We’re now deep into the trend of the “fourquel” — you know, the one where Hollywood decides that three movies in a series aren’t enough and opts for a fourth, usually a number of years later, sometimes in different form.
The latest such franchise extension, “The Bourne Legacy,” came out last weekend. Like almost every other of its kind, it performed worse than its immediate predecessor.
Jeremy Renner’s “Bourne” took in $38.1 million, respectable enough for its $130 million budget but lagging well behind the opening for the third film, Matt Damon’s “The Bourne Ultimatum” from 2007 ($69 million; $76 million when adjusting for inflation). “Legacy” has little hope of getting anywhere close to the third film’s domestic total of $227 million ($251 million after inflation).
But “Bourne” studio Universal shouldn’t feel too bad. The fourth movie in almost every Hollywood franchise has performed worse than the third.
Sometimes that drop-off is a nosedive (“Scream 4,” down from $118 million for the previous film, after adjusting for inflation as with all older movies, to $38 million).
Sometimes it’s a small slippage (“Live Free or Die Hard,” down from $150 million to $134 million).
And sometimes it’s somewhere in-between (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” $361 million to $241 million, or $1.07 billion to $1.04 billion worldwide).
Those three were basically straight sequels. Attempts to wipe the slate clean or go off in a new direction don’t fare much better: Consider “Bourne” or the recent “Amazing Spider-Man” ($372 million to $255 million, or $986 million to $690 million worldwide).
Backers of these fourth movies will point out that fourquels are sometimes conceived at lower budgets. That’s true sometimes, though not frequently. And in any event, it disguises the larger point: We’re usually pretty tired of these movies by the time a fourth one rolls around.
It doesn’t help that these fourth films are often not as good. “Bourne,” for instance, slipped more than 40 percentage points on Rotten Tomatoes.
The argument against the fourquel has been that it runs a character or mythology into the ground and even can cast a pall over what came before. But you need not be a purist to question them; the economics are shaky too. Making a fourquel means you’re guaranteed to be leaning heavily on a franchise that’s steadily bleeding off fans.
Something for studios to keep in mind as they contemplate the inevitable fivequel.