Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Keys to a Successful Film Franchise: Key # 1 - Concept

Hollywood is obsessed with franchises, that much is a guarantee.  The film industry loves stories and characters that they can make multiple films from.  Sequels, spin-offs, prequels, you name it, if it features an already beloved character or story, Hollywood wants to make it and continue to print that money.  However, the thing is, is that Hollywood does not always take their promising franchises and make good films.  Every year there are countless big blockbuster films that are sequels that fail at the box office and with audiences, and even more so, there are countless potential big budget franchise starters that fail to gain any traction and ever get a sequel (think John Carter, The Prince of Persia, or The Lone Ranger).

The thing with film franchises is that many seem to think Hollywood's obsession with franchising characters and stories is a new thing, but in fact the film franchise has been around since the Golden Age of Cinema.  Back in the 1930s, Hollywood cranked out franchises such as The Thin Man, Tarzan, and Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes movies.  Not to mention the Universal monster movies which technically beat Marvel to the punch at bringing together franchises like Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman, into countless crossovers throughout the Forties.  The film franchise has only become a more and more prominent part of the film industry since then, with there being more film franchises now more than ever. 

A large part of this is due to technology finally allowing Hollywood the opportunity to affordably adapt many of the comics or sci-fi novels that were once deemed too expensive, and many of those entities are ongoing stories and therefore so are their films.  Even still, while I am glad I'm now getting to see pretty much any story that can be imagined on the bigscreen, I'm not so desperate for big, lavish films, that I want the studios and filmmakers to forsake quality over quantity.   Why do the studios do this?  It's because they fail to adhere to what I deem the Five Keys to Making a Successful Film Franchise.

With Hollywood franchise crazy, I felt I'd like to lay down the five things that all good film franchises need to do in order for them to be successful.  To illustrate these points, I will be using my five favorite film franchises of all-time:  Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Star Wars, and The Thin Man.  While I wont always be praising these franchises and will often use individual films in the franchises to show how not to do a film in a franchise, at the end of the day not only do I love majority of the films in these five franchises, I think in terms to adhering to the Five Keys to Making a Successful Film Franchise, they have been the most successful at implementing them.  With that all said, I will be posting the Five Keys as separate posts, adding a new Key everyday till done.  Today, I'll kick things off with Key Number One!


1.  Concept
The first, and quite possibly most important key to a successful film franchise is concept.  Concept is the basic nugget of the idea that you tell someone when you're trying to convince them to watch a movie or even a series of movies.

It's about a husband-and-wife that solves murders.  Or it's about a boy who goes to a school to become a wizard.  Or it's about an archaeologist who searches for supernatural artifacts.  Or it's about a war set in space.  Or it's about a secret agent who saves the world.  I just described to you the concepts of The Thin Man, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and James Bond.  Now, you might ask is concept really that important to a successful film franchise?  To that I answer, yes.  In fact, it's the glue that holds every subsequent film in a franchise together.

What keeps audiences coming back to the great franchises is that they want to see something familiar.  They have an expectation and they want the films to meet that expectation.  If they went to see a Star Wars movie that was set on planet Earth in 2013, they'd want their money back, because that's not Star Wars.  While characters might be one of the reasons we love these franchises, the concept is the blueprint.  Without the concept of these stories, there could not be these franchises, because the concept is what opens up the door for all of the potential characters and stories that these concepts can and have spawned.  Fortunately, this is the key that most film franchises tend to get right.

Most film studios at least understand that if you're going to make a James Bond movie, you aren't going to make him a mild-mannered school teacher, but rather you're going to send him on a jet-setting secret mission.  With that said, it's harder in these days to come up with a concept for a franchise that isn't too similar to films that have already been made.

How many film franchises are there now about secret agents who save the world?  BourneMission Impossible?  What separates these franchises and makes them unique?  Well, ultimately, as I said, the concept is simply just the blueprint for these stories.  Two people could set out wanting to make a movie about secret agents, and the two resulting movies would more than likely be completely different in terms of all the other four remaining keys, therefore they are not the same movie, even though the concept is the same.


And that's Key Number One, come back in the coming days to see Key Number Two - Characters.

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