Brand familiarity isn't everything when it comes to attracting audiences to the multiplex, and Hollywood is learning that lesson the hard way. So-called franchise fatigue came to a head in the US at the weekend with the releases of Men in Black: International and Shaft.
The writing may have been on the wall after neither an X-Men movie (Dark Phoenix) nor Godzilla: King of the Monsters could get enthuse moviegoers to turn out. But the weekend, down more than 50 per cent from last year, is the worst yet.
"This was a rough weekend," said Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "We've had some big franchises that are not resonating with audiences or critics."
All four have been certified "rotten" on Rotten Tomatoes.
Men in Black: International took the No.1 spot in North America, but it's a dubious distinction for the Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth-led reboot, which isn't exactly the franchise-revitaliser it hoped to be. Sony Pictures estimated the F. Gary Gray-directed film earned only US$28.5 million over the weekend against a reported US$110 million production budget. The three previous Men in Black films all opened to more than US$50 million not accounting for inflation.
However, international audiences are helping: the film earned US$73.7 million from 36 markets, bringing its global total to US$102.2 million.
Shaft, which introduces another generation to the franchise, couldn't even manage to carve out a place in the top five, which instead was populated mostly by holdovers.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 got the No.2 spot in its second weekend with US$23.8 million. Disney's Aladdin, now in weekend four, took third with US$16.7 million. Dark Phoenix placed fourth with US$9 million and Rocketman coasted to fifth with US$8.8 million.
Shaft, a Warner Bros. release, placed sixth on the charts, making a disappointing US$8.3 million.
Directed by Tim Story, Shaft features Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role from almost 20 years ago and Jessie T. Usher as his son. It was made for around US$30 million.
The disappointments have come, mostly, from "movies that just don't deliver", according to Dergarabedian.
But it's too simplistic to fault all franchises and next weekend the marketplace will be singing a different tune when Toy Story 4 opens.
"Toy Story 4 is going to erase the memory of this very tough weekend," Dergarabedian said.