In 2011, Hollywood will rely on former glories to a greater degree than ever before. Sequels (including prequels and spin-offs) comprise over a fifth of the currently scheduled nationwide releases, tallying 27. Last year, there were 19, and the previous high was 24 in 2003.
The majority of sequels are repeats of the last two years: Eight movies follow 2009 movies, while six follow 2010 movies. Sequels to 2006 movies are the next best represented at five. The longest time between sequels will be The Muppets' 12 years, followed by Scream 4's 11 years, Rise of the Apes's ten years and around eight years each for Spy Kids 4 and Johnny English Reborn. None of those are a match for the waits for last year's Tron Legacy (over 28 years) and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (nearly 23 years).
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part Two) (July 15) is heralded as the finale of the blockbuster series, and the movie that will take Harry Potter past Star Wars to become the top-grossing franchise ever (though it will still trail in attendance). In Box Office Mojo's reader polling, Deathly Hallows (Part Two) is by far the most anticipated movie of 2011 (with over 36 percent of the vote) and is expected to be the biggest-grossing movie of the year (nearly 51 percent). Harry Potter, though, is coming off of a soft note for the penultimate Potter, Deathly Hallows Part 1, which grossed less than its predecessor and marked the least-attended Potter yet.
A more optimistic perspective would be that Deathly Hallows Part 1 did a hell of a lot of business for half a movie, and fans are still expected to be out in force for the finale (which will be the first to carry a 3D ticket price premium). For instance, the last Star Wars trilogy took an even greater hit with Attack of the Clones and then rebounded with the Revenge of the Sith finale. The first Harry Potter currently stands as the series' mightiest with $317.6 million (the equivalent of around $440 million adjusted for ticket price inflation).
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (July 1) strikes Independence Day weekend just like its blockbuster predecessors Transformers ($319.2 million) from 2007 and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($402.1 million) from 2009. Revenge of the Fallen benefitted from the good will generated by the first Transformers, but it also let down many fans, likely cooling excitement for this third entry (even if it's in 3D). Dark of the Moon's teaser trailer doesn't reveal itself as a Transformers movie until the end of a long build-up involving the first Apollo mission to the moon. While that might have been an intriguing approach for another movie, it didn't seem any different than the previous Transformers movies (a transmission from a mission to Mars was a big part of the first movie's promotions).
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (May 20) docks four years after the franchise's momentum slowed with At World's End ($309.4 million), which was off 27 percent from Dead Man's Chest ($423.3 million). Unlike At World's End, On Stranger Tides won't be burdened by the shackles of a continuing storyline, offering more of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow antics (free of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley) as he searches for the Fountain of Youth. The movie's first trailer, though, is just that: more Sparrow. And, thus far, it may be lacking in excitement and spectacle to fully re-fire up the base, despite the 3D.
Like On Stranger Tides, Breaking Dawn (Part One) (Nov. 18) follows a trilogy, but one that ended on a high note: with $300.5 million, third entry Eclipse pulled off the rare feat of out-grossing the second entry New Moon. Breaking Dawn returns to the pre-Thanksgiving slot of the first Twilight and New Moon (and formerly Harry Potter), but will have the longest wait yet (17 months). Add in a reportedly mixed fan reaction to the novel and how being broken in two didn't help Deathly Hallows Part 1, and it wouldn't be surprising if interest ebbs for Breaking Dawn.
On Dec. 16, three big-time sequels are scheduled to face-off (Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Sherlock Holmes 2, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol), but expect one of them to flinch. Mission seems the likeliest candidate, given that it was the last one scheduled and that the first three Missions were all May releases, while Alvin and Sherlock are in their established Christmas homes. The new Mission also strays from its numerically-titled predecessors by adding the potentially awkward Ghost Protocol subtitle. Still, since Mission: Impossible III was by far the worst-performing Mission, the franchise was due for a shake-up if it was going to continue. To that end, director Brad Bird (Ratatouille, The Incredibles) will be making his live-action debut, and Jeremy Renner reportedly joins Tom Cruise as co-lead.
In the shadow of Avatar, the first Sherlock Holmes grossed a substantial $209 million, potentially starting a second franchise for star Robert Downey, Jr. after Iron Man. The first Sherlock wasn't as dear to audiences as Iron Man, and, if it is to retain the audience or grow, Sherlock 2 cannot rest on the brand's laurels like Iron Man 2 did. A positive sign is that Holmes will contend with his most famous nemesis, Professor Moriarty, and a strong villain is known to boost business (example: The Dark Knight). The third Chipmunks movie will be the first in 3D, and the franchise has been remarkably successful so far: the first two movies are the top two grossing talking-animal comedies of all time, and The Squeakquel retained nearly all of the first movie's attendance when such sequels usually fizzle (like with Stuart Little and Garfield). Chipwrecked's premise is currently unknown, but it will be tough for it to top its predecessors.
Fast Five gets a jump on the summer with its April 29 release, although that late April period has been troublesome in the past (XXX: State of the Union, Volcano, etc.). This fifth entry in The Fast and the Furious franchise hopes to be fueled by Fast and Furious's injection: that fourth movie accelerated to an April opening record ($71 million), more than the final haul of Tokyo Drift ($62.5 million), and went on to become the franchise's top grosser at $155.1 million (ranking second to the first movie in attendance). Fast and Furious was marketed as a return to the first movie (parts two and three lacked Vin Diesel, part three lacked Paul Walker, etc.), and Fast Five will continue that theme, pitched as an "all stars" gathering from each movie with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson added to the mix for an Expendables-style showdown of would-be action stars Diesel and Johnson.
Not to be forgotten is horror, which is historically the genre best known for going hog wild with sequels. Scream 4 (April 15) rises eleven years after Scream 3 was supposed to have wrapped up the series. Key cast members Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox return along with a bevy of familiar new faces, and the marketing has ran with the "New Decade. New Rules" angle. Scream 3 had worse retention than Scream 2, but, overall, the Scream franchise's box office held up well. After dethroning Saw as the new Halloween tradition, Paranormal Activity continues with its third entry on Oct. 22, and business should continue to decline. More gruesome deaths in 3D are on tap with Final Destination 5 (Aug. 26), despite the fourth movie being pushed as the final Final Destination (its franchise-high grosses changed that tune). Meanwhile, Piranha 3DD (Sept. 16) is getting churned out just over a year after predecessor Piranha 3D grossed a gutless $25 million, though it will be opening just two weeks after The Final Destination director David R. Ellis's Untitled 3D Shark Thriller.