As most of you know, Sex & the City 2 opens worldwide on Thursday, May 27th. Expectations are running high, with the general consensus that it will perform in a similar fashion to the first picture ($57 million opening weekend, $152 million domestic total). But the odds are indeed stacked against it. There are two major issues at play. First, and more obviously, the $95 million picture (costing $30 million more than the first film) will have to overcome the infamous Tomb Raider trap. For those new to this site, the Tomb Raider trap (named for the enjoyable adventure yarn that is Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life) is the phenomenon in which a generally-disliked film becomes a smash hit based purely on marketing and hype. But the arguably superior sequel flops or under-performs because even though it is a better movie, audiences aren't willing to take the chance again (other instances of this phenomenon include Addams Family Values and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian). Unless you were a die-hard fan of the original show, you probably didn't care much for the original Sex and the City movie. So theoretically only the hardcore fans will check this one out this time, right? But the real danger is the fact that it is a sequel to a film that was itself based on a television series. It's a tiny genre, one that is made up of either out-of-the-park smash hits or out and out flops. If it ends up as an example of the latter, the Carrie Bradshaw sequel should be thrilled to gross 1/2 of what the original made.
Obviously there aren't a lot of TV adaptations that were successful enough to spawn a sequel. But few that did were not what anyone would call box office smashes. There are three obvious exceptions to the rule, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($409 million to the original's $319 million), Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 ($219 million to the first film's $217 million take), and Mission: Impossible 2 (the John Woo sequel grossed $215 million while the Brian DePalma original amassed $181 million). The six entries in the respective franchises also make up six of the top eight highest-grossing TV-to-film properties of all time (2009's Star Trek and The Fugitive are mixed in there as well). And no, I don't count the Naked Gun series (the sequel made $86 million while the original made $79 million), as absolutely no one watched Police Squad when it aired for six episodes back in 1982. So, if we take away the mega-blockbuster films above (of which I'd argue only Alvin and the Chipmunks mostly capitalized on the nostalgia of its source material, what's the next highest-grossing entry in this small genre? What's the fourth-highest-grossing film that was a sequel to a TV adaptation? The answer, shockingly enough, is Scooby Doo: Monsters Unleashed.
The 2004 sequel to the blockbuster 2002 adaptation grossed $84 million in domestic dollars. A nice haul, but just 54% of the $153 million grossed by the original Scooby Doo movie. It gets worse from there. We have such winners as Addams Family Values (a masterpiece, but it grossed $48 million while the inferior first film took in $113 million), Wayne's World 2 (a rock-solid sequel that grossed just 39% of the original film's $121 million gross), Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties (the first film grossed $75 million, the sequel grossed $28 million), US Marshals (The Fugitive amassed $183 million while the spin-off took in just $57 million). Further examples of lightning only striking once are A Very Brady Sequel (part 1 - $47 million part 2 - $21 million), Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle ($100 million vs. $125 million for the original picture), and The Flinstones: Viva Rock Vegas (the terrible first film made $130 million, while the $83 million-costing sequel grossed just $35 million).
But the one example that's most worrisome, the mother of all one-and-done TV-to-film transitions and the closest precedent to Sex & the City 2 is the brutal box office demise of X-Files: I Want to Believe. Released at the height of the television show's popularity, X-Files: Fight the Future opened with $30 million and grossed $84 million in summer 1998. Alas, litigation kept the sequel in development hell until two summers ago. Ten years after the first film and six years after the show went off the air, I Want to Believe cost just $25 million, but it would only open to $10 million and end its theatrical run with a shockingly-poor $21 million. Adjusted for inflation, the numbers posted by X-Files: Fight the Future (adjusted opening - $51 million/adjusted total - $142 million) are frighteningly similar to the respective numbers for the first Sex & the City movie. Yes, two years between films is a lot less time than ten years, but the similarities are otherwise striking. These two franchises are the only modern TV-adaptations, along with Star Trek, to actually star the original cast and continue the stories set forth in the television shows themselves. Heck, even the beloved Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan grossed $79 million compared to the $82 million gross of the somewhat disliked Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Obviously this is all speculation, and one poorly-marketed sequel long past its freshness date does not automatically mean doom for a somewhat similar franchise. But the performance of the Sex and the City sequel will be fascinating to watch. All things considered, it's not nearly as much of a sure thing as we might have guessed. Fans may 'want to believe', but come Monday night, 'the truth will be out there' (sorry... couldn't resist). When it comes to box office punditry for this particular summer sequel, trust no one (so easy...). As always, we'll see...