Two rules are axiomatic in the slippery business of Hollywood franchises:A) The second movie in a franchise usually grosses more than the first, even when that second film is clearly inferior (see under: "The Matrix Reloaded").
B) The third movie then dips down again (see under: "Spider Man 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean 3" and many others).
The idea is that a movie gains fans as it moves between the first and second installments, as people who missed it in theaters hear about it, rent it and grow their enthusiasm. But if someone hasn't discovered it by No 2., they probably aren't going to find it by the time a third movie comes around -- while, at the same time, some of the diehards naturally get distracted and lose interest between the second and third films. Think of a bell curve, with the second movie sitting at the top.
But as with many other things this summer (like quality), Rule A has been turned on its head. "Iron Man 2" and "Sex and the City 2" will actually wind up earning less than their original installments (in the case of "Sex and the City," much less). People got tired of these properties a lot sooner than they usually do, and they certainly weren't willing to put up with a lesser movie, even for a familiar brand.
In light of the first axiom being upended, it's fair to ask if "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" can disprove the second axiom: Namely, can its third installment actually earn more than the second? The magic number to hit in the United States is $297 million -- a high bar, but one that's not impossible. It's already off to a strong start. As my colleague Ben Fritz writes, midnight showings of the Kristen Stewart-Rob Pattinson film on Wednesday topped $30 million, and the film will pick up steam as it heads into the weekend. The $297 million number is within reach.
One factor in favor of the movie pulling it off? Only seven months have passed since the last movie. That's not a lot of time for people to get tired or see their attention drift. So there won't be much audience bleeding.
But will there be an infusion of new fans? In talking about the prospects for "Eclipse," some will point to the fact that David Slade's take on the vampires and werewolves is (slightly) better than Chris Weitz's "New Moon." That may be so, but it doesn't necessarily mean more fans -- it's hard to imagine someone who likes the Stephenie Meyer novels sitting out "New Moon" because the buzz is bad but coming back for "Eclipse." With this kind of franchise, once you're in, you're in. You don't drift out for one film and then come back.
Even without a burst of new people though, this movie could still end up earning more than "New Moon," for a simple reason: repeat viewing. That factor has always been key to the success of "Twilight" and tween franchises in general. And with perhaps a (slightly) better movie this time around -- and the fact that, with this one, teenagers are off from school and have more time on their hands -- there may be an uptick in the number of people who go again.
It may well be impossible for more people on God's green earth to love this franchise. But it may turn out that it's somehow possible for the same people to love it even more.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Rob Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse." Credit: SummitRECENT AND RELATED:
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