One last time, one last time.
Bad Boys For Life became the rare legacy sequel in the last five or six years to become an actual box office success, bringing in $73 million in its opening weekend. That was more than enough to beat Universal’s Dolittle, which underperformed based on early tracking estimates. In fact, the extent to which Dolittle came in under expectations maps almost exactly to how BBFL overperformed, roughly $20-25 million in each direction.
Almost as soon as the movie opened Sony announced it was developing another sequel, the studio anxious to grab at any potential franchise within its reach, especially one it doesn’t have to haggle with Marvel Studios over.
That news amounts to a substantial bait-and-switch on Sony’s part, largely because the new movie continually engaged audiences with the notion it amounted to “one last time” for the characters played by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. That was the central theme of the studio’s marketing campaign, which used that concept time and again throughout the push.
It’s unclear whether audiences actually believed the message that this would be the final outing for Miami’s most destructive detectives. But it has to be assumed that the constant reinforcement created a sense of urgency in at least some people, who decided to head to the theater and experience the movie on the big screen instead of waiting for it to come to home video.
That “one last time” idea is one studios have gone to quite often in recent years. Variations on it were used in the campaigns for Logan, both of the final Avengers installments, Rise of Skywalker and other movies as the studios behind them try to make opening weekend into an event that cannot be missed. They want to push people to make the choice that going to see the film is more important than streaming the latest Netflix original series or playing the latest epic video game. It cannot be missed, with the loss of social cache and capital being the consequence of making the wrong choice.
In this case that worked. But it sets up a situation where Sony will have to admit – at least tacitly – to certain realities, including:
- That the marketing campaign for BBFL was at best misleading, or is at least no longer accurate.
- That the fourth movie will have to be positioned so as to clearly convey the story is continuing after what was thought to be its end point.
- That going to the “one last time” well again is essentially out of the question since you can’t use the same message twice.
- That means some new incentive or hook will have to be found that creates an equally large response in the audience.
- That any attempt to convey the fourth movie is *actually* the ending could be met with ridicule and laughter given it was just used and shown to be untrue in the face of financial success.
This is the core problem facing studios is that it doesn’t make business sense to let anything end. Everything is a potential property to continue monetizing ad infinitum, and if you can get one or more sequels out of a title its your responsibility to shareholders and the debt managers financing corporate growth to do so.
The exception to this rule is where the source material is inherently limited. There are only so many Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter books after all, though that hasn’t stopped the companies which own those and other rights from digging around for ancillary material that can be used as fodder for additional films or for how characters can be spun off into their own stories.
For the audience that means a constant cycle of movies being sold as either essential middle chapters they can’t miss out on if they want to keep up with the story or endings that might not be endings at all if the studio can convince the director to return one more time.
More stories like this can be expected, then. Whatever the next movie is that uses the “last story” message in its campaign should have that position greeted with more than a little skepticism, then, since if it performs well it’s almost guaranteed it will keep on going, prodded by studios which have no problem misleading the audience when it serves their purpose.