Ender’s Game, the movie about kids recruited to fight an interplanetary war, debuted at No. 1 this weekend, earning an estimated $28 million. It garnered a B+ from CinemaScore, meaning good (if hardly spectacular) word-of-mouth. And there are several more books by Orson Scott Card following Ender’s storyline that distributor Lionsgate/Summit could turn into follow-up films. And yet, a sequel appears unlikely.
So say analysts quoted by The Hollywood Reporter, who note that the movie played primarily to people over 25 years of age (that is, its audience skewed too old) and that the movie is about to have its action-spectacle thunder stolen by Thor: The Dark World (opening this weekend) and Lionsgate’s own The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a couple weeks later. So, unless it performs beyond expectations overseas, Ender’s is unlikely to earn back it’s lofty $110 million budget, much less justify investing in a sequel.
That Ender’s could look so good on paper, open so well, and still not merit a sequel speaks to just how hard it actually is to establish a new movie franchise these days, especially one with teen- and young-adult appeal. Hollywood is often accused o being overly reliant on sequels, and yet, for every Twilight and Hunger Games, there are 10 franchises — many based on popular novel series or comic books each with its own built-in demand for sequels — that died on the launch pad. Here are some of the most notorious failed franchises of the last decade — and why they never made it to the next installment.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Source: Two of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels
Budget: $150 million
Domestic Gross: $94 million
Post-Mortem: The maritime epic was a rousing and intelligent adventure tale; it was even nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. But the exorbitant cost, the logistics of shooting in water, the lack of youth appeal, Russell Crowe‘s salary, and the modest box office return all helped sink this ship.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Source: The first three novels of Daniel Handler’s 13-book series
Budget: $140 million
Domestic Gross: $119 million
Post-Mortem: The movie was a modest success in America and overseas, earned positive reviews, and even took home an Oscar for Best Makeup. But Paramount failed to develop a sequel script before kid stars Emily Browning and Liam Aiken outgrew their roles. The series’ tone (mixing wry comedy and gothic horror, and including many scenes where children are placed in grave danger) is hard to duplicate on screen. Still, star Jim Carrey, screenwriter Handler, and director Brad Silberling have long expressed interest in making a sequel, with Handler blaming corporate shakeups at Paramount for the delay.
The Golden Compass (2007)
Source: The first book of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy
Budget: $180 million
Domestic Gross: $70 million
Post-Mortem: This was actually a big hit all over the world, grossing $372 million worldwide, but its failure in the U.S., the mixed reviews from critics (who were confused by its cosmology), and ardent protests by Catholics who read Pullman’s trilogy as an anti-Catholic allegory all discouraged New Line from proceeding with a sequel. The financial crash of 2008 was the final nail in the series’ coffin.
Speed Racer (2008)
Source: Tatsumoko Productions’ anime and manga series
Budget: $120 million
Domestic Gross: $44 million
Post-Mortem: Despite eye-dazzling visuals from the Wachowskis (the filmmaking siblings behind The Matrix), the film was criticized for its weak plotting, characters, and dialogue. Even with overseas grosses, the film earned just $94 million worldwide and failed to recoup its budget.
Jonah Hex (2010)
Source: The DC Comics Western/occult comic book series
Budget: $47 million
Domestic Gross: $11 million
Post-Mortem: For a period action visual effects spectacle, Jonah Hex was actually pretty cheap, but no one wanted to look at Josh Brolin’s character’s disfigured face for two hours.
I Am Number Four (2011)
Source:: The first of the seven-part Lorien Legacies series of novels by Pittacus Lore (the pseudonym of James Frey and Jobie Hughes)
Budget: $60 million
Domestic Gross: $55 million
Post-Mortem: The movie about alien fugitives disguised as earthling high schoolers was a solid worldwide hit, with a global total of $150 million, but it drew lackluster reviews and business in the U.S. Alex Pettyfer, despite repeated attempts to make him so, has not yet proved to be the Next Big Young Adult Star.
Green Lantern (2011)
Source: The DC Comics superhero comic book series
Budget: $200 million
Domestic Gross: $117 million
Post-Mortem: Except for Superman and Batman, DC has had a lot of difficulty translating its comic book heroes to the big screen. This one, featuring a curiously drab Ryan Reynolds and a monster that looked like an intergalactic cow pie, was no exception.
Cowboys and Aliens (2011)
Source: Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel
Budget: $163 million
Domestic Gross: $100 million
Post-Mortem: The title seemed like a no-brainer, and yet the movie failed to deliver even on the fun promised by those three words. Even with $75 million in overseas grosses, the movie failed to recoup its costs. Apparently, this was a mash-up of two genres no one wanted to see mashed up.
John Carter (2012)
Source: The first of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels
Budget: $250 million
Domestic Gross: $73 million
Post-Mortem: The numbers tell the story, but it was also a mistake to give the movie such a generic title (one that offered no hint that it was about an earth man caught up in a civil war on Mars). Also blamed: the vintage of the books (they’re a century old) and the casting of Taylor Kitsch, who failed to bring the charisma he showed on TV’s Friday Night Lights to the big screen (An effort to build a Battleship franchise around Kitsch failed a few months later.)
The Lone Ranger (2013)
Source: The old Lone Ranger radio and TV series
Budget: $215 million
Domestic Gross: $89 million
Post-Mortem: A lot of blame has fallen on Johnny Depp, whose eccentric Tonto overshadowed Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger, though Depp partisans insist that one day, his performance will be seen as genius. Besides, one also should blame Jerry Bruckheimer, the lavish-spending producer who (along with Depp) turned Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride into a viable franchise, and who therefore believed he could do the same with the Prince of Persia videogame” and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice musical suite if he threw enough money at them. It didn’t work for those properties, nor did it for an ancient TV and radio series in a genre (Western) that no young people appreciate.