Next Change: Sequels and more sequels
CAPTAIN America, Spider-Man, the X-Men and Transformers are storming back into movie theatres, returning in sequels to save the world from mass destruction while, at the same time, churning out profits for movie studios.
Hollywood will pack 13 sequels into theatres over the next 20 weeks. The parade begins today, when Captain America dons his red, white and blue superhero suit for the United States debut of Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and continues through summer, Hollywood's most lucrative season.
Studios generally don't have to spend as much to raise awareness of sequels months in advance, as they would with other big-budget films, executives say.
And when sequels reach the big screen, ticket sales in foreign markets - which can account for up to 80 per cent of a film's box-office takings - often exceed their predecessors'.
"When you can say, here's Avatar 2, and you've got six billion people ready to see it, it doesn't take a lot of marketing to get them into the theatre," said Mr Jim Gianopulos, chairman and chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment. "It's a self-propelled marketing message in a very big world."
The first instalment of 20th Century Fox's animated Ice Age series took in US$207 million overseas in 2002. The fourth Ice Age from the studio owned by Twenty-First Century Fox earned US$716 million (S$904 million) at international box offices in 2012.
Sequels are hardly a new Hollywood phenomenon. But in recent years, as DVD sales crumbled, movie studios began to cut back on the number of films they produced to trim the risks.
Starting in 2008, they began to churn out more sequels and big-budget event films, turning away from riskier original films like independent dramas and romantic comedies.
This year's sequels include superhero films The Amazing Spider-Man 2 from Sony, Fox's X-Men: Days Of Future Past, and Transformers: Age Of Extinction from Viacom's Paramount; animated movies Rio 2 from Fox and Dreamworks Animation's How To Train Your Dragon 2; and Sony comedies 22 Jump Street and Think Like a Man Too.
What mostly drives the studio top brass is that audiences keep buying tickets for sequels. Last year, nine of the top 12 films in the US and Canada were sequels or prequels, including Marvel's Iron Man 3 and Lionsgate's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Those films generated US$2.6 billion in domestic ticket sales, nearly one quarter of the year's US$10.9 billion total, and another US$4.5 billion worldwide.
The shift away from riskier films has helped studios increase or stabilise their profits, said Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Tony Wible.
At Walt Disney, the focus is on a smaller number of films with the potential to produce sequels, drive toy sales and inspire theme-park rides.
In a typical year, Disney is aiming to release one film each from Pixar, Disney Animation and Star Wars producer Lucasfilm; two from Marvel, and four to six from its Disney live action division, said Mr Alan Horn, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios.
"We choose our sequels carefully," Mr Horn said. "If we have a picture that has earned a right to have a sequel, it's because the audiences loved it."
Next year's crop of sequels may set even bigger records. Studios are already planning to release new instalments of some of the biggest films of all time, including Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Marvel's The Avengers.
The rash of sequels has prompted even film-makers to make fun of their world. In the opening number for Muppets Most Wanted, Disney's sequel to its 2011 The Muppets movie, the furry puppets break into a song called We're Doing A Sequel.
"That's what we do in Hollywood," the puppets sing, "and everybody knows that the sequel's never quite as good."