On the one hand, three sequels comprise the Top Three of 2011 so far: The Hangover Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Fast Five. Each one has grossed over $200 million and no other 2011 movie up until this point is poised to reach that level. On the other hand, 2011 is a down year overall, so these sequels haven't resulted in a rising tide.
More telling, out of the ten sequels released so far this year, only one has excelled, relative to its predecessor. The rest will fall short to varying degrees, many suffering from classic cases of sequelitis.
Fast Five, which will run out of gas close to $210 million, became the highest-grossing entry of its franchise in 15 days flat. The last movie, Fast and Furious, generated $155.1 million in its entire run. Not only that, Fast Five has edged out the first movie, The Fast and the Furious, to post the franchise's highest estimated attendance. That's a remarkable feat for the fifth entry in a ten-year-old franchise.
The Hangover Part II deservedly received much attention for its massive opening, but its subsequent drop-off ensured that it will ultimately come up shy of The Hangover's $277.3 million final haul. Still, to retain most of the first movie's audience level is an accomplishment in the comedy world. It spoke to the vast reservoir of good will created by the first movie, but that reservoir may have been drained to the point that a third movie may not fare as well.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was the fourth entry in a waning franchise, yet it rested on its laurels, banking on the 3D illusion for distinction. As a result, On Stranger Tides will end up being by far the lowest-grossing Pirates movie yet, likely closing with less than $240 million, when the last movie, At World's End, earned $309.4 million.
Kung Fu Panda 2 seemed on the up and up after the positive impression made by the first Kung Fu Panda, but, like On Stranger Tides, it came off as just another episode in the series, repeating the same jokes and beats in its marketing campaign, only with 3D added. Panda 2's looking at $190 million max, when the first Panda drew $215.4 million.
Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil saw the most severe drop-off of them all. Also presented in 3D, the animated sequel grossed just $9.7 million, or less than a fifth of predecessor Hoodwinked's $51.4 million from five years ago. This was yet another instance of a sequel that had no reason for being, commercially or artistically. It fared the worst because of the lack of name recognition, coupled with ads that made it look like a random video game.
Speaking of sequels to five-year old movies that no one wanted, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son was a bust, grossing $37.9 million, compared to Big Momma's House 2's $70.2 million in 2006. The fat-suit/cross-dressing angle kept it from being as disastrous as Hoodwinked Too!, but that angle wasn't as robust as in the past, because Tyler Perry's Madea's Big Happy Family also lost weight. It made $52.8 million, down from Madea Goes to Jail's $90.5 million. Again, it was a case of being just another entry in its franchise.
However, Scream 4 was likely the biggest letdown. The horror sequel grabbed $38.1 million, off from the $89.1 million haul of Scream 3. Since Scream 3 was 11 years ago, the audience bleeding was even more extreme than the grosses suggest (down more than 70 percent). Scream 4 was meant to revive the franchise after Scream 3 provided closure, but, aside from its nostalgia play, no compelling reason for its existence was given in its marketing. It's the same refrain: it looked like just another Scream movie, and that didn't cut it after 11 years.
The sequel onslaught continues on June 24 with the release of Cars 2, followed by Transformers: Dark of the Moon on June 29. All told, at least 18 more movie franchise continuations are on the way this year.
Sequel Scorecard (domestic): Winners - Fast Five, The Hangover Part II Losers: Scream 4, Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, Madea's Big Happy Family, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Kung Fu Panda 2 In-Between: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, X-Men: First Class
Factoring foreign grosses, though, paints a rosier sequel picture. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides fizzled domestically, but it has sizzled overseas. According to Walt Disney Pictures, as of Tuesday, its foreign haul was $695.9 million, surpassing At World's End's $654 million for highest of the franchise, and it's still pulling in big numbers. More eye-opening, it's already the fourth highest-grossing movie ever at the foreign box office, and it's on its way to $1 billion worldwide (domestic plus foreign). Meanwhile, Fast Five has nearly doubled its predecessor, while Hangover Part II has already topped the first Hangover.