It’s been a good year for IP movies.
IP (short for intellectual property) movies are based on trademarked and copyrighted material. So, think of films like “Barbie” and “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” which took a toy empire and a video game collection, respectively, and turned them into a movie.
There are two upcoming movies that are also based on big IPs: “Garfield” and an untitled “Peanuts” movie.
The trailer for “Garfield” was released this week, per USA Today. Chris Pratt will voice the beloved, lasagna-eating orange cat, while Samuel L. Jackson will voice Garfield’s long-lost father, Vic.
Last week, in a press release sent to the Deseret News, Apple TV+ announced that there will be another “Peanuts” film, but the company didn’t give much more information about it.
As these two movies approach on the horizon, here’s a look at why there are so many IP movies.
Why are IP movies successful?
At the domestic box office, IP movies have had a great year. Looking at the yearly numbers on Box Office Mojo, “Barbie” and “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” hold the top two spots, followed by “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and later, “The Little Mermaid” and “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
Movies based on preexisting franchises or phenomena bring viewers into a universe they’re already familiar with. They’re based on something that’s often already popular with the audience, which might be part of their charm.
They’re also reliable moneymakers.
When a franchise performs well, it generates consistent profits. Take a look at the “Star Wars” franchise as an example. With nine feature films and several different TV shows to boot, “Star Wars” has reinvented itself and expanded itself to appeal across generations.
And it’s done pretty well at the box office. The franchise’s four highest-grossing films at the box office (not adjusted for inflation) were made in 2015, 2017, 2016 and 2019, respectively. As a reminder, George Lucas’ space epic “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope” was released a long time ago in 1977.
Set in a galaxy far, far away, “A New Hope” launched the “Star Wars” franchise, which in turn generated billions of dollars.
The Star Wars franchise’s recent success wasn’t guaranteed, since it’s possible that over time a franchise could fizzle out.
Remember “Percy Jackson”?
Rick Riordan’s five-book series about Percy, Annabeth and Grover was popular among young adults, but when it was made into a movie series, it didn’t fare as well. The first two movies came out in 2010 and 2013, but then the rest were never adapted to the screen (though it’s worth noting a TV series is slated to debut later this year).
Critics of franchise movies
Though franchises and movies based on IP have proven to be popular, not everyone thinks they’re great for cinema.
They actually have many critics.
Auteur Martin Scorsese famously (or infamously, depending on your view) was asked about the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2019, per IndieWire. Scorsese reportedly told the interviewer, “I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks.”
Scorsese clarified his thoughts in an editorial published in The New York Times. He wrote that franchise films are made by talented people, but he was critiquing the sameness he found in them.
“Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes,” he wrote.
Others like Richard Schertzer have argued that franchises “dilute creativity” and hinder the ability of smaller, independent films to thrive.
When franchises do well
As reviews for “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” have rolled in, some critics have noted that the film does justice to the franchise.
Variety’s Peter Debruge noted that it felt “like a natural extension of the saga, balancing blood sport, endangered young love and a heightened level of political commentary that respects the intelligence of young audiences as only Collins can.”
Mike LaSalle wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that this latest installment was the best of the bunch. He referred to it as “a two-and-a-half-hour character study of the series’ villain, Coriolanus Snow, as a young man.”
Other reviewers like David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter have indicated that the absence of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is felt on screen. “Her Katniss Everdeen was someone to root for,” he said.
Still, the high praise for the franchise is an example of when top critics have agreed that the film was well-made (though it’s worth noting there were other mixed reviews).
What is the most successful movie franchise?
The highest-grossing movie franchise of all-time is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, according to Movie Web. With “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Iron Man” as part of the franchise, MCU has grossed close to $30 billion.
It’s followed by “Spider-Man,” “Star Wars,” “Wizarding World” (aka “Harry Potter”), “James Bond” and “The Avengers.”