Oh, and if the year of living sequentially doesn't destroy the movie biz, then the expected labor strike (also a sequel) will. Trapped in a horror of its own making, Hollywood is scared witless by the looming prospect of negotiating not one but two labor contracts in 2007: the Writers Guild of America, whose gangsta refusal to begin negotiating early with the studios already foreshadows a retread of the disastrous 1988 walkout that shut down production for 22 weeks and cost the industry about $500 million, and the Screen Actors Guild, whose talks may begin in January but could mean squat. Both writers and actors are still bummed over being stiffed by the studios during the DVD era and are determined not to be bullied again in this digital age.
Both Hannibal Rising (the fourth Hannibal Lecter pic, this one a prequel) and The Hills Have Eyes II will serve as foreplay for next summer's sequel orgy, rounded out by Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, another Pirates of the Caribbean, Hostel: Part II, Fantastic Four 2, Evan Almighty (the follow-up to Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty, this time starring Steve Carell), Live Free or Die Hard (Bruce Willis as John McClane for the fourth time), Transformers (a live-action sequel to the animated original), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (fifth in the series), The Bourne Ultimatum and Rush Hour 3. By the end of the year, expect Resident Evil 3, Mr. Bean's Holiday, The Golden Age (Elizabeth 2), Alien vs. Predator 2, National Treasure II, and Halloween 2007.
And those are just the ones I know about.
Yes, in 2007 the very idea of original screenplays will become increasingly quaint, like real butter poured on popcorn. (Good timing, because the writers will be camped on picket lines anyway.) There will be a few nonsequel movies, but those are mostly remakes, biopics or book adaptations. (At least the complete tanking of Sony's Bewitched in 2005 killed TV adaptations.)
Instead of attempting something anything new, studio moguls are more content than ever to do and redo and redo yet again. But don't blame them; blame their bosses, the bigwigs who insist on bankable movie franchises. And just wait for 2008. Universal thinks that there's life in Jurassic Park, and Paramount is reviving not just Star Trek but also Indiana Jones (and maybe casting a new star for Mission: Impossible).
See, it simply takes too much moolah to create awareness for new concepts. In marketing parlance, this is known as "audience creation." It's a given that, with franchises and remakes, the awareness for men 25 and younger the most coveted category of moviegoers approaches 100 percent. But with original stories, that awareness level drops below 60 percent. With the overall budgets of movies (as of 2005) at $96.2 million each and marketing costs at $36.2 million a picture, it stands to reason that studios are loath to gamble on unproven products. Riding coattails takes the risk out of a notoriously risky biz, which means moguls can have fewer Maalox moments in what is tantamount to a life on meth. Production has dwindled to just a dozen films a year from each major studio, most of them sequels.
Studios used to be embarrassed by their sequels. No more. This past summer, Disney announced a huge cost-cutting plan to appease financial analysts; the megacompany promised that in 2007 it would devote its resources to movies with the potential to generate money-minting sequels. And did I mention that sequels are virtually critic-proof? Reviewers who gave thumbs up to the first Pirates of the Caribbean and flipped the bird to Pirates 2 didn't affect box office at all. The sequel was beyond huge, and Pirates 3 will be, too, even if Johnny Depp spends the entire movie channeling Lance Bass instead of Keith Richards.
Also on the horizon, and with some buzz, is a spate of biopics, most of them set in the 1970s. Nick Cassavetes wrote and directed Alpha Dog, which debuts in January and is based on the misadventures of Jesse James Hollywood, one of the youngest criminals ever to land on the FBI's most-wanted list. Then there's David Fincher's Zodiac, a thriller about the notorious San Francisco serial killer starring Jake Gyllenhaal; and Lasse Hallstrom's The Hoax, starring Richard Gere as Clifford Irving, who was sort of the Jayson Blair of the 1970s, only sleazier, as if that's possible. Brad Pitt is the original Missouri outlaw in The Assassination of Jesse James, and Jennifer Lopez and hubby Marc Anthony bring salsa star Hector Lavoe's life to the screen in El Cantante.
If little else, it's clear that the problems plaguing Hollywood will only worsen in 2007. Those in the movie industry say piracy is stealing $1.3 billion from U.S. revenues alone. No one at the studios has yet figured out how to make money online, and young Hollywood stars are better known for their Page Six performances than for their memorable roles.
My prediction? Hollywood moguls will find ways to pay themselves bigger bonuses while cutting pay and perks for everyone else. And that's certainly not an original idea.
Nikki Finke writes the "Deadline Hollywood" column for L.A. Weekly and covers the movie industry on her blog, deadline hollywooddaily.com.