It’s a slump that may pass: Hand-wringing about the proliferation of unoriginal moviemaking is as old as Hollywood itself, and of course, one of the most dominant films of 2016 is Captain America: Civil War, the third Captain America movie and the umpteenth installment from the interwoven “Marvel Cinematic Universe.” But increasingly, the Marvel strategy—which has been so readily copied by other studios—appears to be an exception rather than the norm, and with bombs like Zoolander 2 already on 2016’s flop pile, studios are beginning to worry publicly about where things might be going.
With an opening of $80 million, X-Men: Apocalypse is projected to earn around $170 million total at the domestic box office—less than Civil War earned in its opening weekend. Coupled with healthy international grosses, the film will make enough to cover its reported $178 million budget (studios take home about half of what a film grosses), but not enough to really justify the expense of making it. More important, the film’s shoddy buzz won’t do any favors for future franchise entries that are already in the works, especially since big stars like Jennifer Lawrence almost certainly won’t be returning.
Some of the other sequels that are underperforming this year include Alice Through the Looking Glass, which opened to $34 million and likely won’t even clear $100 million total—a number its 2010 predecessor outstripped in its opening weekend. The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a follow-up to the successful Snow White and the Huntsman, is about to exit theaters with a domestic total of $47 million, less than half of its budget. The third film in the young-adult Divergent series, Allegiant, finished at $66 million, down from the first film’s $150 million. Perhaps most prominent is Batman v Superman, which took a seemingly healthy $328 million—but as the $250 million-budgeted flagship film of a giant franchise, with eleven follow-up films already in the pipeline, it was enough of a disappointment to prompt a major shake-up of executives at Warner Bros. to try and right the ship.
All of these films were rated “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes (unlike Civil War, a critical and commercial hit). The upcoming summer 2016 slate is full of similar red flags, follow-ups that were ordered on the back of limited audience enthusiasm. There’s the aforementioned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows; Now You See Me 2; The Purge: Election Year; Ice Age: Collision Course—even a follow-up to Jason Statham’s forgotten action flick The Mechanic. There are also less risky bets—a revival of Independence Day, a reboot of Ghostbusters, a new Star Trek film, and a sequel to Pixar’s Finding Nemo—but when you put it all together, there are hardly any weekends when one of these films isn’t among the big new releases.