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'Suicide Squad' and 'Ghostbusters': a tale of two would-be blockbusters

"Suicide Squad" set a box-office record for the month of August, but it's ultimate success isn't guaranteed
Clay Enos/Warner Brothers

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Two recent releases show Hollywood’s increasing dependence on big-budget franchises, many of them anchored by comic book superheroes.

Last weekend, Warner Bros. released “Suicide Squad,” its second movie of the year based on DC Comics characters. It followed the March release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

Both movies were mostly savaged by critics, yet still opened to strong business. But ticket sales dropped dramatically for both films from Friday-to-Saturday on their opening weekends, largely because of bad social media reactions from fans. It’s still unclear whether either film will manage to make significant profits for the studio.

Kevin Lincoln, a senior editor and movie reporter at New York Magazine’s, wrote the article, “Suicide Squad’s Records Are Nice, But Its Run Probably Won’t End Well.” He spoke with The Frame and we asked him what drove the film's initially strong ticket sales, before negative word-of-mouth kicked in:

People are going to see these movies to see the characters that they love, and these stories that they’re familiar with, represented on screen. They don’t necessarily care how well they’re done or expect that it’s going to be done well, even if critics are like, No this isn’t that good

It’s hard to get consumers to come out to the theater, period. But it’s especially hard with original films, where the only formula seems to be timing and luck. Even existing franchises like "Ghostbusters" aren't a guaranteed success. Sony initially said it was going to make more "Ghostbusters" movies, but now those plans look doubtful. In fact, according to the Hollywood Reporter, the studio may face a write-down of as much as $70 million on the film. (Sony is disputing that number.)

Ben Fritz covers the movie business for the Wall Street Journal. When we spoke, he explained how studios balance the output of original movies versus franchise films:

If every studio were to make a lot less franchise films, then they could all experiment more with originality. But, obviously, Disney’s not going to stop doing that and Warner Bros. with DC is not going to stop doing that, so everybody else who’s trying to compete for attention feels they have to do the same thing.

Considering the successful films of the year such as "Conjuring 2," "Central Intelligence" and "Deadpool," you would think that studio executives might lean toward original, lower-budget films. But Fritz says that's not the case:

We can always find the small handful of lower budget or original films that break out — there’s always a few. But, the vast majority of those movies disappear and they don’t do any business … It’s still the big budget tentpoles that on average, still do better than original films.

There are so many factors that need to align in order to bring in audiences — brand name marketing, originality, good press, timing. Until studios figure out how to make them feel fresh and different, we may continue to see franchise films that flop. 

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