to the story. Too many films are written as they’re shot, and this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method of filmmaking is not practical or reliable. 

An odd trend among movie studios is hiring shockingly unqualified writers for extremely important films. The most glaring example of this is “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” writer Jeff Loveness, who landed the job of writing the first movie in Marvel’s Phase 5 — which introduces the next Avengers-level threat. Loveness had never written a movie screenplay before getting the job. The movie was a spectacular failure.

Marvel movie estimated profits since 2020, according to IMDB and Forbes. (Graphic by Catherine Eldridge | Collegian Media Group)

Disney has acknowledged it needs to stop focusing on mass producing content and focus on making good individual projects. Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger promised in 2020 to prioritize “quality over volume,” but the last few years’ movies prove that promise was hollow. Disney may have slowed down its assembly line of movies, but the quality has not improved. 

Part of why large franchises are declining in quality is a lack of creativity. As series last longer, they become more self-referential and reliant on the popularity of what came before. 

Instead of crafting new stories and characters well, movies are cannibalizing older characters, using them to build up the new installments. Star Wars is a great example. Luke Skywalker, the beloved main character of the original trilogy, was turned into the opposite of what he was. The heroic and optimistic character became a depressed hermit solely to make the new protagonist look better by comparison.

A different example is Marvel’s humor. The method of undercutting serious moments with comedy was used with purpose in early Marvel movies like “The Avengers.” It’s become a requirement to constantly force jokes into scenes where they don’t belong, ignoring the original intent. It’s popular, so the filmmakers mandate it without considering how damaging it can be to the tone when done poorly. 

Streaming services are also hurting franchise movies. More films are releasing directly to streaming platforms, and as we saw with “Black Widow,” releasing movies in theaters and on Disney+ simultaneously doesn’t go well. Also, if the quality of franchise movies are declining, why see them right away in theaters when you can wait and check them out later on streaming services for less money?

Franchise movies are bleeding money and losing fans. The lack of proper direction shows in their bad writing and visual effects. The continued actors and writers strikes in Hollywood are symptoms of the studios consistently making poor decisions. Their decisions have led to their movies failing and losing hundreds of millions of dollars. 

I’d rather see franchise movies succeed. I’d rather not have to critique these films so harshly — but for these movies to improve, studios like Disney need to listen to criticism. So far, they show no intention to.