With 2013 in the books, the film industry posted new-record earnings thanks to continued growth in global markets and the strength of megafranchises like "The Avengers" and the "Hunger Games." The ability to grow properties and deliver successful sequels is paramount for big studios like Disney, Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), The Weinstein Company, Twenty-First Century Fox and Sony (NYSE:SNE). Outside of James Cameron outliers Titanic and Avatar, the top 10 list of highest grossing movies is dominated by sequels in established series. Despite strong performance from one-offs like Gravity, that trend isn't going to change anytime soon.
2014 will see the release of healthy slate of sequels that have the chance to do some big business. With new films in the "Hunger Games," "Transformers," "How To Train Your Dragon," and "Spider-Man" franchises, the possibility exists that this year's take will be even better than the last. That said, not all of the year's many sequels are going to wind up winners. Here's a look at four films that should have their handlers worried.
1. 300: Rise of an Empire
The original 300 was a watershed film in a number of ways. The film would prove to be perhaps the primary motivating factor in Warner's decision to pursue Zach Snyder as orchestrator for the early stages of its DC Universe expansion. It also posted approximately $456 million in worldwide ticket sales, a highly impressive feat for a 2007 R-rated film based on a lesser-known graphic novel.
300: Rise of an Empire is primed to underperform. While critical opinions on 300 seem to have shifted with the cultural wind, Warner's sequel will likely have its own quality concerns to contend with. The film is directed by Noam Murro, a man whose past body of work does not suggest a talent for visual wizardry or action composition. While budget and marketing costs for the film are not readily available, the trailer for Rise of an Empire does not suggest that it will live up to its predecessor's visual pedigree. Empire runs the risk of being mistaken for January's Hercules 3D from Summit Entertainment.
2. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Dimension Film's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is yet another sequel to a successful, hard-R movie based on a Frank Miller property. 2005's Sin City was a visual marvel that showed there was still a market for darker comic properties. The film, directed by Robert Rodrigues, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarrantino, was a major impetus for 300 receiving the funding and marketing that it did.
The return to Frank Miller's hard-boiled municipality has been a long and troubled road. The film stalled and restarted a number of times, once having names like Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie positioned for starring roles. The final product will still boast an impressive cast, but recent projects from Rodriguez have posted lukewarm returns, and the iron for a Sin City sequel seems to have cooled.
3. Resident Evil 6
In spite of mostly negative critical reception, Sony's "Resident Evil" film series wound up generating reliable success stories for the company. Made on tidy budgets, the series' first three sequels achieved the important feat of bringing in more dough than the last. The series' box office grab culminated with the franchise's fourth film, Resident Evil: Afterlife, at just over $296 million on an estimated $60 million budget. Its sequel, Resident Evil: Retribution, dipped to an approximate $240 million in global take.
Now that the series has stumbled, it is unlikely that the property will better its near-$300 million peak without a reboot. Husband and wife combo Paul WS Anderson and Milla Jovovich have done an admirable job of pumping out workman-like earners, but the series' best days are behind it.
4. Horrible Bosses 2
Warner Bros.' Horrible Bosses 2 should still make back its budget and marketing costs. The last film was made for a meager $35 million and grossed approximately $210 million globally. With the film's principal cast returning and Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz joining the fray, it can only be expected that the talent's ballooning cuts will cause the sequel's budget to balloon. Of all the genres, R-rated comedies have perhaps the spottiest records when it comes to delivering sequels that outperform their predecessors, both critically and commercially--just look at the "Hangover" series.
The global standard for success
Some of the films on this list may outperform their respective predecessors and still be considered disappointments. That mild oddity is a testament to the growth of foreign markets and subsequent restructuring in the film industry. 2014 looks to generate strong returns with its regimen of sequels, but these films are not likely to be of much help in the never-ending fight for growth.
Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.