You've probably been hearing a lot about "Sequelitis," a made-up word to document how badly sequels are doing this year. It first really starting taking hold last month when Alice In Wonderland sequel Alice Through The Looking Glass tanked.
Just to remind you just how fickle Hollywood is, that one flop made investors question Disney's (NYSE: DIS) dominance and sent the stock down. It's like when AMC's (NASDAQ:AMCX) ratings dropped because The Walking Dead opened to lower ratings than in previous years. It was something that was bound to happen eventually, but didn't impact the show in the long run.
It's the same thing here. The difference is if you take Walking Dead out of AMC's arsenal the network would be in trouble, but if you take out Star Wars and Marvel from Disney, the Mouse would still be running strong courtesy of a great slate of original IP.
Remember nobody expected the live action versions of Cinderella and Jungle Book to do what they did at the box office, ditto Zootopia. Dory falls into that same category as while everyone knew the Finding Nemo sequel would do well, nobody imagined a record-breaking performance.
So how did this happened and what does it mean? Both lessons actually go hand-in-hand.
The biggest thing with the film is its timing. Dory not only opened at a time where there was no real competition, but it also opened on the same weekend the majority of schools were closing for the summer.
Plus Father's Day weekend has traditionally been very good for Disney/Pixar as this was the same weekend Toy Story 3 and Inside Out made their debuts. It also was a big benefit that fathers (and grownups) actually had a desire to see the film as well.
Stats show adults made up 26% of audiences and even more telling later evening showtimes of the film (i.e. past kids bedtimes) did even better than what "Inside Out" earned proving grown-ups were drawn in by the sequel.
Yet what really should be making studio executives stop and think is the "nostalgia" factor. There's a reason why Jurassic World worked and Alice Through The Looking Glass did not. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder in these situations. People under-estimated the appeal of the Jurassic Park franchise last year, much in the same way they under-estimated the appeal of Nemo.
Audiences are smart, a sequel thirteen years after the fact will usually trump a sequel to a film that came out in half that time (or even less - i.e. Huntsman, Neighbors, Now You See Me). Yes Hollywood is very sequel-heavy and relies on them too much, but it has yet to impact brands that audiences genuinely have an interest in.
I hate to keep harping on Alice but it is a great learning tool as nobody was clamoring for this sequel. The declining star power and marital issues of lead Johnny Depp aside, that film was always in danger of under-performing. For the industry it's a cautionary tale but for Disney it's an outlier.
Though I'd be lying if I said I had the utmost confidence in The BFG or Pete's Dragon which are Disney's next two live-action projects this summer (and tracking low). Yet even then look at the trio of Dr. Strange, Moana and Star Wars: Rogue One slated for the fall to begin making the magic look stronger again.
Still that's a discussion for another day.
Right now, the point is Dory dominated and it did so because the folks at Disney/Pixar understand their audiences. They also understand it is okay to put a female character in the lead role. Make no mistake the girl-power nature of the film definitely helped put it over the top.
Yet what Disney does so well is recognize that the film was made well enough to support itself and it doesn't need to target one gender over the other to be successful. In fact doing so often leads to alienating audiences.
The problem is many studios don't take the same time or care Pixar does and those studio heads will see these numbers and laugh off "Sequelitis" claims. Executives will say "Dory was successful and it's a sequel, so clearly my sequel can do that."
I guarantee you those conversations are happening right now.
What those people fail to realize is that Dory's success was really a perfect storm of factors coming together but none of them were by happenstance or by accident. It was carefully choreographed and that often times that gets lost in the shuffle.
Sequels aren't going anywhere but if the studios utilize even just some of those same elements as Dory (timing, audience appeal, etc.) it will make a massive difference and help qualm a lot of fears across the board.
Image credit: Disney
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