Star Wars, Harry Potter, the Avengers, Fast & Furious, Toy Story... These are what box office dreams are made of. Film franchises are the magical ingredient that secure record-breaking box office figures. They have both shifted and defined cultural trends and remain highly anticipated by hardcore fans. These tried and trusted brands have built-in awareness with audiences, promising familiar characters and bigger and more spectacular action sequences.
But it wasn’t always this way. The film landscape was defined in the 90s and early 2000s by big Hollywood actors and actresses, with stars such as Tom Cruise cultivating and huge followings. Fans would flock to the cinema to see a film because of who was in it, not necessarily for the film itself.
The landscape is different now though. Thanks to the carefully constructed stories, styles and aesthetics of long-form franchises such as Marvel, Star Wars or Harry Potter, moviegoers flock to their local multiplex to see the latest instalment in a story they have invested years in. Marvel has been able to take little-known properties such as Guardians of the Galaxystarring lesser known actors such as Chris Pratt and Karen Gillan and turned them into worldwide superstars. The success of the former, alongside similar titles such as Black Panther in recent years, highlight the importance of the brand in viewers eyes over individual film titles.
Fans flock to and follow franchises in the way you might follow your favourite football team – it’s the Marvel vs. DC comics debate on a worldwide scale. Box office wars are waged on a regular basis – exemplified earlier this year by the latest Star Wars, Jurassic World, Deadpool and Avengers films all being released within weeks of each other.
2018 is a perfect example of the modern dominance of the franchise film. Avengers: Infinity War is the biggest film of 2018 so far in the UK and there’s no reason to think it’s total won’t be beaten by Avengers 4 next year. For the rest of the top 10 highest grossing films, six are either franchise blockbusters or sequels. This number rises to seven when you look at 2017.
This dominance doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon, with the 2019 film slate dominated by Avengers 4, Star Wars Episode IX, Toy Story 4 and The Lego Movie 2 (which despite its title is the fourth film in the franchise). The 2019 slate in fact looks to be one of the strongest and most diverse in recent years, packed to the brim with all genres; horror in the form of IT Chapter 2, the continuation of the musical renaissance with Rocketman and Cats, more genre-defining live-action Disney classics such as The Lion King, Dumbo and Aladdin, to even the Downton Abbey movie adaptation. No matter what you’re in to, 2019 has movies for you in spades.
Fans vote with their feet and with their wallet – if franchise studios continue to make good films, then moviegoers will continue to go and see them and with 2018 looking like a record breaking year for admissions, they are as popular as ever.