The New York Times described 2010’s Resident Evil: Afterlife, the fourth part of a franchise that began life in 2002, as a “witless installment” that “features the usual ultra-slow-motion mayhem”. The Guardian noted that entries in the science-fiction horror series “always look good and have well-staged action, but they don’t have one iota of originality or imagination”. However, despairing reviewers couldn’t dissuade enthusiastic viewers the world over, including India, from turning up in droves to witness the never-ending battle between Milla Jovovich’s warrior Alice and the loathsome Umbrella Corporation.
Alice will (yet again) try to save the planet from a life-threatening virus on 28 September in Resident Evil: Retribution, which Sony Pictures India will release with more than 300 prints in English, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi.
Unfinished business: Milla Jovovich’s Alice returns for the fifth time in Resident Evil: Retribution.
Resident Evil has cumulatively earned Rs 23.5 crore at the local box office, according to Sony. Afterlife was the third-highest grossing film for the studio in 2010 after Salt and The Karate Kid. Retribution is only the latest franchise entry to wash up on local shores. The release calendars of Hollywood studios in the country are riddled with Part 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s, remakes of older films and re-releases of popular titles. Some of the films work well in India even though local audiences don’t have much of an association with, or nostalgia for, the originals.
If you thought you had seen the last of Tobey Maguire’s swinging adventures in the Spider-Man franchise, you were wrong. On 29 June, Sony Pictures India released The Amazing Spider-Man, which was directed by Marc Webb, had new faces (Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone) and was boosted by 3D, or three-dimensional, technology. The film has raked in approximately Rs 80 crore till date, according to Sony.
Sony also put out Total Recall, a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 movie, on 3 August, while Paramount Films of India’s reboot of the Jason Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy, came on 10 August. The year has already seen the third parts of Madagascar, the latest Batman movie, the fourth chapter in the adventures of the Ice Age cartoon characters and sequels to Underworld, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Ghost Rider and Clash of the Titans. There’s more to come: The 23rd James Bond adventure, Skyfall, will show up on 2 November, while The Hobbit, a prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, will open on 14 December. More remakes are in the pipeline, many of them 3D-enhanced, of The Wizard of Oz, The Great Gatsby, Django, 47 Ronin, The Evil Dead and Carrie, as well as sequels to The Hangover, The Smurfs, GI Joe, The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America.
American studios rely on sequels and remakes to reduce box-office risks, says Gitesh Pandya, editor of the online Hollywood tracker Box Office Guru. “In fact, there were only two original films among the Top 20 highest-grossing blockbusters last year—the comedy Bridesmaids and the animated hit Rio,” he pointed out in an email interview. “The Top 9 were all sequels and the rest were either sequels or based on a known brand like Thor or The Smurfs.”
Hollywood studios in India have two disadvantages: they have to compete with the local film industry, and they have a fraction of the marketing budgets available to their motherships. Franchises make pre-release publicity easier since viewers are already familiar with basic tropes and characters.
Dubbing the film in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu only expands audience familiarity. “The dubbed market is extremely important—it’s where the biggest growth is happening,” said Kercy Daruwala, managing director of Sony Pictures India. “3D is a big opportunity and 3D in dubbed languages has the potential to go very far. Also, multiplex penetration in smaller cities where the regional language is preferred is growing much faster with both existing mega chains and new smaller chains looking for fresh opportunities.”
Film-goers who are fed up of seeing the same old faces returning to do the same old things should give up the fight. “In India, most of the franchises have relatively smaller beginnings but they grow massively with every sequel,” says Vijay Singh, chief executive officer, Fox Star Studios India. “Most markets around the world witness higher numbers in subsequent sequels; but in India, this is even more prominent, thanks to the extraordinary growth in multiplexes, 3D and digitilization.”
The fourth part of Fox’s Ice Age series grossed Rs 21 crore in less than three weeks, while 2009’s Ice Age 3 earned Rs 9.1 crore, Singh says. He attributes the continued popularity of Ice Age to the “fun family theme”, the “hilarious characters” and the “excellent quality of animation and 3D”.
The use of 3D helps studios redraw the boundaries of a movie’s appeal—they can charge higher ticket rates, push through stories written specifically for American audiences, and even reignite interest in older produce. Disney Films India will release a 3D version of Finding Nemo on 24 August. Earlier, on 5 April, Fox Star Studios re-released James Cameron’s Titanic in 3D, earning Rs 20 crore in India, according to the studio. The film had mopped up Rs 55 crore in India upon its original release. “The film has to be iconic, and should have elements which should give viewers a strong enough reason to revisit theatres,” Singh says.
However, 3D is only one of the constituents of the rinse-and-repeat formula. The echo effect ultimately depends on how noisy the movie is. “Most sequels work well around the world, but smaller brands that are very American or are smaller budgeted can face problems,” Pandya says. “Action typically works best since the visuals work well no matter what language you speak.” Hollywood’s remake of the British comedy Death at a Funeral was considered too American for Indian audiences, while David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ran into censorship problems. Sony couldn’t get a good date for the new version of Sam Peckinpah’s controversial thriller Straw Dogs.
Action films ensure an audience for cinemas as well as eyeballs for television, says K. Ramesh, president of Gold Television Network, which syndicates Warner Bros films to networks in several languages. It’s easier for channels to build on franchises, adds Ramesh, who has sold such series as Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon and Mad Max to southern channels Sun TV, Kalaignar TV, Star Vijay and Maa TV. “Franchises are popular and easier to market, and help build TRPs (television rating points). High-end thrillers work the best,” he says.