The Chronicles of Narnia (12/09/2005-12/12/2010)
In the aftermath of the one-two punch of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Fellowship of the Ring in late 2001, studios all went digging for various fantasy-lit series to turn into their own long-running franchises. Of the many would-be contenders, only two of them received a sequel. The Twilight Saga will be ending in 2012, but this year we likely said goodbye to the only other notable contender, The Chronicles of Narnia. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe debuted in December 2005 to an earth-shattering $65 million, completely knocking the wind out of King Kong, which debuted a week later. Spurred by a major Disney ad blitz that highlighted major big-budget fantasy spectacle which was based on a book that pretty much everyone read in elementary school, plus an 'on the side' ad campaign based on the book's (and author C.S. Lewis's) well-known Christianity, the film was the first fantasy-lit film post-2001 to really hit it big. It ended its leggy run with $290 million domestic and $745 million worldwide. But the first book was really the only popular one in the series.
Prince Caspian debuted in May 2008 and opened to a rock-solid $55 million. But the film crashed quickly, hurt by both heavy summer competition, the darker and more violent nature of the story, and the lack of a real Christian push. It ended up with $142 million domestic and $412 million worldwide on a $225 million budget. That might have been the end of the series, as Disney decided not to pursue a third Narnia picture. But 20th Century Fox decided to partner with Walden Media to embark on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, at a reduced cost ($140 million) and the same pre-Christmas release date that had served the first film. But lightning did not strike twice.
Fox frankly completely dropped the ball on marketing, with a barely-there campaign that raised no pre-release awareness and an ad campaign that highlighted the more kid-friendly and 'safe' nature of the story at the expense of actually establishing what the film was about. The film debuted with just $24 million over its opening weekend and it took just over two weeks to even match the $65 million opening weekend of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The film is doing well overseas (current worldwide total: $300 million), but massive worldwide grosses were not enough to save the His Dark Materials trilogy, which stopped at the $372 million-grossing The Golden Compass in 2007 (just $70 million of that was from domestic dollars, creating the impression that it was a bomb). Unless another studio needs a tent-pole to fill a hole in their schedule and/or the fourth film can be made for under $100 million, there will likely be no film adaptation of The Silver Chair.
In a decade filled with fantasy epics and comic book adaptations, the 'Fockers series' was arguably the only real comedy franchise that survived past a single sequel. Meet the Parents was in fact a remake of a foreign picture, complete with even more squirm-inducing humor and an unhappy ending. The remake was intended as a star vehicle for Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro, the idea being 'What if your father-in-law turned out to be Travis Bickle?'. It debuted with a knockout $28 million, which was an October record at the time. It had mighty sea legs, ending its domestic run with $166 million. Ten years later, it's still the highest-grossing movie ever released in September or October. Warts and all, it worked because of a relatable premise and a certain willingness to make the audience uncomfortable for the sake of a long joke. It may have been farce, but the cast played it like it was an August Wilson adaptation.
A sequel came four years later, opening with a monster $46 million three-day/$70 million five-day opening weekend over the Christmas holiday. While the film received lesser reviews, Meet the Fockers added Stiller's 'nebbishy', liberal parents played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand to the mix. While it is a sloppier, less disciplined film, I actually preferred it to the original, mainly because the addition of Streisand gave Blythe Danner (De Niro's wife) more to do this time around. It was an unbeatable choice for casual moviegoers and big groups through the first chunk of 2005, and the film grossed and astonishing $279 million in the US. That's the second-biggest comedy in history (behind Home Alone's $281 million).
But while the first sequel was powered by the longterm popularity of the first, the newest installment, Little Fockers, had to contend with middling word of mouth for the sequel. Six long years went by, and the audience disinterest over opening weekend was palpable. The $100 million picture debuted last weekend after months of reshoots, mediocre test screenings, and an ad campaign that contained no real laughs to advertise. The film opened with just $43 million over the five-day holiday and just $30 million over the Fri-Sun portion. It will probably crawl to $140 million and Universal will probably make its money back with overseas dollars. But the desperation was obvious and the actors' discontent was noticeable. Unless Universal is desperate enough to pay everyone on board record-high salaries and/or they just reboot the series with new actors, the Focker series has ended as a trilogy.
I've written quite a bit about this series over the last few years, so I'll try to not repeat myself. Say what you will about the uneven quality of the franchise, but Lionsgate pulled off something genuinely unique. For seven years in a row, they had a new Saw installment all set to go for Halloween, and for five of those years, the films each opened to boffo box office and stayed alive just long enough to be massively profitable. Eventually the series became so hopelessly convoluted in its own web of continuity and mythology that only the fans could keep up. The sheen wore off ironically enough right at Saw VI, which was the best film in the whole franchise. While the series should have ended at that perfectly solid finale, Lionsgate overplayed their hand and unleashed Saw VII in 3D, which resulted in the very worst film in the series and the least-satisfying series finale since, I dunno, Seinfeld?
The Saw franchise is the biggest-grossing horror series in history with $415 million in domestic grosses and $859 million worldwide. It helped Lionsgate produce and/or distribute all manner of prestige films (Crash, Away From Her, Precious), arthouse cinema (Rabbit Hole, Buried, The Lucky Ones), and documentary films (More Than A Game, Sicko, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man) and turned character actor Tobin Bell into a movie star. It defined horror for an entire decade, rescuing the genre from the safety of teen-friendly PG-13 trifles and plunging it back into the take-no-prisoners grindhouse zone of the 1970s. It was rarely torture porn, it was only halfway decent, and it was often frustrating. But the Saw franchise matters, and I shall miss it.
Count this one as dead before its time. Warner Bros. officially killed this ongoing adaptation of the popular HBO television series due to one soft-performing sequel. Said sequel grossed $288 million on a $100 million budget, which if it were based on a male-driven comic book probably would have merited a third entry. But this 'Star Wars for adult women' was always held to an unfair standard. Before the release of the first film, everyone crowed about how Warner wouldn't recoup their $65 million investment. When Sex and the City: The Movie opened to $57 million in three days (a record for a romantic comedy), the pundits held up the film as an example of 'Why they hate us'.
The first film had legs, and grossed $415 million worldwide. Sex and the City 2 did not fare as well, grossing just $32 million over the three-day portion of its opening weekend and just $51 million over the five-day Memorial Day holiday weekend. No one noticed that maybe releasing a film aimed at adult women on a family-centric holiday weekend might be a bad idea (can't do 'Girls Night Out' when the kids are all home and there's a barbecue to prepare). The film limped to $95 million in domestic grosses and Warner Bros. officially announced that there would be no third film. I'm not saying either of the films were 'good', but there was still money to be made on this series, so call this one 'gone too soon'.