‘LEGO Batman,’ ‘Fifty Shades,’ and ‘John Wick’ Tell a Story of Sequels and Box Office

“[This] was the best weekend at the 2017 box office so far,” note the experts over at Box Office Mojo, though that’s not so hard to be, here in mid-February. The headline is that the weekend’s three major releases all brought in big bucks. More interesting, however, is that all three were sequels – and two out of three failed to match the opening weekend of their predecessors.

The over-performer is John Wick: Chapter 2, whose $30 million estimated weekend gross is more than double the 2014 original’s $14.4m, although its comparative financial success isn’t really a surprise; the original was a movie that opened fairly softly and found its audience via word-of-mouth, particularly on home video, VOD, and cable. Still, recapturing that audience and building on it is an achievement — just ask Derek Zoolander.

Coming in second for the weekend was Fifty Shades Darker, the drab, dull, and spectacularly un-sexy sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey. It brought in an estimated $46 million over the weekend, nearly $40 million shy of the original’s $86 million opening weekend. Now, the first film got a bit of a boost thanks to the calendar – it was released on February 13, making it a hot date for Valentine’s Day, which could mean it sees a less steep second-weekend drop-off than the original (since some couples may check it out tomorrow). Or, it could be that the first film’s big opening was mere curiosity, with people seeing what the hullaballoo is about, and having no need to further investigate (since what they saw was such rancid dogshit).

And topping the weekend was The LEGO Batman Movie, with an estimated $55.6 million – very good, but just under the studio’s own weekend estimate of $60 million, as well as The LEGO Movie’s 2014 opening of $69 million (nice). Still, that’s a good start for a film that’ll have the family market to itself for a few weeks, and it’s news Warner Brothers needs since, per Variety, “Warner Bros. backed The Lego Batman Movie and sees the animated films built around the line of Danish toy bricks as being key to its corporate future.” Folks, I like these movies as much as anybody, but that may be the saddest sentence Variety has ever printed.

The point, which WB and other studios who see these franchises as “key to [their] corporate future” may not want to hear, is that in this test-case weekend, two-thirds of sequels couldn’t match their predecessors. There’s a law of diminishing returns here, but they’ll figure that out later, apparently.