Box office numbers are a fun thing to play with. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” has now officially made more money in its theatrical run than the far more hotly anticipated “Justice League”, and within this story is an important lesson in building a hit movie franchise.
Right from the start, it didn’t look like Sony Pictures had an awful lot of faith in the “Jumanji” sequel. The film was scheduled to release just one week before “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, so the studio can’t have expected anyone to actually want to go see Jack Black pretending to be a teenage girl.
Sony was likely banking on a single relatively solid weekend for this movie – just long enough to ensnare all the hardcore “Jumanji” fans that may or may not exist – before a lack of solid word of mouth killed the film’s momentum entirely in the wake of “Star Wars”.
Clearly, the studio underestimated this movie, as despite its awkward release date, “Jumanji” has gone on to be a surprisingly popular film. No doubt some bean-counters at Sony are currently wishing they hadn’t tried to bury this movie – when we inevitably get a sequel, feel free to expect it during the summer, instead.
By contrast, “Justice League” once seemed like a sure-fire hit for Warner Bros, to the point that the studio had the ball rolling on the film before “Batman v Superman” had even arrived in theaters.
We all know how this turned out – “BvS” was lambasted, and the movie fell short of DC’s expectations. A full year of filming later, “Justice League” arrived as an attempt to fix some of the earlier movie’s problems, but it just ended up feeling weak and diluted.
So what’s the moral of these two stories?
Make a good film first, and worry about worldbuilding second.
Audiences don’t care about brand recognition as much as they care about good stories.
Dwayne Johnson is a big draw at the box office.
These aren’t new lessons, but somehow, Hollywood seems to consistently get things all wrong. The lust for a longrunning franchise blinds studio executives, and they fail to see how important it is to actually make something that people want to see.
It is, in fairness, difficult to predict how audiences will react to any movie. Moviegoers are fickle at best, and even the most surefire hit can end up receiving negative criticism once in the public domain.
Perhaps the real moral of this story is that a movie studio shouldn’t ever assume that they know what they’re doing. A little humility goes a long way.